10/20/2004 12:00AM

Hunt pushed Cup to become a reality

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Nelson Bunker Hunt, an Eclipse-winning breeder, will be inducted into the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame on Saturday. Lady Tak (above) wins the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom at Belmont. The Honeysuckle Rose on the Breeders' Cup undercard may be next.

It is appropriate that Nelson Bunker Hunt will be inducted into the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame within a week of Lone Star Park hosting the Breeders' Cup. Hunt was instrumental in bringing the idea of a championship series to life, said John R. Gaines, who founded the Breeders' Cup. The championships will be renewed for the 21st time on Oct. 30.

Hunt will be honored after Lone Star's program of four Texas-bred stakes on Saturday, during a gala that will also honor inductee Will Farish. Hunt was the first to know about the Breeders' Cup when the idea was born in the 1970's, Gaines said.

"When I came up with the Breeders' Cup, the only person I talked about it with was Bunker Hunt," said Gaines. "He kept telling me, 'You need to get this going.' He was the catalyst to seeing it through. He was my confidant and counselor."

Hunt, a longtime resident of Dallas, will be honored for his racing accomplishments. He is an Eclipse Award-winning breeder, and in the 1970's and 1980's raced some of the sport's greatest horses, including Dahlia, Exceller, and Vaguely Noble.

Closer to home, Hunt was a director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association in the 1980's, and during that same period had most of his yearlings developed on a 2,200-acre ranch and training center he owned, about 25 miles from the current site of Lone Star.

Each season, about 100 yearlings would report for training, and after learning their lessons would spread throughout North America and Europe. Among the horses developed in Texas were Grade 1 winners Lively One, Adept, Swink, Talinum, Reloy, Eastland, and Fact Finder.

Hunt dispersed his racing stable in the late 1980's and returned to the sport on a much smaller scale in 1999.

Farish is also an Eclipse Award winner. He was born in Houston and operates divisions of his Lane's End Farm in Kentucky and Texas. Among the horses he has bred either alone or in partnership are A.P. Indy, Charismatic, Lemon Drop Kid, and Summer Squall.

At his Texas operation, Farish stands Valid Expectations, who is considered one of the top stallions in the Southwest.

The richest race on Saturday's program is the $100,000 Assault, led by Rare Cure.

Fantasticat top dog for Sherrods

The chances of coming up with a good horse would seem to increase with more horses. But the opposite has proven true for Russ and Shelda Sherrod, who have downsized their operation and from just three horses in training have come up with a $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic starter in Fantasticat.

The Sherrods had a 250-horse operation a few years ago, but have reduced their holdings to 30 head, counting broodmares and foals. Their other two horses in training are unraced fillies, and they are also in negotiations to buy a younger full brother to Fantasticat.

Fantasticat, a son of Storm Cat, started his career in Ireland with trainer Aidan O'Brien and was later purchased privately by the Sherrods. He has blossomed in the past several months, and registered his biggest career victory in September in the Grade 2 Super Derby.

It was also the biggest career win for the Sherrods, and the first in the Super Derby for Fantasticat's trainer, Bobby Barnett, who was based at Louisiana Downs for 15 years before moving his base of operations to Kentucky. The Sherrods are from Montana, but now live in Louisiana.

"We got into the Thoroughbred business eight years ago, and at the time we started with a few mares and babies and a couple of runners, and the numbers started increasing," said Russ Sherrod.

The couple moved their growing operation from Montana to Louisiana for the promise of a slots-fueled breeding program, and purchased a 197-acre farm from the late John Franks in Opelousas, La.

"We sold the farm this past year," said Sherrod. "We decided to decrease our numbers. It was too much of business dealings instead of enjoying the horses. We didn't have the enjoyment of the horses."

Fantasticat is giving them lots of joy these days, as are some of the horses the couple has bred over the past several years. The Sherrods bred three horses who will start as top contenders during the Louisiana Breeders' Festival at Louisiana Downs on Saturday: Fuse It, an earner of $489,080, will go in the $50,000 Victoria; Diggy Fresh, a winner of 3 of 4 starts, will go in the $75,000 Louisiana Breeders' Derby; and Misty Glo will start in the $75,000 Oaks.

Fantasticat, who the Sherrods know will be one of the longer shots in the Classic, goes into the race an improving horse, said Barnett.

"The trip and the race didn't seem to take a lot out of him, and he's trained well since the Super Derby," Barnett said. "All looks good."

"Bobby swears he hasn't seen the bottom of him yet, and [jockey Gerard Melancon] said he had a lot left in the Super Derby," said Sherrod.

Lady Tak eyes Honeysuckle Rose

Lady Tak, a millionaire who has won the Grade 1 Ballerina and the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom in her last two starts, could make her next start in the $100,000 Honeysuckle Rose Stakes on the Breeders' Cup undercard at Lone Star on Oct. 30, said her trainer, Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen, who had considered racing Lady Tak in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, said the six-furlong Honeysuckle is appealing for its weight-for-age conditions. Lady Tak races for the Texas-based Heiligbrodt Racing Stable.

* FanFest Texas . . . The Experience, a festival of all things Texas, will start at Lone Star on Friday.