09/25/2003 11:00PM

Live Oak Stud is Sunshine State's standardbearer


Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Stud is Ocala's biggest farm property. It consists of 4,500 acres - 1,000 of them devoted to Thoroughbreds, the remainder for general agricultural business.

Eric J. Hamelback, who a year ago was assistant farm manager for Adena Springs Farm's Kentucky division, is the general manager for Live Oak Stud.

"I was only in Florida once before taking this position," Hamelback said. "I took the family to Disney World, and made a visit to the Adena Springs Farm's Florida annex. I wasn't really sure what to expect when Ms. Weber offered me the job. I did not have to think long about accepting, as we were on the same page."

Live Oak Stud was designed and built by Mr. and Mrs. Peter A.B. Widener of the famed Widener family. When Mrs. Widener was killed in an accident about the time the farm was being finished, her spouse lost interest in developing the property. The Wideners and Charlotte Weber's family were friends and neighbors in Philadelphia. Weber bought Live Oak Stud from the aggrieved Widener.

The first plan for the new owner of Live Oak was to breed to replenish its growing racing stable. Live Oak shuttled its broodmares back and forth to be mated in Kentucky. Claiborne Farm sires almost exclusively figured into the plan in the early years. Later, after developing and standing the successful stallion Medieval Man and purchasing the Grade 1 stakes winner Dispersal and Canadian champion With Approval for stud duties, the business evolved. More broodmares were added, fashionably- as well as off-bred race mares, nearly all of whom had stakes-winning credentials. But all that has changed, too.

"Ms. Weber wants to breed, to raise, and to race champions," Hamelback said. "Frank Stronach has a similar program for his Adena Springs operation, and it's what Tartan Farms used to do here in Florida. I came aboard and completed the management team, which consists of Ms. Weber and her bloodstock advisor, England's Michael Young."

The Live Oak Stud plan targets a broodmare band of 50 to 60 mares, among them Desert Stormer, winner of the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and high-performance winners such as Salty Gal, Dreams Galore, and Saoirse, a champion filly in Canada.

The Live Oak plan does not consider any regional breeding benefits besides those in Florida.

"Racing in Kentucky, except at the highest levels, where the KDTF does not come into play, is not on the Live Oak map," Hamelback said. "We anticipate foaling all but a few extremely valuable mares here in Florida to take advantage of the Florida program - and, if booked out of state, shipping the mare and foal."

Hamelback said that stable replacement at the tracks will require between 28 to 30 yearlings per year, spread out among the several Live Oak trainers.

But an undetermined number of yearlings will go to the major sales, to provide an income stream. Lane's End Farm and Adena Springs Farm are cited as examples of operations that both race and are commercial.

Live Oak's choice of stallion seasons runs the gamut from the upscale A. P. Indy and Kingmambo to the successful but not so costly El Prado, Pleasant Tap, and Silver Ghost. Live Oak owns and stands Eltish and Hesabull and boards the stallion Marco Bay in Ocala.

"Ms. Weber is really pleased with the success of Eltish both on the track and in the market, and she commits 10 to 15 mares annually to his book," Hamelback said.

"Running Stag [of Adena Springs Farm] is on our local screen. He was a world-class racehorse and his sire, Cozzene, is making his mark as a sire of sires. We are going to give a look at Essence of Dubai, who is coming to Ocala for '04. He's another with a world-class pedigree and racing record to match."

There is little room in the Live Oak business plan to syndicate stallions.

"Syndications and partnerships are subject to potential problems," Hamelback said. "Ms. Weber would just as soon have decision-making control. That does not mean we would not stand a stallion for someone else. If the stallion has merit and potential, certainly we would consider standing such a stallion. But most likely not in a partnership arrangement."