06/15/2001 12:00AM

N.J. breeding industry renaissance under way


The Thoroughbred Breeders' Association of New Jersey was set to hold its annual awards ceremony at Monmouth Park Saturday, bringing attention to a year's worth of efforts by the organization's new executive director Jack DuArte.

Hired in the summer of 2000, DuArte was asked to infuse some positive changes into a state breeding industry that has struggled through years of small and declining foal crops, a shrinking stallion roster, and fewer racing opportunities for New Jersey-breds, among other issues.

It hasn't been easy. "And I haven't made everybody happy, it's fair to point out," DuArte said.

But he believes the TBANJ, with John Perrotta also playing a vital role as president, is now putting in place the groundwork for a renaissance within the New Jersey breeding industry.

Some signs that that may be happening:

*Membership in the TBANJ has grown by more than 60 percent. "We now have over 400 members, and a lot of them are active members," DuArte said.

*Plans for additional stallions in 2002. As many as five "commercially viable" stallions could join the New Jersey roster, with the TBANJ having helped bring stallion owners and farms together, according to DuArte.

*A New Jersey Stallion Series to have its inaugural running at Monmouth Park in 2005. Although still in the planning stages, explained DuArte, the series could include two races each worth at least $150,000.

*Modern office space and state-of-the-art computer programming. The TBANJ office has been relocated to Long Branch, near Monmouth Park. "All of the data [on New Jersey-breds] now comes directly from The Jockey Club, under a special arrangement," said DuArte. The newly hired office manager is Mike Campbell, a former student at the University of Arizona's Race Tack Industry Program.

*Enhanced communication. The TBANJ maintains an active and up-to-date website, at www.njbreds.com, and publishes a four-page monthly newsletter in the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine. New Jersey's annual stallion directory for 2001 was greatly enlarged over previous volumes, and contained feature articles along with the standard facts and figures. "I'm a great believer in disseminating information," said DuArte.

The TBANJ was to honor the achievements of a full slate of Jersey-bred runners at its awards program. Honors were to go to: horse of the year, handicap horse, and sprinter (Sea of Tranquility, bred by Dennis A. Drazin); 2-year-old filly (Proud and Free, bred by Y.J. Kolybabiuk); 2-year-old colt or gelding (Lyle Lovesit, bred by Jane Gilbert); 3-year-old filly (Stitch N Hitch, bred by Tom Cook and Karen Jennings); 3-year-old colt or gelding (Thistyranthasclass, bred by John Bowers Jr.); handicap mare (Eleven North, bred by Carolyn Sleeter); and turf runner (Elegant April, bred by Louis Cocelli Jr.)

DuArte, 60, came to his present job through an unusual route, having spent most of the previous two decades in California's Napa Valley, where he was part-owner of several wineries, the most well known being Quail Ridge.

Before that, he made his home in New Orleans, and from 1971 to 1980 wrote a food and wine column for The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

DuArte has owned horses off and on since the early 1970's, when he became involved with stallion syndications and partnerships in Louisiana. While living in California, he began participating in several partnerships established by Country Life Farm in Maryland, and purchased a share in Country Life stallion Citidancer. His personal investment in horses has expanded significantly during the past year, DuArte said, explaining that he now owns interests in about 18 horses of all ages, through a partnership known as Meadowridge Breeders. His main partner is Richard Scelfo, also of New Jersey.