05/28/2003 11:00PM

Prestons once again have Kentucky home

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Art and Stephanie Preston have signed an agreement to privately purchase Romanoaks Farm in Versailles, Ky., marking the Preston family's return to Kentucky's Thoroughbred business.

Romanoaks covers about 140 acres between Payne's Mill Road and Pisgah Pike, and the Prestons plan to purchase about 80 acres of the property from Denny and Lou Nunnelly. The Nunnellys, who are interested in both Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing, purchased the farm for $1.9 million at auction in March. They will keep the back 40 acres of the farm and intend to build a house there.

The Prestons' portion of the farm includes the main residence that fronts onto Payne's Mill Road, three additional residences, and three barns. The property is in close proximity to WinStar Farm, formerly called Prestonwood, which brothers Art, Jack, and the late J. R. Preston sold to Ken Troutt and Bill Casner in 2000.

Stephanie Preston declined to disclose the price of the farm. She said that she and her husband would rename their portion of the farm Oxbow Farm, after their new stable name.

"We'll use it mainly as a lay-up facility," she said. "All of our horses in training will be at Keeneland, where we're in Barn 48."

Preston said that E. Wayne Becker, a former assistant to Pat Byrne and manager of the Prestons' farm in Texas, would train the Oxbow string.

The Prestons sold most of their Texas-bred bloodstock last December with the goal of rebuilding a stable of horses they felt could compete successfully in Kentucky. To that end, they bought 10 juveniles at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic's recent 2-year-old sale in Timonium, Md., and they've shipped 17 of their Texas-bred yearlings to Kentucky to join the stable.

"We've got 20 stalls at Keeneland, and we've probably got a total of about 50 head," Stephanie Preston said. "We'll probably also buy 15 to 25 weanlings."

Preston added that Oxbow is considering pinhooking some weanlings, but she emphasized that the stable would designate the pinhook candidates at purchase time and would not simply cull stock in the market.

Preston, who has a veterinary master's degree from Texas A&M University and now plans to pursue a Ph.D., said she'd like to use Oxbow Farm to continue studying management techniques for raising young horses to promote soundness.

"In Texas, we got into a routine where we raised our horses a little differently, letting them be horses, and we've had some success with keeping them sound," she said. "That gives us some confidence that we can raise good, sound horses to sell at 2.

"By 'letting them be horses,' I mean we did some different things like pasture-breeding, foaling mares out in the pasture, letting the young horses run together in big fields. We had 4,000 acres in Texas, and either we had to have a huge staff to do things like Kentucky farms or we could just let them be horses. It's worked well for us."

In the short term, Preston said she and her husband would expand the former Romanoaks main residence and use it as a second home, spending most of their time in Houston.

"For now, the Romanoaks property is a good size for us," she said. "The plan has always been for us to get back to Lexington and back into the horse business with a slightly different approach to raising horses, with the intention of raising and racing a sounder horse."

* Lady Blackfoot, dam of North American Grade 1 winner and $1.4 million earner Labeeb, has died at Brick Kiln Stud in England due to foaling complications, according to Racing Post. Lady Blackfoot, a stakes winner by Prince Tenderfoot, also produced Grade 2 winner Fanmore, Grade 1-placed Madame L'Enjoleur, and Irish champion older horse Alrassaam.

* According to data released this week by the University of Kentucky, the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center in Lexington has received 442 submissions of aborted fetuses and late-term foals in the first 21 weeks of the year, down dramatically from the 794 it received for the same period last year.