05/14/2003 11:00PM

Prestons plan return to Bluegrass

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Funny Cide's rise to prominence in the Triple Crown series has prompted many in the Kentucky Thoroughbred breeding community to raise a toast to Jack, Art, and J.R. Preston.

The Preston brothers' Prestonwood Farm actually planned the mating between Distorted Humor and Belle's Good Cide that produced the 2003 Kentucky Derby winner. But they sold the farm to their friends Bill Casner and Ken Troutt in early 2000, in a package deal that included Belle's Good Cide, and Casner and Troutt renamed the Versailles, Ky., farm WinStar. Many in Kentucky assumed that the Preston brothers were getting out of the business.

J.R. Preston, who was in his 70's, died in March 2001. Since then, Art and his wife, Stephanie, have dispersed most of the stock from their Lone Oak Ranch in Texas, and many of the horses Art and Jack campaigned together as Preston Stables have also been put up for private sale.

But there is more to the story, and the surviving Prestons aren't done with Thoroughbreds yet.

In fact, Art and Stephanie Preston are scouting the Bluegrass for a farm to buy. The plan is to build a home-breeding and commercial program similar to Prestonwood and based in the Bluegrass. The dispersal, Stephanie Preston explained, wasn't a prelude to getting out of the game; it was part of a plan to upgrade.

"It was all designed to start over, to get new pedigrees that have different opportunities," she said recently from Maryland, where she was on a shopping trip for new bloodstock. "We wanted to get right down to ground zero and regroup and rebuild. The horses we had in Texas were a different pedigree from what you would have in Kentucky."

Preston said that the plan is to launch a new operation called Oxbow Racing that eventually will breed as well as race.

"I think, to start with, we would just do racing," she said. "Once we're reorganized, we hope to be back in the breeding business, and some of our breeding would be commercial."

That suits brother Jack just fine.

"I would like to get back into breeding in Kentucky," Jack said. "That's the best place in the world to breed horses, and I've always been fascinated with breeding. I certainly do miss it."

Jack Preston said he hasn't made any firm plans to partner with Art and Stephanie in the Oxbow operation, but he said that at the least he would probably board a handful of mares in Kentucky if the couple does buy a farm there.

"I think they will probably do well, because they're concentrating on getting good stock," he said. "And I think they will have fun."

Derby-winning fun? The Prestons hope so, but Stephanie Preston noted that the Oxbow vision is a broad one. "Maybe we can make as good a name for Oxbow as Prestonwood had," she said.

TRF open house and adoption day

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation will host an open house and adoption day at the Blackburn Correctional Facility in Lexington on June 6. The open house will take place from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and will showcase about 25 adoptees, all sound for riding.

TRF president John Stuart said that TRF will lower its adoption fee from $800 to $600 for the open house. There is no registration fee for the event, but the TRF asks that interested parties RSVP at (859) 846-9981.

* Jules, sire of Preakness contender Peace Rules, died on May 7 due to complications from colic and laminitis, espn.com reported. A 9-year-old Forty Niner horse and winner of the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes in 1996, Jules died in Brazil at Haras Santa Maria de Araras. Peace Rules, third in the Kentucky Derby, is his leading earner, with more than $1.2 million.

* Catalogs for the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's June 2-year-old and horses of racing age sale are available at the auction house's web site, www.obssales.com. The auction, set for 11 a.m. Eastern on June 17-18 at the OBS facility in Ocala, Fla., will have under-tack shows on June 14-15. Under-tack shows begin at 8 a.m. at the OBS facility.