11/21/2003 12:00AM

A teenager's dream made real


Growing up in Queens, N.Y., is not the usual prerequisite for operating a horse farm in Ocala. Louis Gurino, owner of Lou Roe Farm, knew early on that horses and life on the farm is what he wanted.

"As a teenager," said Gurino, "I used to go with my father to the track. He had a small stable. When school was out, I went to work in the backstretch, started as a hotwalker, and then a groom."

At first Gurino had thoughts of becoming a veterinarian.

"Didn't want to commit to the time it takes to become a vet," he said. "I was too eager to get started."

The only schooling Gurino got after high school was from the school of "hard knocks." Gurino learned much of his horsemanship under Jimmy Picou and H. Allen Jerkens, for whom, Gurino said, he "started at the bottom."

Lou Roe Farm sits on 111 acres north of Ocala. Among the farm's first clients was Calumet Farm, then managed by J.T. Lundy.

"The farm was from the outset going to be a commercial operation," Gurino said. "I thought it was just too risky to try and make it by racing."

Over the years Lou Roe Farm evolved from a breaking and training operation to more of a breeding and sales entity, often buying and selling under the Celebrity Farm label.

"A few years back, Saint Ballado came on the market and the asking price was $100,000," said Gurino. "I tried to get the job done and stand him at my farm, but I just could not come up with the money. This got me started thinking about building a stallion barn."

The Lou Roe Farm stallion barn is complete, and there will be three stallions on the premises for the 2004 breeding season. Gulf Storm (Storm Cat-Miss Turkana, by Turkoman) is a stakes-placed earner of more than $200,000 who will stand for $3,500 live foal. As with all Lou Roe stallions, there is no fee if the foal does not live for 30 days after foaling, Gurino said.

Other Lou Roe stallions are Pure Precision and Skip to the Stone. Pure Precision (Montbrook-Al's Helen, by Distinctive) won the Grade 3 Sapling Stakes and the Tyro Stakes, both at Monmouth, and finished second in the Criterium Stakes at Calder Race Course. Al's Helen, a Grade 3 stakes winner, is the dam of four stakes winners, three of them graded. Pure Precision will stand for $4,000 live foal.

Skip to the Stone, a son of Skip Trial, was among the top 3-year-old sprinters in 2001. He won the Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct and Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes at Santa Anita. He is owned and was raced by Kevin Ward, a former baseball player for the San Diego Padres.

"This is a fast, fast horse," said Gurino. "I mean he could run six furlongs in [1:07] and change. He's out of a Jolie's Halo mare and his sire stands in Ocala. Ocala's the right place for Skip to the Stone to get started."

As a newcomer to the stallion end of the business, Gurino did not know what to expect when he began to market his stallions. "The response has been great," he said. "I didn't think breeders would come around this early, but I have at least 15 contracts and, from what I hear, it's a good start.

"We're going to be syndicating some of these stallions. I think the time has come around when stallion syndications again make sense to breeders."

Gurino has a broodmare band of 28, and he keeps his own counsel when it comes to bloodlines and matings.

"I do my own nicking studies," he said. "I get the printouts, check on what stallion lines seem to go with what and if they fit my stallion choices. Sometimes, though, you come across opportunities to buy broodmares for what you think are below market price and you go for it."

Gurino's long-term business plan is to up the quality and reduce the quantity of his broodmare band. He says that while he is in the business of making stallions and has to keep a number of broodmares for this purpose, he ideally wants to have eight or so broodmares who are worthy of the top-of-the-line stallions.

Few are able to realize a childhood dream. Gurino remembers his earliest days when he lived with his family in an area of Queens known as Jamaica Estates. He kept all sorts of childhood pets and as he matured he never outgrew his penchant for animals. Utimately, he transferred this affection to horses.

"The farm's name comes from the name of my father's stable," he said. "He called it Lou after me and Roe after my sister Rosemary. I just continued the name. As for my sister Roe, horses and horse racing isn't her game."