12/23/2007 1:00AM

Torre's racing focus shifts west, too

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - The smell of the fresh cut grass. Getting reacquainted with friendly faces. Anticipation over the promise of the upcoming season. And a clean slate, with no losses yet to mar the ledger. Yes, opening day is special, whether it's in April at Dodger Stadium or Wednesday at Santa Anita.

That crossover appeal has long attracted prominent baseball people to racing, such as John Galbreath, who owned the Pittsburgh Pirates and won both the Kentucky Derby and Epsom Derby.

When he resigned as the manager of the New York Yankees two months ago, Joe Torre endeared himself to racing fans everywhere by saying he'd probably start hanging out at the track more. Since then, Torre has been hired as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which will cut into his time playing the horses, but at least will give Torre a chance to add some new racetracks to his resume.

The love affair between Torre and racing was reignited a little more than a decade ago, then blossomed in recent years when Torre became fast friends with another Brookyn native, trainer Bobby Frankel. Torre, who races under the stable name Diamond Pride LLC, has five horses in partnership in California with Frankel, in addition to being partners in about 10 horses trained on the East Coast by Rick Dutrow Jr.

And while he will not be at opening day at Santa Anita on Wednesday, Torre is eager to have that track stamped on his racing passport.

"I've been to Hollywood Park, but not to Santa Anita," Torre said in a recent telephone interview from New York. "To me, there's nothing more exciting than going to the races. Bobby and I have flown to Keeneland for the day. It's a special place, great atmosphere. I've been to Saratoga once, in 1995, after I got fired by the Cardinals. And the only time I've been to Del Mar was to get my owner's license, but it was an off day."

Torre said he first went to the races as a youth with his brother Frank. "We'd go to Belmont, or to the trotters at Yonkers and Roosevelt, but the trotters weren't as appealing to me as the Thoroughbreds," Torre said.

After playing and then becoming a manager, Torre said he started following racing closely again in the mid-1990s with Don Zimmer, who was a coach on Torre's staff with the Yankees.

"We were at Pimlico for simulcasting and he was following four different tracks," Torre said. "I was trying to follow what he was doing. Depending on the day I'm having, I either give credit or blame to Zimmer for getting me into this."

Torre's interests in racing encompass more than just handicapping. After striking up a friendship with owner Bernie Schiappa after meeting one another in Maui, Torre dipped his toe into ownership, first in 2003 with the imported French filly Cellamare.

Since then, Torre has hit a couple of home runs. He was involved in a partnership that claimed the filly Sis City, who subsequently won the 2004 Demoiselle and 2005 Ashland stakes. And he was part of the group that owned Wild Desert, who won the Queen's Plate in 2005.

His best horse currently with Frankel is Night Chapter, a stakes-winning turf sprinter.

Torre and Frankel have become close friends.

"Two guys from Brooklyn, about the same age," said Torre, who is 67. "He's very quiet, but once he starts talking, he's a lot of fun. We talk all the time."

Torre said his favorite horses have been trained by Frankel.

"I loved Ghostzapper," he said. "I was happy when Empire Maker won the Belmont. And my favorite horse now is Precious Kitten. She's got tremendous heart. Even though I don't own her, when she's going to run, Bobby calls and says, 'Your horse is running.'"

Now that he will be working in California, Torre said he is "leaning more that way" in terms of where his horses will run.

His opportunities to go to the races will be few once the baseball season starts, though.

"Unless it's an off day, I'm at the ballpark by 1:30," Torre said.

But Torre said he sees himself gravitating toward the track when he retires.

"I told Bobby that once I stop doing this I'm going to just hang out with him," Torre said. "I want to know what he knows about training horses."