10/25/2007 11:00PM

Training centers for the hands-on horseman

EmailThere are three main streams feeding the economic pool that is the Ocala, Fla., market. There are breeders who supply the weanling, yearling, and 2-year-old markets. There are the pin-hookers who speculate in weanlings and yearlings. And there are those entities that break and prepare yearlings for the 2-year-old market and for racing.

Florida's foal population has remained more or less constant through recent years. In the four previous years the annual Florida foal count had ranged between 4,244 in 2004 to 4,334 in '06 and averaged out at 4,284. This year's count is 4,029.

The stallion population since 2003 has also stayed within narrow parameters. According to the registry at the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, the estimated number of stallions standing in Florida is usually 290 - give or take a few. Currently, there are 285 stallions in the breeders' association registry.

These numbers are dwarfed by the economic impact generated by those who break and train horses for the sales and for racing. The breeders' association estimates that 15,000 yearlings and horses of racing age ship into the Florida market each fall to get their basic training, for R and R, and for racing. Among the '05 yearlings who earned training diplomas in this market were Street Sense, Curlin, and Hard Spun.

The number of training centers in the state, big and small, is well over 200. There are, however, just a handful of full-service training centers that can accommodate those horsemen who, rather than delegate breaking and training to others, prefer to do it themselves. Among them are the Nelson Jones Training Center and the Classic Mile.

Nelson Jones Training Center, which used to be the late Fred W. Hooper's 732-acre private facility, has been remodeled and reshaped. George Shill is the manager of the center, which has both public and private facilities. By his own reckoning, Shill has been associated with Nelson Jones and his entrepreneurial endeavors for over 40 years. He is the first to admit that he does not have a background in horsemanship, but his role is management by making sure the facilities serve the needs of his patrons.

"Nelson Jones has 14 barns," he said. "In addition there are seven private owners who have the right to use all the features of the center."

The business plan is based on a lease of 24 stall barns for $5,000 per barn per month.

"We have a mile dirt track, a seven-furlong turf track, and European-style gallops," he said. "And, Nelson Jones is the only facility equipped with lights for early morning training."

Nelson Jones does not have a web site.

A few furlongs west of Nelson Jones is Domenic Martelli's Classic Mile. Classic Mile was conceived as a commercial racetrack for a combined Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse meet. But, the project encountered statutory problems and its original purpose did not materialize.

Classic Mile has 20-, 24-, 48- and 50-stall barns for a total of 1,076 stalls. The track is a regulation one-mile dirt oval containing a seven-furlong turf course, and there is a three-furlong training track 100 yards or so from the main track.

"I have two-tier rates," said Martelli. "If you stay with me year round the price is $6.50 per day per stall and you get a paddock. If you are here seasonally, the price is $9 per stall, and $10 per day with a paddock." Martelli says that big outfits can negotiate with him.

Classic Mile does have a web site at classicmile.com.

There are four facilities in the Ocala market that have installed synthetic surfaces. They are Goldmark, Town and Country Farm, Cupola Farm, and the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company.

Goldmark is a commercial operation that breaks and trains horses under the supervision of manager Todd Quast. The Courtelis family owns both Town and Country Farm, formerly a mostly Arabian horse enterprise, and Cupola Farm, which is in the process of being sold.

The OBS one-mile synthetic surface has a scheduled completion date of Nov. 15.

"We are on schedule," said Tom Ventura, the general manager of the sales company.

When asked about barn or stall rentals, Ventura said that the fee schedule was a work in progress and would be announced soon. The OBS will conduct all its future sales previews over its synthetic track.