04/12/2002 12:00AM

Winding Oaks last remnant of Ocala glory


A thousand acres of prime real estate, sitting on Highway 200 just west of Ocala proper, has had several incarnations in the past 50 years. It began as a cattle ranch, was made over into Tartan Farms, again into Mockingbird Farm, and now is the property of Eugene and Laura Melnyk of Toronto.

The official residence of the Melnyks, however, is the Caribbean island country of Barbados.

Phil Hronic, formerly the farm manager for Franks Farm, South is completing his first 100 days on the job as general manager of Winding Oaks Farm, the newest name of the Thoroughbred complex.

"Mockingbird Farm was in good shape and there was not much to do except move in," said Hronic. "It all happened rather fast. Mr. Melnyk learned that Mockingbird Farm was for sale, made the inquiries, came into town, looked over the property, and in less than an hour he made up his mind."

For years passersby could look over the paddocks of Mockingbird Farm and see them full of broodmares and young racehorses. That view is gone.

"We have four mares on the farm," continued Hronic, who came to know Melnyk via Franks Farm, where he broke Melnyk's yearlings. "And we have 72 horses in training. Mr. Melnyk has 130 racehorses and they go to trainers Todd Pletcher, Mike Hushion, Josie Carroll, Shane Hall, and Phil Englander. Overall, there are 56 mares at last count.

"While we will eventually participate in the Florida breeding program, the current plan is to foal all the mares in Canada to participate in the Canadian program," Hronic said. "Some will be bred back to stallions in Canada, some in Kentucky, and some here in Florida. The mares will be brought back here in the fall and their progeny will grow up in Florida and be prepared for racing on the farm.

"Mr. Melnyk will participate in the Florida program. He has top of the line pedigrees and many of his homebred stakes winners, and others who were bought at auction, will fit into the local stallion program. You might say that Winding Oaks Farm is a work in progress."

Winding Oaks Farm is the last property on Ocala's Highway 200 that has horses. The highway was once the Main Street of Florida's Thoroughbred industry.

Rosemere Farm, Ocala's first Thoroughbred nursery bordered this highway, and it was followed by Llangollen Farm, Ocala Stud, Heath Farm, Dudley Farm, and countless others.

Urban crawl is blamed for the demise of the Highway 200 farms. Property became too valuable for horses and was converted into mass scale housing communities. The north side of Ocala is beginning to experience this same urban erosion.

Long-time racing secretary dies

Warren Wolf, a long-time racing secretary, died last week of an embolism in Ocala at the age of 79. A horse owner and trainer during the 1940's, he apprenticed as a racing official under the legendary bush league racing secretary Jimmy Picarillo.

Wolf served as racing secretary at the New England fairs, River Downs, Tampa Bay Downs, and all but forgotten bush tracks in West Virginia, Illinois, and Kentucky. His last job as a racing secretary ended last year when he retired as the secretary for Ocala's annual one-day festival of racing.

Memorial services will be held Wednesday afternoon at Roberts Funeral Home in Ocala.