Nunley's success a gift to dad
By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times,
BROOKSVILLE -- Some daughters give sentimental cards for Father's Day, some give watches.
Tracy Nunley is hoping to send her father a check -- minus her percentage, of course -- for getting a couple of his horses in the money.
First enamored with horses when her father, Brooksville's John B. Porter, operated a summer riding camp in the late 1980s and so drawn to the racing industry she dropped out of veterinary school after a year, Nunley and husband/training parter Randy Nunley gradually are creating a niche and a name for themselves at East Coast thoroughbred tracks.
"They're doing very well together," Porter said. "It's definitely a together deal."
Part of the credit goes to the consistently strong stock Porter, a thoroughbred owner/breeder since 1989, first sent to his daughter, then to Nunley Racing Stable when she married.
The rest goes to a tandem that has mastered the task of making a partnership work -- one that faces the added difficulty of two people being husband and wife and workmates.
"Without a doubt, it's great having someone with you who has as much interest in what you're doing as you do," Randy Nunley said. "Without a doubt, everybody needs space occasionally, and we give each other space when we need it, but we work well together."
They've proved it lately at Delaware Park.
Through June 12, the Nunleys had earned $224,600 in purses, helping make Porter the third-winningest owner at the meet with $80,540. With 11 wins, 6 seconds and 8 thirds in 58 starts, the couple had finished in the money 43 percent of the time.
They earned a good portion of that two weeks ago when they got a victory from Porter's filly, Chinsegut, in a $50,000 maiden claiming event and Won Mugg captured a $36,000 allowance.
That same week, Porter's He Sells Seashells was second in a $24,000 claimer and Willawillasaint won a $15,000 claiming event.
"It's a good long me, and we've had some success here," Tracy Nunley said.
Nunley, a 1991 graduate of Hernando High School, is typical of many horsemen in that her family is involved in the business. Her maternal grandfather, Buzz Parvin, once ran the photo finish and did accounting work for jockeys at Garden State Park in New Jersey.
Nunley pursued her love of the animals to Colorado State, but she soon discovered she had headed in the wrong direction.
"Basically, that was me wanting to be with horses," said Nunley, 28. "But I wanted to be more hands-on, and at that time they didn't have a program that really did anything with thoroughbreds. So it wasn't for me."
Training was, and she earned her first license in Colorado in December, 1993, then in Florida a few months later. She won a few races with a filly named St. Patty's Prospect that was the second thoroughbred born on Porter's Brooksville farm.
She got a unwelcome taste of the business end of racing when she lost the filly in a claiming race.
"There was some attachment there with her," Nunley said. "Now I see what the business is like."
Nunley got to see what her future would be like later in 1994, when at the behest of a friend and jockey agent, she brought a string of horses to a meet in Birmingham, Ala.
It was there she met a former metal worker from Pelham, Tenn., whom she would date for five years, then marry in 1999.
Randy Nunley is decidedly atypical of many horsemen. His father was an iron worker and his mother a teacher, and neither had any background with horses.
"It was tough for me to get going," he said. "I had a love for horses, but I didn't know anything about them. I learned the business without a lot of family backing."
Nunley, 42, worked as a pipe-fitter in Tennessee until he was in his mid-20s, then followed construction work to Detroit in 1983.
It was there mutual friends introduced him to thoroughbred racing. With the help of some track veterinarians who "took an interest," Nunley earned his first trainer license in Alabama in 1987.
Now a Florida resident, he and his wife live in Oldsmar during the winter to be near their horses at Tampa Bay Downs, and near Delaware Park -- their out-of-state hub -- in the summer.
The Nunley's horses generally are entered in Randy's name -- though all their New Jersey entrants are in Tracy's -- but that has nothing to do with seniority, they say.
Duties in Nunley Racing Stable are clearly defined and equally weighted.
Randy oversees horses on the track. Tracy has complete autonomy in the barn area and with staff.
"It's worked well for us," Randy said. "We both feel we have a place and try to stay focused on what each of us does best."
Each has to assume both roles when they separate to watch horses in different states.
Tracy is grateful she had her father as a guaranteed client in her early training years, but thinks getting married may have enhanced her credibility within the industry.
"My father really helped out, and we do well because we have good clients," she said. "But people were skeptical to use me at first because I was training for my father.
"Since we started dating, I got clients I never had," Nunley said. "When we got married, it got even better. Maybe it was a stability thing. I don't know, but it was good for business."
Although Porter's horses remain a staple of the Nunley stable, the Nunleys train nearly 30 horses that don't belong to him.
Randy Nunley said he doesn't feel any pressure that his father-in-law is one of his biggest clients. But, really, what's Nunley going to say?
"We always had horses to train because of him," Nunley said. "And he knows we're looking out for his best interests. He realizes there's good times and slumps."
Two 3-year-olds not owned by Porter, American Prince, which finished second in the Tampa Bay Derby and Sam F. Davis Stakes and eighth among 11 in the $500,000 Arkansas Derby, and Mr Notebook, winner of a $75,000 stakes last year at Calder, are the stars of the stable.
It's a stable of about 40 horses, the size Tracy Nunley and her husband find manageable.
Her family connections are about to secure some more high-profile owners, however, as Nunley Racing appears ready to become the official stable of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers.
Tracy Nunley's uncle, Ed Parvin, is friends with Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke, who introduced players and aspiring owners Keith Primeau and Dan McGillis to the Nunleys.
Tracy Nunley, who once baby-sat for former Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall, planned to claim horses for Primeau and McGillis at Delaware Park this week.
The Nunleys may have limits in mind for stable size, but not for success. Both dream in expanding terms.
"At this point, we want 52 wins a year -- that's just one a week -- and $1-million in purses," Tracy said. "Last year we were four wins and $75,000 shy of it, and each year we want to make it higher."
As her career evolves, she gives her dad a Father's Day gift almost every day of the year. And it has nothing to do with money.
"He gets really involved in the business," she said. "He had a couple of sick horses (at Delaware Park) so he was up to see them and me and Randy, and he never misses a race.
"I think he's happy with what I've done."
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