Trainer Barry Abrams will send out four leading contenders in the $1.3-million California Gold Rush program at Hollywood Park Saturday, but no matter where they finish, the day will be a good one for the 55-year-old conditioner.
Abrams learned last week he is cancer-free after a four-year battle with the disease. “Basically, all the scans showed that I’m cancer-free,” said Abrams from the stable kitchen porch overlooking the backstretch Wednesday.
“Dr. Yee in Arcadia said I don’t need a scan for another 12 months, and then it will be five years, and it is likely it won’t come back,” said Abrams of his new lease on life.
“I live one day at a time anyway, but after what I went through, I have a different perspective on life,” said the slimmed-down Abrams. “Until you get a serious illness, you realize money doesn’t mean anything. Nobody is happier than I am to get up in the morning.”
Abrams said he was diagnosed with cancer in March, 2005, after a squamous cell carcinoma on a tonsil spread to form a golf-ball-sized tumor in his throat.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatments have rid Abrams of cancer although he is unable to taste food and carries a bottle of water for dry mouth because he is unable to produce saliva. He also has to guard against infection.
Abrams said his horses helped motivate him during a difficult time. “I just live life,” said Abrams, married and the father of two daughters. “I’m happy, and the horses make me happy. They kept me pepped up. Unusual Heat has been a strong sire and given me more incentive to keep going.”
Unusual Heat, a horse he campaigned and co-owns, has developed into the top stallion in California. He is the sire of all four Abrams-trained entrants in the Gold Rush: Bel Air Sizzle in the $150,000 Fran’s Valentine Stakes, Medzendeekron in the $150,000 Khaled, Golden Doc A in the $150,000 B. Thoughtful, and Pretty Unusual in the $200,000 Melair.
Abrams won two of the races last year in the program restricted to California-breds with Spenditallbaby in the B. Thoughtful and Bel Air Sizzle in the Melair, the latter via disqualification.
“I’ll take the same winners again,” said Abrams with a chuckle.
“All four of them should be among the top three betting choices in each race,” said Abrams, who has engaged national earnings leader Garrett Gomez to ride three, and Southern California king Rafael Bejarano to ride Pretty Unusual. “Gomez wouldn’t jump in there if they weren’t one of the favorites.”
Golden Doc A, winner of the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes last year, was named after two doctors involved in Abrams’ cancer treatment. Abrams hopes she wins in her first start since November but realizes there are more important issues to be thoughtful about.
Triumphant Flight, winner of the San Miguel Stakes in his last start at Santa Anita, is expected to head the lineup in the featured $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds. There will be a special 12:30 p.m. first post for the card.
SHIRREFFS HOPES TO START BIG MEET WITH MADEO
Trainer John Shirreffs, his barn bulging with four major stakes winners, hopes to start the meet on a positive note Sunday when he sends out Madeo in the first graded stakes of the session, the $100,000, Grade III Inglewood Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf.
Shirreffs confirmed Wednesday that Madeo would accept high weight of 119 pounds and be ridden by Mike Smith in quest of Shirreffs’ second Inglewood victory in three years. He won with After Market in 2007.
“A mile and a sixteenth should be a good distance for him,” said Shirreffs of the 2008 Del Mar Derby winner who was a fast-closing third in his last start in the Arcadia Handicap at one mile on the turf at Santa Anita on April 4.
A field of at least six is probable: Madeo, Smith, 119; Awesome Gem, Tyler Baze, 117; U S Ranger, Joel Rosario, 116; Becrux, Rafael Bejarano, 115; Silent Soul, Iggy Puglisi, 115, and Medjool, Michael Baze, 114.
Shirreffs said he was not sure what direction to go with Madeo beyond the Inglewood.
“It’s a tricky question: I could go shorter or longer with him,” said Shirreffs, considering turf options ranging from the Shoemaker Mile May 25 to the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at 1 ¼ miles June 6.
Shirreffs also has a decision to make soon for the 2009 debut of female champion Zenyatta, unbeaten in 10 starts. “She worked six furlongs here Sunday and is nominated to the Louisville Distaff at Churchill Downs the Friday before the Derby,” said Shirreffs. “She could run there or I could wait until the Milady (Handicap here May 23).”
Shirreffs added that Life Is Sweet, who won three stakes including the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita, is definite for the Milady, a $150,000, Grade II test at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track.
Shirreffs also said Tiago worked a half mile and that although he did not have a crystal ball for future plans, he would like to see him ready for the $700,000 Hollywood Gold Cup July 11.
FINISH LINES — Jockey Joe Talamo will be Kurt Hoover’s guest Saturday on The Inside Scoop, which begins at 11:30 a.m. adjacent to the Garden Paddock . . . Jeff Hebert from Louisiana and Shawn Talbot from Arizona are new faces in the trainer colony…Trainer Ron Ellis said unbeaten Rail Trip would make his next start in the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap May 9…Trainer David Hofmans said Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Desert Code, who faded to last as the favorite in the San Simeon Handicap at Santa Anita Saturday, has earned a vacation. “He’s going to get a couple of months off,” said Hofmans. “He’s just a little tired.”
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