“Very kind with a good heart,” Trainer Barry Abrams dies at 66

October 10, 2020

Racing hasn’t lost its greatest trainer, but arguably its greatest fan.

Barry Abrams died peacefully Friday night at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Arcadia, Calif., after he was taken off a ventilator following a recent fall at home that injured his back. He was 66. Services are pending.

Abrams had courageously battled throat cancer for 15 years. A bear of a man at 6-4, 315 pounds before he was stricken, Abrams bared his soul in a story I authored about his ordeal that appeared in the October-November 2015 issue of North American Trainer Magazine, excerpts of which follow in this item.

Barry Abrams never smoked. He got cancer anyway. Side effects from the treatment over a 10-year period caused him to lose his taste buds, prevented him from swallowing (he used a feeding tube), he couldn’t eat, run, go in the ocean or a swimming pool.

“I’m just functioning and happy to be alive,” he said. “I can eat cookies as long as they’re liquified and made pudding-like. I can’t swallow anything else because I have no salivary glands that create saliva.”

He lost half his voice box during surgeries, reducing his  speech to a whisper, but he never complained.

“Ordinarily, you talk about things like saving for the future and making plans for this and that, but facing this, you realize that there could be no future,” he said in the 2015 article.

One of Barry’s dearest friends was trainer Richard Baltas, who assisted in the barn operation during Abrams’ five-month recovery in 2011. “He’s very kind with a good heart,” Baltas said. “Years ago, I wanted to leave Louisiana and come home to California, but I needed a job.

“Barry didn’t quibble. He simply asked me, ‘How much do you want to make?’ and that was it. He came to my wedding on Feb. 26, 2011, when he was sick with cancer. He’s done many kind and generous things for me.”

Said Abrams’ wife, Dyan: “Barry is so kind and helpful. If you needed the shirt off his back, he’d give it to you. … He’s one of the good ones. He’s got a good heart and a good soul.”

Trainer Peter Miller was looking forward to winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile with a horse Abrams owns in part, Mo Forza. “Barry and I have known each other probably 25, 30 years,” Miller said several days ago. “Barry’s a great guy. Everyone loves him, and this horse really helped keep him going.”

A highly accomplished conditioner of both Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, Barry Abrams will forever be associated with Unusual Heat, a horse he claimed for $80,000 on June 10, 1996.  The son of Nureyev would go on to become one of the greatest stallions in California racing history.

With Barry’s passing, two questions will forever remain unresolved: did racing love Barry more, or did Barry love racing more?

Call it a dead-heat.

Ed Golden/Santa Anita

Photo courtesy Little Red Feather Racing

@jonathanstettin  Morning Jonathan, I just read your Piece on its not a Santa Anita thing IT WAS OUTSTANDING. I have been playing horses for 42 yrs since my father 1st brought me to Washington Park. I could not agree with you more. There must be 1 governing board and a commissioner.

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