Reformed trainers look to new year and beyond

January 15, 2008 4:26 AM
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Hope dies last, according to an old Mexican saying.

When only two choices remain, to go on or give up, that maxim applies resolutely. The New Year traditionally is a time of renewed faith, when mankind grapples to restore unfulfilled dreams and motivate dormant notions.

Life can be unfair, even heartless, but as long as a spark of hope breaks the darkness, all is not black. Two such lights, in the person of Dan Hendricks and Barry Abrams, remained aglow in 2007 to provide inspiration into 2008.

A motorcycle accident on July 7, 2004, paralyzed Hendricks from the waist down. A state-of-the-art wheelchair acts as his legs now. Abrams has successfully battled inoperable throat cancer for more than three years. The 53-year-old native of Minsk, Russia, who punished the scales at 315 pounds before losing more than 60 from his 6-4 frame through the ordeal of radiation and chemotherapy, always has a trusty bottle of water in his holster to alleviate dryness in his throat.

If they didn’t have their horses, by now, each man might have been emotionally desolated. But training, and sharing in the camaraderie that is indigenous to racing, germinates courage to carry on, even providing inspiration to their peers. The life-changing experiences have altered their priorities and perspectives.

"The best thing I can say is, good horses keep you going," said the 49-year-old Hendricks, who went through a divorce after the accident but still has support from his three children. "The kids have been great. And from Day one, the barn, the horses, the help and the owners never wavered. I’d have to think that really kept me going more than anything."

With a new lease on life, Abrams has a new outlook, as well. He cherishes his work and his life more than ever.

"Right now I’m going day by day," he said. "I’m happy to get up in the morning. I’ve got something to look forward to. I’ve got a great job. It’s not just training horses, but seeing people at the track. The main thing is keeping your mind occupied. If you do that, you can cope with anything."

Negativity is emotional suicide.

"If you focus on your problem, that won’t help," said Abrams, who will be 54 on March 4. "I don’t even think that I have anything wrong with me, or that I had anything wrong with me. When I go to sleep, I thank God that I’m OK, and hope I wake up in the morning, and that’s it. I just go one day at a time.

"I don’t think negatively, or of what could go wrong, because I’m not in control of that. I do the best I can, but I know one thing: if you start worrying about the problem you have, you’re never going to beat the problem."

Hendricks will never walk again. He has bravely accepted that bitter fact, spurning sympathy and moving on with his unalterable physical condition.

Abrams has a far less bleak prognosis.

"With cancer, if cells don’t reappear within five years, they’re dead, but you can get some other form of cancer," he said. "It will be three years in June that I had cancer, so I’ve still got until June of 2010 before I can say I’m clear. But I don’t worry about it. At this stage, I shouldn’t even have to think of it."

For Dan Hendricks and Barry Abrams, the future is in the challenge and the hope is in the spirit.

The homestretch

”¡ Julien Leparoux was the first among Santa Anita’s marquee riders to throw in the towel and leave its abundantly talented jockey colony. The Eclipse Award-winning apprentice of 2006 had no go-to stable. That and the uncertain status of Santa Anita’s maligned Cushion Track made his departure for the Fair Grounds a no-brainer, according to his agent, Steve Bass.

"Julien is used to riding and winning," said the 50-year-old former jockey, Leparoux’s agent since the Frenchman began riding three years ago. "He’ll ride nine a day if he can and I’ve got trainers back East who want to ride him. We wanted to stick it out and everyone treated us well at Santa Anita, but the business wasn’t here. We’ll be back next year."

Veteran Clinton Potts also moved from Southern California, to ride at Oaklawn Park.

”¡ And if I sound a little melancholy, forgive me. Against Kansas State, I took Savannah State plus 59½.