11/07/2013 10:51PM

Goodbye Larry


The two tough old trucks hauling dangerously unstable dynamite in the great William Friedkin movie “Sorcerer” are named Sorcerer and Lazaro. Sorcerer is the one that explodes when a tire blows on a mountain road. Lazaro is the one that survives, after going through all kinds of hell, although it does finally run out of gas.

I thought of this the other day while at the graveside burial service for Lazaro Barrera, better known as Larry, who died on his 54th birthday the week before. Larry was the son of Lazaro Sosa Barrera, the Cuban maestro, a larger-than-life Hall of Fame legend who trained Affirmed, Bold Forbes, J.O. Tobin, Adored, Life’s Hope, Mister Frisky and a ton of others before his death in 1991. On the Mount Rushmore of Thoroughbred racing, through the 1970’s and 1980’s, that is Barrera’s kindly mug up there alongside those of Charlie Whittingham, Wayne Lukas, Woody Stephens and Jack Van Berg.

Larry Barrera tried hard to be someone other than his father’s son, and he did show impressive training chops at various times on his own. But because Larry loved being Laz’s son more than anything in the world, his own life never really seemed to matter as much. A dime’s worth of psychoanalysis paints a picture of a man flummoxed by an ideal he could never attain, which does not exactly explain why Larry used heroin, but it’s a start.

When I wrote this story about him in 2003 I wanted to believe everything was going to be okay, even though I knew the odds were heavily against it, because in every population there always will be a percentage of junkies, misfits and daredevils impervious to the good intentions of those who would set them straight. I prefer to think of Larry and his kind as unluckily annointed creatures, either willing or driven to take the chances no one else will take. For them, mortality becomes more of a guideline than a rule, and there is very little the rest of us can do to talk them back from the edge.

My friend Walon Green wrote “Sorcerer” based on the book “The Wages of Fear.” He also wrote “The Wild Bunch,” which puts him in a league of his own. Green explained to me once that the naming of hard-working vehicles was common in places like the Dominican Republic, where much of the movie was shot, and for such a desperate challenge what better than to name one of them “Lazaro” after the friend of Jesus who was raised from the dead.

Possessed of a sweet, troubled heart, Larry Barrera probably was the kindest, most generous drug addict anyone has ever known, and that’s the way his friends will be remembering him. In the end, that’s at least something to be said for a man whose life could have turned out in so many other ways. April Doornbos, who knew him well for a very long time, took this picture of Barrera on horseback in the surf at Del Mar, way back when. And while Larry does not exactly look the part of a man in perfect sync with his animal, it is hard to believe anyone anywhere could have been having a better day.


Don Reed More than 1 year ago
Splendid. Following tragedy.
Marla Zanelli More than 1 year ago
Thank you Jay for your creative wonderful way of writing and thank you for the openness and honesty of what haunted dear Larry B. I was on the beach the other morning in Del Mar down by the bluffs and there was an abandoned boat there with a couple of undercover police officers there. The boat brought drugs to Del Mar in the middle of the night. I have heard heroin is becoming popular with our young people again, here, in the middle of paradise. It's so important for young people, all people, to find a source to help them cope with life. I've discovered yoga and meditation over the last 10 years and I believe it's an excellent path to help us along this journey. God bless Larry and all those who struggle to find peace and find their way.
Eddie Donnally More than 1 year ago
I pray he will find the peace he never found on earth in the realm of heaven. May God give rest to his soul. I can't think of Larry and others I knew like him who died of the same illness, Jockey Danny Gargin to name one, without thinking how fortunate I am to be alive. I finally put myself in the hands of the Savior who not only saved me but changed me forever. My heart breaks when I hear of trackers like Larry and I'm thankful that Jay chose to remember him. Yet, I cannot but rejoice for the redeemed, like me, who found a better life. Perhaps my own story, Ride the White Horse," can reach one Larry, give him or her pause to think and have 30 seconds of clarity, which is enough to save their lives. I do hope God gives me the opportunity to those like Larry in the name of the One who gave to give us life.
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
Thank you Jay for such a nice story, I knew Larry and his dad for many yrs. and Larry was one of the nicest guys you can meet, unfortunately he had a troubled side to him that only he understood, in the end he finally got to put those demons to rest that haunted him. Rest in peace my friend and go be with your family. I will keep the good times in my heart of the good qualities you display when things were going good for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
there is very little the rest of us can do to talk them back from the edge...so true. They burn and there is no way for us to put out the fire.
blanca More than 1 year ago
Thank you Jay for your compassionate words. Larry was a very tortured soul, and hopefully the demons that haunted him , and brought us all so much anguish, have been finally put to rest. I hope he has reunited with our parents, and has found the peace that eluded him for so long---Blanca Uriza Barrera
Jon King More than 1 year ago
Dear Blanca, We are so sorry to hear about Larry, may he rest in peace. Your father and Cha Cha were one class act, my dad loved them very much, as did everyone on the track. Hal King was very proud to be Larrys godfather..Condolenses, Jon and Don King.
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
Greatness on different scales, you can't compare Charley and Woody, because of the owners they worked for, Charley built his rep training for anybodys or nobodys. Woody trained for elitists. Van Berg trained claimers, Laz's fame came from champion Kentucky breds. Lucas, the coach, started with quarter horses and grew an empire in California. All were different, in their horse management abilities, even though each one reached hall of fame status and soon to be rightly joined by Baffert.
Ronnie Soaper More than 1 year ago
Jim Bob Baffert is in the hall of fame. May Larry rest now
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
Please not the Bible.......Take your son, your only son – yes, Isaac, whom you love so much – and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will point out to you." (Genesis 22:1-18
Gunner More than 1 year ago
God said to Abraham "Kill me a son" Abe said "Man you must be putting me on" God said "NO" Abe said "What?" God said "Abe you can do what you want but the next time you see me you had better run" Abe said "Where you want this killing done?" God said "Out on Highway 61" - Bob Dylan RIP, L
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A touching tribute, Jay. . .Larry was a good man, good to be around when I knew him during his father's greatest years and he was a good horseman who did well in fleeting flashes when he had the few good horses to train.
William Norton More than 1 year ago
Another histrionic, impenetrable article from HoundDog Jay, who consistently ignores racing's real issues to focus on...well, what exactly I'm not sure (but, it should be noted, does provide a superb objective correlative to racing's self-absorbed, head-in-the-stand tailspin in modern American culture). And I'm still, 10 minutes later, trying to decipher Walon Green's connection to any of this and how Jesus' friend or a truck from the Dominican Republic (Las was Cuban after all) fits in. At all. Peckinpah was an addict like Larry? The Wild Bunch was shot in Mexico and, er um, Larry was also Latin? The Sorcerer is a Hollywood film and Larry lived in Los Angeles? I guess the real point is that both Larry and Walon were (supposedly) your friend, Jay. And that is, I guess, what really counts.