07/15/2011 4:27PM

Abrams feeling lucky after cancer surgery


In the course of making regular visits to the gravesite of his mother at El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley near Del Mar, Barry Abrams began to notice, on more than one occasion, a man on a blanket beside a grave marker not far away.

“He was laying there every evening I was there, and I got to wondering about him,” Abrams said. “The marker read ‘Sean Robins.’ He parked behind me, and on his license plate was ‘Seany Foundation.’ I looked it up. The next time I saw him there, I introduced myself.”

The man was Mitchell Robins, who owns a San Diego area accounting firm and whose son, a precocious athlete and actor named Sean Lewis Robins, died in November 2006, just shy of his 23rd birthday, after a seven-year battle with a rare form of bone cancer. In short order, Robins established the Seany Foundation to raise both money and awareness for the challenges of pediatric cancer. Abrams, who had undergone treatments for throat cancer in 2005, was favorably inclined.

“We became really good friends,” Abrams said. “It’s a really good cause, and I’ve tried to help them all I can.”

As a breeder, an owner, and a trainer of Thoroughbreds, Abrams was quick with an obvious fund-raising angle. At the time, he had a couple of 2-year-olds by Unusual Heat, California’s top stallion. He named one of them Seany’s Story and the other Seany’s Courage and pledged half their earnings to the Seany Foundation.

Horse racing, however, can be a pretty heartless endeavor no matter how noble the cause. Neither Seany’s Story nor Seany’s Courage have stirred as much as a ripple on the competitive waters, much to the frustration of Abrams, who had grown accustomed to winning all manner of good races with such sons and daughters of Unusual Heat as Pretty Unusual, Unusual Suspect, Lethal Heat, Golden Doc A, Lennyfrom Malibu, and Spenditallbaby.

“I’ve got to find a real good one and name him Seany something,” Abrams vowed.

In a best case scenario, a real good Unusual Heat would be a horse like Acclamation, winner of back-to-back runnings of the Whittingham Memorial who runs Sunday at Hollywood Park in the Sunset Handicap, or The Usual Q.T., who made a national impact finishing third to Goldikova and Gio Ponti in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Abrams can be forgiven, though, if he turns to other priorities right now. A rat-a-tat talker who never keeps an opinion to himself, Abrams was telling the story of his connection with the Seany Foundation in a soft, raspy whisper, even lapsing into a pretty good impression of Brando’s Vito Corleone, complete with an “I’ll make ’em an offer they can’t refuse.”

Abrams, who is 57, was only a few days home from the hospital after his July 5 surgery to remove cancerous tissue from the left side of his neck. He was heading back for radiation treatments that evening, required, he was told, “just to make sure.”

“They got the cancer with the surgery,” Abrams said. “I can send you the surgery report, and not so’s anyone would feel sorry for me. But just to show you how amazing these surgeons are, and what they had to do to keep me going.”

So he did – sent the surgery report – replete with terms like “half-apron incision” and “sacrificed vagus nerve” and “meticulous hemostasis.” After a quick read, I’d had enough. I decided I never wanted to get cancer.

“I feel so lucky,” Abrams added. “One wrong turn anywhere in the surgery and that was it for me.”

Abrams made a couple of brief appearances at Santa Anita during the week to reassure his friends, but he says he will not be on the Del Mar scene, remaining in the care of his wife, Dyan, and two daughters. Richard Baltas, his assistant, will be in charge of the stable.

“I feel okay, but they had to cut the muscle on the left side that controls the vocal chords, so it might take months before I get more voice,” Abrams said. “That’s all right. Just using texts is pretty good these days.

“The stable is in good hands,” Abrams added. “Anyway, it’s no fun going to Del Mar if I can’t talk and I can’t eat, and I’m not doing either one very good right now. As for sunshine, I can get plenty right here in Arcadia.”

After career-best seasons in 2008 and 2009, Abrams cooled off a touch in 2010 but ended the season on a high note, winning the Hollywood Turf Cup with Unusual Suspect. Then again, success is measured differently in a stable where the trainer also is a co-owner of a number of runners. And all concerns tend to take a backseat to the health of the main man.

Still, Abrams can’t help but hope there is a little luck left over for Sunday, when Seany’s Courage runs in the fourth event on Hollywood Park’s closing-day program. The race is for maiden Cal-breds at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Unfortunately, at the age of 6, with 12 starts and a 2 1/2-year gap in the middle of his past performances, Seany’s Courage is still eligible.

“This will be his last shot before he goes to the farm and maybe then to run at Pomona,“ Abrams said. “I feel bad for the Seany Foundation. We haven’t been lucky so far.”

Depends on your definition of luck.