03/30/2008 11:00PM

He's beaten the odds more than once by being unorthodox


Barry Abrams and the term "conventional" training don't exactly go hand-in-hand. Abrams was born in Minsk, Russia, which hasn't exactly been a breeding ground for trainers.

While a number of Thoroughbred trainers, including such famous ones as D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, came from the Quarter Horse ranks, Abrams did his time with Standardbreds. And in this day and age, when many trainers give horses extra time between races, Abrams often goes the other way, wheeling his horses back quickly, sometimes in less than a week.

For Abrams, 54, going against the grain has all been good. Abrams has been in the horse business for more than 30 years and seems now firmly entrenched in Southern California. The only thing that could have sidetracked him - learning he had throat cancer three years ago - has been readily shoved aside by Abrams much like the book on conventional training.

Abrams has long been known as part of the "claiming" branch of the training tree, but recent success with Grade 1 stakes winner Golden Doc A and turf success with Lake Marina, Ballistic Heat, and others show he can handle a good horse just fine.

Abrams, who came to the United States at age 9, seemed destined for something different. He took business classes at Cal State Los Angeles in 1972. That's the same time he went to work for a family friend's Standardbred stable at Hollywood Park. He went to work for leading harness trainer Don Ratchford before striking out on his own in 1978 at the Meadowlands. Most notably, he trained Guts, who won nearly $2 million.

Abrams moved back to Southern California in 1987 and went to work for another harness expatriate, Roger Stein. Abrams went out on his own to train Thoroughbreds in 1993 and stamped himself here to stay when he won the 1997 Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks with Famous Digger, a horse he claimed for $40,000. She went on to win five stakes and then was sold for seven figures.

Abrams's eye for a horse is proven - he's 3 for his last 6 first time off a claim. And as with most good horsemen, there's little difference in which game is being played - he's 13 percent in sprints, 11 percent in routes.

While many West Coast devotees are well aware of his penchant for the quick turnaround - he's 5 for his last 36 (14 percent) coming back in less than a week - many might be surprised to note he has done well off long layoffs. He's 2 for his last 12 (17 percent) off layoffs of more than 180 days.

Anyone in the horse industry has to get used to disappointment and setbacks. Even while some trainers click at 25 percent that still means they're losing 75 percent of the time. But Abrams has had to deal with much bigger issues.

In 2005, on his 51st birthday, Abrams learned he had stage 4 throat cancer. The tumor was deemed inoperable. However, chemotherapy and radiation have his cancer in remission.

Overcoming odds has been a trademark of Abrams, and for many of his horses, including Golden Doc A. A daughter of Unusual Heat, she's not the most fashionably bred runner around, but is all heart, and she proved her Grade 1 Las Virgenes win this winter at Santa Anita was no fluke when she came right back to be second in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. Abrams has the lofty target of the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on his mind for his stable star.