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Horseman Barry Abrams, trainer of Guts, dies at 66

October 10, 2020
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Horseman Barry Abrams, 66, well known in harness racing when he raced the pacing star Guts but later a highly successful and popular Thoroughbred trainer, died Oct. 9 at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Arcadia, Calif., of respiratory failure.
 
Despite never smoking, Mr. Abrams was diagnosed with throat cancer and battled the disease for more than 10 years. Side effects from the treatment caused him to lose his taste buds, prevented him from swallowing (he used a feeding tube), but his friends remembered him as “a good heart and a good soul.”
Mr. Abrams was looking forward to this fall’s Breeders Cup when Mo Forza, a horse he co-owned, was expected to compete in the Breeders' Cup Mile. 
 
During Mr. Abrams’ Standardbred career, he traveled the country with the modestly-bred, cleverly-named Guts. Guts, a son of Raven Hanover, was a major stakes winner and at age three earned $1,024,967 before finishing his career with $1.6 in winnings.
 
As a Thoroughbred trainer, Mr. Abrams racked up 688 wins and more than $30 million in purse earnings. He was also a major breeder in California. He famously claimed Unusual Heat for $80,000 and, with owners and the mother-son team of Madeline and Harris Auerbach, the stallion became one of California's all-time leading sires. Much of Abrams' success came from Unusual Heat's offspring and into the second generation.
 
"He was an incredible horseman who had a real connection with the horses," Harris Auerbach said. "He taught me a lot about horses and the business of racing."
 
Remembering Abrams as a trainer with a "symbiotic connection" to his runners, Madeline Auerbach added, "He had a lot of friends, he loved his family dearly, and I know he loved the horses. It was almost like he could climb inside their brains and figure out what it was they wanted to do and what they needed for him to calm them down. He was a master at it."
 
Born in Minsk, Russia, in 1954, Abrams lived in Poland and Israel before moving with his family to Burbank, Calif., in 1963. While attending California State Los Angeles and studying business, he groomed Standardbreds in the mornings. He trained harness horses from 1978-87.
 
Switching to Thoroughbreds, Mr. Abrams worked as an assistant to trainer Roger Stein before going out on his own in 1993.
 
In addition to his wife of 38 years and his brother, Abrams is survived by daughters Anna Marie and Natalie, granddaughters Stella and Rose, and nephews Andrew and Aaron. Funeral arrangements are pending.
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