Q-Racing Blog: Another Good Guy

Russell Harris hangs up the tack after a great career.

Quarter Racing Journal

Russell Harris hangs up the tack after a great career.

Russell Harris, 70, has retired from training. He is the second good-guy trainer in recent weeks to retire from racing, following Denny Ekins.

Harris is settling in at a new place in San Antonio, Texas, and along with wife Brook they have 23 acres with deer, turkeys and hogs. He’s anxious to reduce the hog population. In February, Russell and Brook will celebrate their 38th anniversary.

“That’s pretty good for a trainer,” jokes Harris.
 
They have three children — Sarah, 34; Marshal 32; and Tucker, 30. Sarah is the mother of their grandson Leo Yates, 3. Sarah lives in Park City, Utah, so you can be assured that Leo will be on a snowboard or skis. He could already be on the snow dreaming of big-dump powder days.

Harris has been on a number of AQHA committees, is a four-time member of the racing council and an AQHA director from California and Texas. He didn’t just take from racing, he gave back. He was given the Gordon Crone Special Achievement award in 2006 and shares the 2016 AQHA Racing Council Special Achievement Award with Ekins.

Harris will maintain his racing contacts. He plans to go to the AQHA Convention, major races and trials this summer at Ruidoso Downs and the induction ceremony for the Ruidoso Downs’ Racehorse Hall of Fame. He was the trainer inducted into the Racehorse Hall of Fame in 2015.

The Foley, Alabama, native moved to southern California in 1969 and was a groom for top trainer Gene Chambless. He was amazed when he arrived at Chambless’ barn and learned that he was being given his own brushes. Then, in 1972, he started training near the end of the year and his horses earned $33 from two starts.

Harris got a huge break for a young trainer when Chambless retired to manage Vessels Stallion Farm. At the time, Harris took over as the trainer for the overwhelming majority of Chambless’ prominent stable. The owners of those horses showed a lot of trust in the young Harris, who just a few years earlier was overwhelmed by getting his own brushes.

The trainer rewarded their trust through the years. He had many longtime owners and that is testament to the care their horses received from the Harris crew. The owners also stayed with him when he moved his operation base from California to Texas.

Harris has won Grade 1 stakes at eight different tracks and at least one Grade 1 stakes during each the last four decades.

 
Russell Harris. PHOTO: Andrea Caudill

Here are a few of his leading racehorses (in alphabetical order).

Artesia
($361,000, Won La Primera Del Ano Derby (G1) and two other graded stakes)

Artesia was one of Harris’ first horses and went on to be named 1998 broodmare of the year.

“She was a sweet little mare,” said Harris. “We worked her at the ranch and she never won a work.”

She was seventh in her first start and owner I. William Stratmore traveled from New Jersey to Los Alamitos for her second out. Harris was not optimistic about her chances after her morning works. However, she won the maiden race at 13-1 odds. A fine gentleman, Stratmore died last year at 105.

Deposit Cash
($562,103, Won Heritage Place Derby (G1) in new track record and Remington Park Championship (G1))

Harris calls Deposit Cash his Rodeney Dangerfield, as in never getting any respect. “He was the toughest little horse,” said Harris. “He was 700 pounds and maybe 15.1. He didn’t know he was little. He was all horse and tough.”

Face In The Crowd
($616,197, 1983 champion 2-year-old gelding, won Dash For Cash Futurity (G1), Dash For Cash Derby (G1) and placed in three other graded stakes)

Harris had him for a good portion of his career when the gelding was based at Los Alamitos. “He was really a nice, solid horse,” said Harris. “He might not have been as fast as some others, but he never made a mistake.”

Fishers Favorite
($210,860, won two listed stakes)

Fishers Favorite went on to be a top producer and was the dam of champion sire Fishers Dash, Grade 1 winner Check Her Twice and Grade 1 winner Dash To Chivato. “She was a tough mare,” said Harris. “She was a lot of fun. She was not the soundest, but she had talent.”

Florentine
($1,123,102, champion 3-year-old filly, won seven Grade 1 stakes and won or placed in four graded stakes)

A member of the Ruidoso Downs’ Racehorse Hall of Fame, Florentine was a truly great mare with Grade 1 wins at three different tracks. During one sensational streak as a three-year-old, she won the La Primero Del Ano Derby (G1) at Los Alamitos, the Golden State Derby (G1) at Bay Meadows, the Rainbow Derby at Ruidoso Downs and then the World’s Championship Classic (G1) at Ruidoso Downs as the only female and only 3-year-old in the race. She concluded that 1987 campaign with a third in the Champion of Champions behind world champions First Down Dash and Gold Coast Express.

“By the end of the year, in the Champion of Champions, she was tired,” said Harris. She was bred and raced by White Oaks Ranch, managed by AQHA past president Ginger Hyland. “Ginger had her in the All American Sale (now the Ruidoso Super Select Yearling Sale) and wanted $100,000. The final bid was $98,000, so she went home,” said Harris. Florentine went on to be the 1995 broodmare of the year.

Jodys Glory
($120,776, champion aged stallion, winner of three listed stakes)

Jodys Glory was the horse that helped get Harris’ career to the upper level. “He overcame my weaknesses and got me started,” said Harris. “He was my first champion. He was a solid horse and such a character. If we would go awhile without a win, Brook would say to me, ‘Time to run Jody.’.”

Prissy Fein
($718,996, champion 3-year-old and 3-year-old filly, Grade 1 wins in the Los Alamitos Derby, Rainbow Derby, Anne Burnett Invitational Handicap, Las Damas Handicap, won or placed in nine other graded stakes)

Harris trained Prissy Fein for part of her stellar career. He trained the filly during her championship 3-year-old year when she won the Los Alamitos Derby (G1) and Las Damas Handicap (G1) for Harris. He is standing next to listed trainer Don Farris in the win photo for the Rainbow Derby.

“She was fast … really, really fast,” said Harris. “She made a lot of money as an older horse.”

Prissy Fein earned $443,820 during her championship three-year-old season and then added $130,959 as a 4-year-old while in the Harris stable.

Harris loves racing. “It’s been a lot of fun.” he said. “Nobody can meet as many people in as many places and have that much fun.” It’s been fun for a lot of people to meet him. Count me among them.

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