Just about every morning during the Thoroughbred racing season, dentist Robert Shima of Sierra Madre can be spotted working with horses around the stalls of Santa Anita race track.
But he is not there to pull teeth.
The 43-year-old Shima is believed to be the only dentist who is also a horse owner, trainer and breeder. Not a bad one, either.
Shima trains Royal Treasure, a 3-year-old colt he bred and owns with his wife Catherine. Royal Treasure has won about $60,000 this year in seven starts--including two wins--and is the only horse currently racing that is trained by the dentist, but it is more than enough to keep him busy.
Workouts and Work
Shima, who has practiced dentistry since 1968, shuttles between the track and his dental office in Temple City on weekdays. He usually arrives at the track at 8:15 a.m., sends his horse through a workout until 9 and leaves for his office.
"One horse is the most I've ever had racing at one time," Shima said. "I have an excellent girl assisting me at the track and a good exercise boy, which helps a lot. I am usually out to the office by 9:30 a.m.
"We haven't really had to do any major adjustments of patient schedules. He (Royal Treasure) usually runs on a Wednesday or Friday when I'm off or on the weekend, when I'm also off."
Hollywood Park Meet
What will happen now that the racing meeting has shifted to Hollywood Park?
"We will stable and train here (at Santa Anita) and ship him for the race." Shima said. "They give us that option. If I couldn't do that I probably couldn't work at the office."
Shima says becoming a dentist has provided the money he needs to stay in the horse-racing business.
"My first concern was making a steady income," he said. "The horse-racing business is not something you can rely on and at the time (when he became a dentist) I didn't have the confidence to do it as my only source of income."
Shima leaves no mystery as to which profession he would choose if pressed to decide. "You could say training has always been my first love. It has always been in my blood," he said.
"I've been associated with the horse business since I was 8. It has been something that has just come naturally."
His late father, George, who was an obstetrician, owned and trained horses for more than 30 years. "When I was growing up," Shima said, "I always thought I would own horses."
Training horses, though? That's another story.
Shima and his wife entered
the business as owners, obtaining their first horse by making a bid on an entrant in a claiming race in 1970.
"We've virtually been in every phase of the business," he said. "We've claimed, owned, trained and even done some pin-hooking for three years."
But the pin-hooking business, in which they would buy a horse at an auction in Kentucky in hopes of selling it for a higher price in California, had its down side.
As Tricky as Stocks
"You had to be either very lucky or very good at it," Shima said. "When it's good, it's like buying stocks in a bullish market. But when it turns around, it can go down just as fast."
It was not until 1983, when his father became ill, that he entered the training side of the business, becoming overseer for his father's horses.
Why would Shima want to be a trainer, when it would be easier to hire another person to train his horses?
"It was just so I could have total control," he said. "There are very few things I job out, plus it's cheaper for me. I also get the 10% (trainer fee) that I don't have to disburse. There are so many things I can do by myself.
"I just feel confident about handling the horses myself. I don't have to deal with any conflicts of interest and I always know who to blame if something goes wrong."
A Special Horse
Shima, who has also bred horses at the Three Ring Ranch in Beaumont for 11 years, has owned horses for 17 years but has no doubt that Royal Treasure is the most special.
"He's the best horse. Prior to that his mother (Regal Air) was the best. He has everything she has and he has maybe even shown a little more. He's like his mother. He started out as a speed horse but lately--like the last time he ran--he has been developing into a stretch-runner. He came from six lengths back to win" in a 6 1/2-furlong race March 21.
Veteran jockey Willie Shoemaker, who won this year's Kentucky Derby aboard Ferdinand, has ridden Royal Treasure in his last four starts and says he has excellent potential.
"He's a nice little colt," Shoemaker said of Royal Treasure, who has finished second in two stakes races. Stakes are prestige races in which top-flight horses compete for large purses. "He's easy to ride and he acts very well. I think he can win some stakes races along the way."
For the moment, though, Royal Treasure will not run in stakes. He strained a shoulder in a workout recently and Shima says he will not race again until at least July 1.