On the day they were duly licensed by the California Horse Racing Board last September, Dave and Gloria Farris of Northridge entered the harness racing business on the run, with Dave frantically beating closing time at a bank to borrow more than $6,000, which he spent that night on Kalamoun, a horse that hadn't won a race in its life.
A week later, both Kalamoun and the Farrises were in the winner's circle. How did Dave feel?
"Like a guy who comes to the majors and in his first at-bat and hits a home run," said Farris, who also bet $20 on Kalamoun and won $325.
The Farrises haven't stopped running. In 10 months, the four horses they have owned have won 14 races in 35 starts, placed second five times and third twice, including wins this week at Los Alamitos by Nardin Lustre and Premier Cuvee. Being in the money 60% of the time is an owner's dream.
A family friend regularly asks them, "Why is it after you buy a horse that it starts winning?" Dave doesn't sound as though he knows the answers himself.
"We've been uncommonly fortunate," he said. "Fourteen wins--that's really uncommon. But there's nothing like having the horse you own win, and going down to the winner's circle and having your picture taken."
The Farrises give a lot of the credit to horse trainer Paul Blumenfeld, who saw something in Kalamoun and convinced them to buy the horse. He's been giving the couple tips ever since, and Rick Kuebler, who grew up in Northridge, has been driving the horses to victory.
Why was Blumenfeld high on Kalamoun? "I just liked him," he said. "I felt he was a good claim. I felt like I could step him up."
Blumenfeld isn't long-winded with his tips, Gloria says. "If a horse has a chance at all, Paul will say, 'He has a good shot,' " she said. "If he's among a lot of competition, he'll say, 'He's in tough.' He won't put a horse in a race where it doesn't have a chance."
For 10 years, Blumenfeld worked under trainer Roger Stein. Together, they were considered one of the state's most formidable trainer teams. Kuebler was in the silky for them.
"Rick drove for Roger almost solely," said Elise Kuebler, Rick's mother, who owns a harness horse named Magog. "For quite a number of years, they were untouchable. Paul learned a lot about training from Roger, the tricks of the trade. He's just beginning to come into his own."
Blumenfeld has only an oral contract with the Farrises. "The trainer is the boss," Dave said. "He takes care of the horse, trains it, decides what kind of race to enter it in."
Only two weeks after Kalamoun had brought the Farrises almost $2,000 in winnings, the horse was taken away from them in a claiming race for $8,000. But, on a tip from Blumenfeld, the Farrises invested that money in their second horse, Deanover. "Deano" won four straight races and finished second once.
After Deano developed a leg problem, the horse was sold and the Farrises bought Premier Cuvee and Nardin Lustre as a package deal for $11,000 last May. Both horses have made 12 starts under the Farrises' ownership and have won almost $18,000. Premier Cuvee has won seven times and Nardin Lustre twice.
Dave, 52, has loved harness horses all his life and owning one was his dream. Growing up in Walpole, Mass., he always went to the Bay State Raceway in Foxboro, not far from Boston. As a spectator, though, he was always on the outside of the business, looking in.
"My work was such that I used to do a lot of traveling," said Dave, who now works for a Van Nuys aerospace corporation involved in the defense industry. "I've been to a lot of harness tracks across the country."
Wherever he went, he would seek out race tracks--Roosevelt Raceway or Vernon Downs in New York state, Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland, Wolverine Raceway in Detroit, or California Exposition Park in Sacramento.
Gloria was a housewife who became interested in harness horses shortly after getting interested in Dave. She saw her first harness race when Dave took her approximately 10 years ago. After about two years, the two harnessed themselves together, marrying in 1978.
As owning a horse was Dave's lifelong dream, so is learning to train one now.
"I'd like to be more active in the care and feeding of the horses I own," Dave said. "Those horses are better cared for than you take care of yourself. They're really pampered.
But even though he loves horse racing, he said, "For me, it's a business."
The Farrises are concerned that harness racing hasn't enjoyed the same popularity as thoroughbred racing.
"We're trying our darndest to make it go," Dave said. "But thoroughbred competition in California is pretty tremendous."
Some harness horse owners say that the thoroughbreds hog the headlines. After looking for stories on harness horses and quarter horses, Gloria said, "There's no one reporting or virtually no reporting."
Others have said the problem is that there aren't enough racing fans who are know a lot about harness racing.
"People have to be taught harness racing, educated into the sport," Gloria said. "It's not just running horses around in circles. There's a lot of strategy involved.
"I wish it could be as big as it is back East."