At junior college in Hillsboro, Texas, Jim Williams tried fooling himself into believing he really wanted to be an electrical engineer.
He would rather have trained show horses, as he had done for about 10 years before heading off to college. However, he knew he could never become a top trainer because the best rode their own horses. Williams always had to find other riders because polio, which struck him when he was 18 months old, kept him out of the saddle.
Then a friend, who was a horseshoer, took Williams to the race track in Del Rio, Texas, and Williams got a glimpse at life as a race-horse trainer. He never returned to class.
"In the race-horse business, trainers don't ride horses," said Williams, 55. "Most of training is done with the eyes, and my eyes work fine."
Williams was an assistant trainer for nearly 10 years before obtaining his license and continuing to work in Texas. He spent a couple of years training horses in New York in the late 1970s before coming to California in 1979. He worked five years as an assistant under Steve Rothblum at Los Alamitos Race Course. Since being on his own, Williams has won 161 quarter-horse races since 1984, including four in 13 starts this season.
Williams' disability hasn't been a detriment to his work at the track. He uses crutches to help him walk, and occasionally needs help to put a saddle on a resistant horse.
"There's still little things around that you wish you could do sometimes, but there's nothing that is of any concern in this business," he said. "It's no big deal."
Williams said the most important aspects of training quarter horses are finding the right jockey, giving the horse a proper diet and conditioning the horse to run. None of those are a problem for Williams, who went against conventional wisdom to get into the horse business.
"Anything to do with horses, most of my life people told me I couldn't do it," he said. "One of the reasons I was going to college was to do something completely different because people told me I can't do this and I can't do that."
But at Los Alamitos, Williams fits right in.
"The finish line doesn't know whether you're handicapped or not," he said. "The only handicap at the race track is the one that the racing secretary puts out."
Los Alamitos will host a seminar Saturday for prospective owners. The American Quarter Horse Assn. is sponsoring the event, which will include information about basic aspects of horse ownership, such as selecting a trainer, partnerships, maintaining a horse's health, proper nutrition for the horses and horse insurance.
The seminar will also feature information on claiming horses, which is one way for a hopeful owner to get into the business. At Los Alamitos, claiming races are run almost daily, and every horse in the claiming race is available for purchase for prices from $1,600 to more than $20,000.
The seminar will begin at 11 a.m.
Television crews from TVG, the TV Games Network, were out at Los Alamitos this week, doing work in preparation for the July 15 launch of a 24-hour cable television horse racing channel. The channel will feature interactive wagering and will feature races from 20 tracks around the country. Besides Los Alamitos, some of the tracks that will be featured are Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Pimlico, Del Mar, Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. . . . Trainer Joel Bauer pulled off a rare feat July 1 when he entered a quarter horse, an Arabian and a thoroughbred in three different races and won each. It was the first time in the 49-year history of Los Alamitos that a trainer has had three breeds of horses win in one night. . . . Trainer Phil Saxon won both divisions of the Arabian horse races in the Firecracker Futurity last weekend at Los Alamitos. Saxon won the fillies event with Triextra early in the evening, and later won the colts and geldings race with Djolly Good. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Saxer won the colts and geldings race considering he trained nine of the 11 horses in the running.