by Tracy Gantz/Photos by Ron Mesaros
That California Chrome and Tiznow, North America’s all-time leading money earner and the only horse to win two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), came of the same farm is amazing enough. That the farm isn’t located in the heart of Kentucky speaks volumes about the quality of California breeding in general and Harris Farms in particular.
Harris Farms can proudly claim California Chrome and Tiznow, national Horses of the Year in 2014 and 2000, respectively. Both made their first appearances at Harris in Coalinga, grew up on the farm’s vast pastures, and received their early lessons from the training division of the Central California farm.
Certainly, an army of people worked together to allow California Chrome and Tiznow to accomplish what they have. Owner/breeders Perry Martin and Steve Coburn and trainer Art Sherman have been instrumental in California Chrome’s rise to the top of the earnings list. The late Cecilia Straub-Rubens bred and raced two-time Classic winner Tiznow, who was trained by Jay Robbins.
Yet the Harris team oversaw the myriad details that sent those horses on their way. Foaling, nutrition, weaning, saddling, conditioning, shoeing—everything and everyone work together to give California Chrome, Tiznow, and the many other racehorses at Harris their best chances at success.
John Harris leads the team. He and his wife, Carole, own Harris Farms, which began when John’s grandfather moved from Texas to California in 1916. John’s father, Jack, recognized the value of California’s Central Valley, creating what has become a diversified farming operation in 1937.
The cattle operation has produced such a well-known brand of Harris Ranch Beef that the average Californian recognizes that side of the company more than the horses. And for anyone who traverses California along Interstate 5, the Harris Ranch Inn and Restaurant provide the perfect way station for a break in the drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco or vice versa.
As the company evolved, John Harris assembled a management team to oversee the divisions. Harris produces a wide variety of produce—onions, garlic, almonds, pistachios, olives, citrus fruit, and even asparagus. It also encompasses vineyards for producing wine.
Longevity in employees has played a key role in each division’s success. Plenty of people at Harris measure their length of service in decades rather than years.
Dave McGlothlin is one of them. He heads up the horse division, as he has since John Harris hired him in 1981. McGlothlin brought with him a B.S. in animal science and an M.S. in reproductive physiology from Colorado State University, along with experience in managing a horse farm in Idaho.
That dovetails well with John Harris’ background, which includes a B.S. in animal science and agricultural business management from the University of California at Davis. Not only has Harris bred and raced a long list of stakes winners and California-bred champions, he has many years of industry service.
Formerly the chairperson of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association and a current director, Harris also was the chairman and vice chairman of the California Horse Racing Board and a director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. He is a current member and steward of The Jockey Club.
Harris reflected on his many contributions, particularly his time serving on the CHRB.
“I have enjoyed my association with the horse industry and all the people in it,” Harris said. “Being on the CHRB was interesting, and I felt I was able to contribute some on-the-ground insight. It has a good staff and board, but unfortunately, like many governmental organizations, things don’t move along as fast as they should. The racetracks and the horse organizations dominate things, and I would like to see more input from the regular people in the game.
“I feel disappointed in myself for not getting a more transparent veterinary record system for racehorses, and also not better utilizing more modern systems, such as video cameras. I also wanted to make the licensing system user friendly and less cumbersome, and may have helped a little on that. But still too many things are a bureaucratic morass.
“A front-burner issue now is the use or prohibition of Lasix, and it is crazy that we still don’t have much good scientific research on all the aspects of it. It is still too much of a wedge issue.
“I was one of the few CHRB members who valued the legacy and diversity of the fairs and tried, sometimes in vain, to have such historic venues as Ferndale preserved.”
Harris Farms runners have been represented at every level of racing in California because of the way in which Harris and McGlothlin built the horse division into the powerhouse it is today. The CTBA recognized their quality by inducting John Harris into its Hall of Fame in 2008 and McGlothlin in 2016.
Both men are quick to credit the rest of the Harris team. McGlothlin hired Per Antonsen six months into the job, and Antonsen ably continues to lead the training division. Raul Rosas, the stallion manager and assistant farm manager, has been at Harris for 33 years. Dr. Jeanne Bowers-Lepore, the resident veterinarian, has more than 20 years with Harris.
“We’ve got a lot of employees who have been here for more than 10 years,” said McGlothlin. “We’ve got a good management team, and everybody knows what needs to be done. You never hear, ‘That’s not my job.’ Everybody pitches in and helps out.”
Incentives are often built into the program. McGlothlin a few years ago began a system whereby the foaling team benefits from the sale of a yearling.
“Joan Rogers had an older mare, Jetinwith Kennedy, a multiple stakes producer who didn’t get in foal one year,” said McGlothlin. “Joan was getting out of the business, and she asked me if I could find a home for the mare.”
McGlothlin subsequently bred the mare to one of the farm’s stallions with the idea that the foaling crew could raise the foal, take it to a sale, and receive the proceeds. The program has continued with other mares to the point that one year they sold a yearling for $42,000.
Another incentive program exists on the training side.
“The riders and the people in the training division get a percentage of the purse money generated by Harris Farms runners,” said McGlothlin.
Sometimes employees have horses named for them. That goes back as far as Big Jess, a foal of 1967 and the first stakes winner bred at Harris. Jack Harris named him for a longtime employee. One of Big Jess’ sons, Juan Barrera, a Harris homebred graded stakes winner of $245,705, was also named for an employee.
Among the current horses in training, Raul Rosas is a 3-yearold son of Torn Song. Harris once bought a mare named Debbie Sue, in part because of Debbie Sue Winick, the Harris racing manager.
“Every year we also offer up all of the pedigrees on our website and encourage people to submit suggestions for names,” said McGlothlin.
When McGlothlin began working for Harris, the horse division was much smaller than it is today. Harris and McGlothlin have expanded it to more than 500 acres—340 acres on the Coalinga property and another 200 acres on the River Ranch about 65 miles away on the Kings River. Laurie Brown manages the River Ranch.
“The real asset of the River Ranch is that we’ve got so much space there,” said McGlothlin. “We usually have 120-140 horses over there. Most of the fields are eight to 15 acres, and it’s a very sandy, forgiving soil. It’s a very good environment.”
Everything begins at the main farm, which houses the stallions, mares, and training division. The breeding section consists of the stallion barn, which includes 11 large 16’ x 20’ stalls and a central breeding shed and lab; accompanying stallion paddocks; a 19-stall broodmare barn; an eight-stall foaling barn; and plenty of various-sized paddocks, pens, and pastures.
Over at the training center, they have a seven-furlong track with a four-stall starting gate. Tree barns house the trainees and lay-ups, though Antonsen also has access to grass runs, pens, and paddocks if a horse needs them. Facilities include an outdoor arena, two covered round pens, and two Equi-Gym panel walkers.
McGlothlin said that Harris Farms breeds about 300 mares a year, with about 160 babies foaled on the property this season. Many of the mares belong to Harris clients, though the farm owns about 70 mares and produces a steady stream of Harris-breds. Some of the foals are raised and prepped for various sales, while others will race in the green and white Harris silks.
Of the many horses represented by those silks, one of John Harris’ favorites was Soviet Problem, the California-bred Horse of the Year in 1994 who is buried at the farm. Harris bred and raced Soviet Problem with Don Valpredo.
Soviet Problem produced a line of good runners for Harris and Valpredo. Those included her granddaughter Unzip Me. The Cal-bred daughter of City Zip—Escape With Me, by Arazi, earned $959,228 and was voted the champion Cal-bred older female of 2010.
Harris and Valpredo have more recently bred Pacific Heat, the champion Cal-bred 2-yearold female of 2015. She stems from Harris’ continuing quest to upgrade his broodmare band. He and Valpredo purchased the Stormy Atlantic mare Hotlantic, Pacific Heat’s dam, at the 2011 Keeneland fall mixed sale.
They bred Hotlantic to Unusual Heat to get Pacific Heat, a $175,000 yearling purchase who now races for Joe Ciaglia, Sharon Alesia, Mike Burns, and Taylor Legan.
Unusual Heat and Lucky Pulpit, the sire of California Chrome, are among the eight stallions standing at Harris. Unusual Heat and Lucky Pulpit have each topped California sire lists multiple times. Unusual Heat has surpassed $50 million in total progeny earnings, the only stallion to do so while spending his entire career in California. Lucky Pulpit, by virtue of California Chrome’s victory in the rich Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (UAE-I), leads all of the state’s other sires by current-year earnings.
The mother-son team of Madeline and Harris Auerbach heads up the syndicate that owns Unusual Heat, while Larry and Marianne Williams own Lucky Pulpit.
“We’ve been so blessed to have a great many wonderful people who truly love horses as clients, going back to the ’70s, many of them still in the game,” said Harris. “Right now we are proud that the Auerbachs chose us as the farm where they stand Unusual Heat and raise their horses.
“Cecilia Straub-Rubens, with the encouragement of her horse manager, Eric Anderson, sent us Cee’s Tizzy years ago, and we did well with him. Her daughter, Pam Ziebarth, still keeps horses with us.”
Unusual Heat has been standing at Harris since 2011 and is the grand old man of both the farm and California. At 26, the son of Nureyev-Rossard, by Glacial, is the oldest of the stallions, but only because Cee’s Tizzy, the sire of Tiznow, died earlier this year at age 29.
“We called Cee’s Tizzy the grumpy old man—he lived life on his terms,” said McGlothlin. “When I’d feed him carrots in the morning, he come over and open his mouth real wide over the top of the fence. If I tried to scratch him, he’d pull back. He just wanted his carrots.”
Unusual Heat, on the other hand, eagerly comes up for his carrots and a morning “discussion” with McGlothlin.
“He’s a character and a very smart horse,” said McGlothlin. “He takes really good care of himself.”
Unusual Heat’s more than 50 stakes-winning offspring include Eclipse Award winner Acclamation, multiple Cal-bred champion and millionaire The Usual Q.T., and millionaire Unusual Suspect.
The Auerbachs, along with Barry Abrams, are involved with Lakerville, a stakes-winning son of Unusual Heat who entered stud in 2015 at Harris Farms. Abrams, the trainer of Unusual Heat, bred Lakerville with Team Green, campaigned him with the Auerbachs, and trained him.
“We were saddened to see Barry take a leave of absence from training due to health issues but proud to have some of his horses with us,” said Harris. “His Unusual Heat story is simply amazing.”
Lakerville earned $318,910 under Abrams’ care and has settled into life as a stallion.
“Lakerville is pretty easygoing and has been a happy horse here,” said McGlothlin. “His closing speed was phenomenal, and we hope he’ll be able to pass that along.”
McGlothlin takes the stallions to the breeding shed himself and knows their personalities well.
Lucky Pulpit, for example, “doesn’t get angry about anything,” said McGlothlin. “He’s an absolute dream in the breeding shed and has a lot of personality. Two years ago he covered 128 mares, and he was just so professional throughout the breeding season.”
Clubhouse Ride is a relatively new stallion, having entered stud late in the 2015 breeding season. The son of Candy Ride earned $1,341,132 and won such events as the 2013 Californian Stakes (gr. II).
“It looks like Candy Ride may be a sire of sires, as evidenced by the success of Twirling Candy,” said McGlothlin. “Clubhouse Ride is a good horse to handle. He’s not aggressive in the breeding shed.”
Craig Lewis trained Clubhouse Ride as well as Cal-bred champion mare Warren’s Veneda, who was bred to Clubhouse Ride this year. Given the way the Harris Farms team works and the nurturing natural surroundings, it’s not surprising that the horses thrive
“I loved Candy Ride as a racehorse and thought he would be a top sire, which he is,” said Harris. “Now his sons are also proving themselves. Clubhouse Ride is owned by a really nice group headed by Rick Seidner, an automobile dealer in Southern California.”
Lewis’ association with Harris Farms goes back to Cutlass Reality. Winner of the 1988 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) when trained by Lewis, Cutlass Reality stood his entire stud career at Harris Farms, from 1989 until he was pensioned. He died at age 25 in 2007.
Though Tiznow got away from California to Kentucky for stud duty, Harris stands another son of Cee’s Tizzy in Tizbud, Tiznow’s full brother. Straub- Rubens bred and raced Tizbud, and Ziebarth now owns him. Ziebarth bred and raced Tiz Flirtatious, a daughter of Tizbud and a multiple Cal-bred champion.
Smiling Tiger, Desert Code, and Heatseeker round out the stallion ranks. All three earned more than $1 million on the racetrack. Smiling Tiger, owned by Phil Lebherz and Alan Klein, won eight graded stakes, and his first foals are yearlings. Desert Code, trained by Dave Hofmans, captured the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint before it became graded, and he won three graded events. Heatseeker’s victories included the 2008 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).
Desert Code has the distinction of perhaps siring the last foal of Freedom Dance, McGlothlin’s favorite mare. Harris bred the daughter of Moscow Ballet, an earlier stallion who stood at the farm. Freedom Dance began racing for Harris, was claimed away, and they claimed her back in her final start.
The mare has produced Cal-bred champion and millionaire Cost of Freedom, a son of Cee’s Tizzy bred by Harris. The farm sold her 2011 colt by Unusual Heat as a yearling at Keeneland for $400,000.
Now 21, Freedom Dance is in foal to Desert Code, and McGlothlin said they will probably pension her after this foal.
Like all the other horses at Harris, pensioners fare well at the farm. Jettinwith Kennedy remains a pensioner, as does millionaire Cal-bred Greg’s Gold. Many horses are buried on the property after their long lives, including Cee’s Tizzy, Moscow Ballet, and Flying Continental.
Given the way the Harris Farms team works, it’s not surprising that horses thrive. McGlothlin attributes much of it to John Harris’ passion for every aspect of the business. McGlothlin attributes much of it to John Harris’ passion for every aspect of the business. “He lives and breathes racing and the horses,” said McGlothlin. “He’s always been very progressive and willing to try new things. He wants to get the picture of the latest foal. He loves the horses.”