Solana Beach couple’s passion for racing stronger than ever after almost half a century in the sport
By Julie Sarno
ContributorWhen it comes to thoroughbred racing, few people are as persistent as Richard (Dick) and Linda Laird. The Solana Beach residents have owned horses for more than 45 years. They are positive and relish their involvement with the sport. They can be found every day of the Del Mar race meet in their box near the finish line.
We’ve done it all,” said Dick Laird, while spending the morning at trainer Eoin (pronounced “Owen”) Harty’s barn in the stable area at Del Mar. “We’ve bred horses, we’ve claimed horses, we’ve bought horses. We’ve put little (ownership) syndicates together. We’ve done it all and we love it all. Until I run out of money, I’ll keep doing it.”
The Lairds bought their first horse in 1966 when they lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dick was in the construction business and met colleagues for breakfast at Pleasanton, one of the Northern California fairs where racing is conducted. Over their meal, a friend asked Laird if he owned a horse. Laird replied, “No,” and was told about a Chilean-bred runner whose owner was not paying his training bills. Laird could have him for $2,000. Laird recalled the first time the horse started, he ran third at Pleasanton.
“We were so excited, we nearly fainted,” chimed in Linda. “His name was Jonico.”
The Lairds’ first trainer was Jimmy Wise, a former jockey who had ridden with Red Pollard of Seabiscuit fame. Since then, the Lairds have had horses with many other trainers, including Tex Johnson, Charlie Comiskey, Bob Baffert and, now, Irish-born Harty. Harty is a former assistant to Baffert who has been training on his own for a number of years.
“We paid $8 a day then for training with our first horse,” chuckled Dick Laird, acknowledging how much more expensive horse ownership is nowadays. “Jimmy would tell me stories for hours on end. He gave me a win picture from a race he won in Tijuana in 1926. We still have it. We were his only client. His dog, Reuben, his pick-up truck and our horse were his whole life.”
The Lairds’ second horse, named Fledge, was with Wise, who came from Idaho. When Fledge needed a little rest and relaxation, Wise took him to Idaho “to stand in the snow all winter. Fledge returned to Northern California and won a race at Santa Rosa with then-jockey Art Sherman aboard. Now a trainer, 74-year-old Sherman races at Del Mar each summer and saddled Ultra Blend to win the G1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes on Aug. 6.
As Dick Laird’s career advanced, the couple’s involvement with racing grew. Laird became a construction manager, then vice president of Elliott Homes. He is still on the board of directors of the company, which has built homes in Sacramento, Santa Barbara, the Bay Area, Tucson, Phoenix and Houston. Dick Laird retired in 1991 and the couple decided to move to Solana Beach in 1997, after spending many happy summers at Del Mar.
They have owned pieces of as many as 13 horses at one time. Currently, they own majority interests in two horses, Wild Date and Willyconker, both with Harty. Wild Date is a 2-year-old daughter of Full Mandate. She is preparing for her first-ever lifetime start at Del Mar later in August. She is owned in partnership with Andy Boud and Mike Levy. Willyconker is an Irish-bred 4-year-old by Pyrus, a son of top North American sire Mr. Prospector. He was selected by their trainer, Harty, and his father, Eddie Harty, a bloodstock agent in Ireland. The bay gelding notched his first victory for the Lairds on August 6.
Working with Harty, the Lairds have purchased five horses from Ireland. Their biggest thrill to date in racing has been owning Irish-bred Shamoan. The gelding won nearly $400,000 for the couple. Racing at three in 2005, Shamoan compiled a noteworthy record. His victories included the $250,000 Iowa Derby (G3) at Prairie Meadows. He was second in the Lone Star Derby (G3) in Texas and fourth in the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. The couple travelled the United States, watching Shamoan’s races.
“We went to Dubai with Shamoan in 2006,” recalled Laird. “We were treated so well. Shamoan finished fifth in the Godolphin Mile. We received $30,000 for his fifth-place finish and the free trip.”
“We’ve had more horses than we’ve got pictures,” said Linda Laird, acknowledging with a smile that not all their horses make it to the Winner’s Circle. “We’ve met so many people we’ve stayed friends with over the years. There’s something about people involved in horse racing that just glues you together. We all speak the same language — have the same interests.”