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November Horse Person of the Month: Brent Harris

November 24, 2023

Brent Harris might be best described as a horse listener.

Throughout his time in Thoroughbred racing, dating back to his days growing up in Barbados, the humble horseman has always carried an open mind and open ear along with him for the ride.

“Horses, they talk. You just have to learn to listen. You watch them and they will tell you everything you need to know. Having ridden them is a big part of it. It’s the little things that make a big difference with the horses.”

It’s a philosophy Harris developed long ago, before he learned to drive a car.

“I started riding show horses when I was 11. The person I did that for, her son was a trainer back home in Barbados. He was the one who helped me get my exercise rider license. Slade [jockey, Callaghan] and I got our jockey licenses at the same time. I rode races in Barbados for a while and through Ricky Griffith, I met Laurie Bateman, who is now Bill McMahon’s wife. Bill brought me over to Canada and I rode races at Fort Erie from 1989 until 1991.”

In 612 career races, Harris won 32 times, along with 111 top-three finishes.

After battling his riding weight, he headed to the Sunshine State in search of work with the horses, a journey that would eventually lead him back to Canada.

“I had no job at the time, and I went to Florida with [trainer] Brian Ross. I ended up working for [dual hall of fame trainer] Roger Attfield starting in 1991. I worked for him in the States with a lady named Holly Robinson. She taught me everything I knew. She is a very good person and I still drive down to Maryland every year to see her. She has had a big influence on my life.

“I worked for Roger for three or four years and then I worked for Dickie Small, who trained the great horse Broad Brush. I worked for him for three years and then I ended up meeting [Woodbine-based trainer] Mike Doyle. I ended up coming back to Canada because the work permits in the U.S. were very hard to come by. I knew Mike from Fair Grounds, through Brian Ross. I think it was in 2000 when I came back here, and I’ve been working with Mike ever since.”

It has been a match made in horse-racing heaven.

Doyle, a multiple graded stakes winning trainer, has won nearly 1,200 races, including 29 stakes.

“Every trainer I have worked for has a different way of doing things, the way they train horses, so I’ve picked up a little bit from everybody. Mike is a patient person, and we have a very good working relationship. He trusts me entirely with what needs to be done with the horses. We talk about the horses all the time, more often ahead of the races, so that we can be on the same page. He’s a great friend, more than a boss to me.”

“Brent is a superstar,” said Doyle. “Everyone on the backstretch has a great respect for him as a person and for what he does with the horses. I am very lucky to have a great team, including Brent.”

Brent Harris (Photo by Jeff Bowen)
Brent Harris (Photo by Jeff Bowen)

Highlights, before and during Harris’ time with Doyle, have been many.

His first win as a jockey came with a horse trained and owned by Bill McMahon. The milestone victory came on May 15, 1989, at Fort Erie.

“The horse was called He’s a Regent,” recalled Harris. “It was a big thrill to get that first win. I’ve been very fortunate over the years to be around some great horses. Dickie Small had a nice one in Stellar Brush, who was a graded stakes winner. With Roger, there was a very nice horse called Fairy Garden, who was a multiple graded stakes winner. Mike had a nice horse called Gone Fishin, who had a great career. He was a tough horse to gallop. There is also Celtic Hope, Tiz Imaginary, Holy Helena… there are so many great ones.”

When recurring sciatic nerve pain put a stop to the galloping side of Harris’ horse racing life, it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for a multi-faceted, fulfilling career.

In fact, he has never once viewed his time in racing as work.

“I love my job. It isn’t a job to me. I like developing babies, seeing how they come along, and working with the great crew here at the barn. Everyone has been here over 15 years. We have a great team. Everyone plays a part. It’s one big, cohesive family.”

When he isn’t tending to the band of Doyle horses at Barn 38 on the Woodbine backstretch, Harris leads an active outdoor life throughout the year.

“I’m an avid runner. I ran in a marathon four or five years ago in three hours and 45 minutes. I do a lot of skiing, golfing, and mountain biking.

There is one activity he has yet to master.

“No hockey for me. I can’t skate. Well, I can, but not good enough.”

Harris is, however, plenty skilled when it comes to the Thoroughbred arena, a place where he is always happy to listen to the equine athletes he works with.

“It’s been a great life. I can’t complain. I love the horses. I think being a runner has helped me understand the horses and how to keep them fit. If you take the time and are patient, they will tell you everything you need to know about them.”

Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @WoodbineComms

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