Life without Linda
Some racing people outside of Southern California may never have heard of Linda Laird, who died Monday after a brief illness. But Linda and her husband, Richard, who bought their first racehorse in Northern California in 1966, exemplify the small stables on which this game depends. They were not the leading buyers at select yearling sales and never won a Triple Crown race, but no one enjoyed a day at the races – and especially watching one of their own horses run – more than Dick and Linda Laird.
They had some success with several horses, including an Irish-bred named Shamoan, who won the 2005 Iowa Derby and finished fifth in the Godolphin Mile in Dubai. But it wasn’t just about winning. In a Del Mar Times article written by Julie Sarno, Linda Laird talked about what made racing so special. “There’s something about people involved in horse racing that just glues you together,” Linda said. “We all speak the same language — have the same interests.”
Kathy Harty is the wife of trainer Eoin Harty and has partnered on many horses with the Lairds. She shares her personal story of their friendship. – Ray Paulick
The last time I saw Linda Laird was at Del Mar on Sept. 1 and she had never looked better, with not even a hint of the cancers that were ravaging her body. We had all been given the bad news about her health, but it was difficult to pair that news with the beautiful, vibrant woman who sat in her usual box seat enjoying a full card with her husband Dick, as they did every race day at Del Mar. On this day, the horse we own in partnership was running. Linda had her Daily Racing Form on her lap and Dick was buried in his own Form. They did not share the Racing Form.
Dick and Linda have been one of racing’s special couples who shared the passion of our sport together and were never seen apart. Their retirement years have centered around racing as a pastime and an investment. They have been among our many smaller owners with one or two horses at a time, often in partnerships, and yet their adventures in racing have taken them to so many exciting places, including Dubai. The Lairds embody the true spirit of horseracing that puts us all on the edge of our seats for the thrilling moments of a stretch run, not the moments of sales receipts or paymaster checks or cashed tote tickets.
My husband, Eoin, and I have been racing with the Lairds for 20 years and they have watched our son Eddie grow up. Our box at Santa Anita has been their box and their box at Del Mar has been ours. They are in dozens of our win photos regardless of the horses’ ownerships, as they have been my seat mates for every race in which we are all in attendance. Linda has been my paddock company when I am alone, and I have watched more races with the Lairds than anyone else including my husband, since he sits with me for all of two minutes while his own race is run and must then attend to business.
At the close of Del Mar this past summer, we knew Linda was to begin her grueling treatments to try to stave off the cancers. I did not see her at all during the month of September but hoped that after her rounds of chemo, she might be able to make it to a few more races at Santa Anita, and that is what the Lairds had also hoped.
But at eight o’clock on Sunday morning I received an email message from Linda to her friends and family that she had entered a hospice and the time was near. I was shocked at the sudden news but still did not absorb how short her time was. Linda’s family all visited on Sunday and Dick had given me permission to come visit with her on Monday morning, but I was too late. I did not get to say goodbye or tell her how important she has been to me all these years. I had not even realized myself how very special Dick and Linda have been to me, as I had never contemplated either of them not being there.
We could not win the race that last day at Del Mar for Linda, but her horse runs back this Thursday at Santa Anita and for the first time, Dick will not be able to attend. He has had the wind taken out of his sails and finds it hard to feel the same passion for racing without his precious wife with whom he shared this joy. He gave up his Breeders’ Cup tickets this year.
It will take time to adjust to life without Linda, his right arm, but Dick chose a fortunate sport to love, as the racing community is uniquely close and will pull together in support for him. This special couple has many friends at racetracks around the country, and although racing will never be the same again for Dick, we will help him enjoy his passion again.