“The world would be a better place with more Charlie Harrises and the racing world would be, too.”
So said Christophe Clement, the longtime trainer for Charles E. Harris, a New York-based venture capitalist and Thoroughbred owner and breeder who died Thursday afternoon, 19 months after being diagnosed with what doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York said was incurable colon cancer. The diagnosis came just three months after Harris retired, at the age of 65, as chairman and CEO of the company he founded, Harris & Harris Group, which specialized in investing in small technology companies.
No one I’ve ever known approached his own impending death with the curiosity, integrity, honesty, courage and wit that Charlie did. Shortly after his diagnosis, he began writing an online blog (here) about his experiences–the treatments he underwent, the side-effects and prognoses, the good days and bad that became part of his routine, and the thoughts that entered the mind of a man whose time on this earth was nearing its end. Never once did he complain. In fact, Charlie did his best to maintain a normal and vibrant life, traveling during the early stages of his diagnosis (“Living well is the best revenge,” he wrote during a trip to Paris, France), keeping tabs with his racing stable and the Thoroughbred industry that was such a big part of his life, reading, watching movies and sports, listening to music, and constantly communicating with friends. It wasn’t unusual to get an e-mail from Charlie at midnight, or at 5 a.m. for that matter.
In July, knowing that his days were dwindling, he stopped writing so that he could spend more time with his wife Susan and their two children, Elizabeth and David. (Susan began writing her own blog to update friends and family on Charlie’s condition.) By then, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, the publishing arm of a cancer research center in New York, expressed interest in publishing his diary in a book, entitled: “Incurable: A Life After Diagnosis.” It will be available in November. Charlie and Susan are directing all profits from the book to cancer research, something they have already supported in hopes that future patients will have a greater chance of survival. Some of the companies in which Harris & Harris Group has invested were working on cancer treatments, too, but any breakthroughs will come too late for Charlie.
Click here to learn more about “Incurable: A Life After Diagnosis.”
Charlie lost his father last year at the age of 99, and after I mentioned to him that my own father, then 91, was in declining health, I don’t think a week went by that he didn’t ask how he was doing. When my father died last month, Charlie, in the late stages of cancer, was a source of strength and great encouragement. “I like to think of men like our fathers as the backbone of America,” he wrote.
When I wrote about Charlie Harris earlier this year (here), I subsequently received an e-mail from a new owner looking for advice, asking if I would forward a question to Charlie about the best way to find a good and ethical trainer. Now seems like an appropriate time to share his response:
There are some principles that I strongly recommend,” he wrote. “You should always deal only with a trainer, breeder, or agent who appears to be earning an honest living. In other words, if the trainer’s horses earned $200,000 in purses last year and he’s driving a new Mercedes, stay away. Look for a trainer who has longstanding clients with nice horses. Don’t worry about being a small fish in a large pond. The top trainers have all the advantages– best help, best exercise riders, best jockeys, the attention of the best vets. Don’t go with a trainer who seems to show signs of doping his horses, like miraculous winning streaks. I’ve been with Christophe for 15 years now, and he wins with 20% of his starters year in, year out. HE HAS NEVER BEEN CITED FOR A DRUG VIOLATION. Check the trainers’ vet bills before you sign on with him. If the bills are relatively high, the best that can be said is that the vets are training the horses. With Christophe, most months, our vet bills are nominal.
Why would a top trainer want your horses? If I were to be remembered for anything as an owner, it should be, ‘He paid his bills on time.’ Be reliable, buy the type of horses that fit his barn, and you’ll fit right in. Then just remember the adage, ‘Keep your horses in the worst of company, and yourself in the best of company.’
When you buy at auction using an agent or trainer, and he asks which horses you’re bidding on and what your limit will be, lie. Let’s say you want to buy one horse but have three still on your short list. Cite higher prices than you’re actually going to bid. Do your own bidding. The agents, trainers, and consigners will quickly learn that they can’t steal from you. If they ask why you stopped below your limit, just say you go on market feel when you’re actually bidding. See how many of the horses you underbid wound up as buybacks to get an idea of whether you were being set up.
Pick a breeder to work with who breeds good horses and has a stable group of owners as clients.
Hope this helps! Good luck.
I am just one of many individuals whose life is better for having known Charles Harris. “He was a dear friend,” Christophe Clement said. “Charlie was a very smart man, and very much an ethical man in everything he did, including racing.”
Added Rob Whiteley, a longtime friend of Charlie’s: “For thirty years I have had the privilege of observing the way my friend Charlie has led his life. When he was told that he was terminally ill, he wholeheartedly chose quality of life. This is fully consistent with the man I know. Charlie, in his very fiber, is all about quality and the pursuit of excellence. His support of pioneering ventures in the world of nano technology underlines the scope of his intellect, but his support of people who seek to make a difference defines him best. He once told me that he doesn’t invest in projects or paradigms, he invests in people. It’s no surprise to me, therefore, that within our industry he chose Christophe Clement as his trainer, a man whose class matches his immense talent. I am relieved that after such a valiant display of will and courage fighting his disease that he has gone peacefully into that good night. His forthcoming book will reveal his thoughts about his long ordeal. The last chapter, however, will not be told in words, but by the way he lived his final days.”
It was with great sadness, mixed with a feeling of good fortune for having known him, that I received the following e-mail from Susan Harris early Thursday evening.
“Charlie died peacefully this afternoon with David and me at his side. I was quite sure he smiled at me when I talked to him a few hours before. He knew he was loved and respected. Amazing numbers of people wrote to tell him what he had meant to them, and all of these communications contributed to his peacefulness in death.
“We are not planning a funeral or visitation. He will be cremated, with his ashes scattered at sea. In a few weeks, at a time that is convenient for our daughter and other distant relatives and friends … we will have a memorial service, a real celebration of his life. He asked me to serve ‘the good stuff.’”
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