Fathers’ Day is upon us once again at Arlington, and who fits the profile of an ideal longtime Arlington-employed father better than Arlington’s assistant starter Hershell Davis, who began working on the local gate in 1989?
Davis, along with his Chicago-born wife Liane Davis – the veteran Arlington-based trainer – are the proud parents of four children, two of which have now chosen to follow their parents into the world of Thoroughbred racing.
“Hershell and I decided that we wouldn’t ship around the country with my horses but stay in one place and race at Arlington and Hawthorne year-round,” said Liane Davis. “We wanted our kids to go grow up in their own home, going to the same schools and the same churches throughout their childhood. Actually, Hershell and I would have been just as happy if Chris and Meagan had never gotten into this business. It’s not an easy life.”
Apparently, that’s not going to be the way it is. Son Christopher began galloping horses six years ago for his mother and later for trainers like Wayne Catalano and Gerard Butler. He joined up with trainer Mike Stidham last year and is now an assistant trainer for Stidham.
“I always knew I wanted to be in this game,” he said. “I always wanted to gallop horses. Actually, I wanted to ride races but my parents wouldn’t let me.
“But now, I’m thankful for the opportunity to work for a guy like Mike Stidham,” he said. “He’s a great trainer and I’ve learned a lot from him since the day I started working in his barn. Yes, of course I want to go out on my own as a trainer some day – without a doubt. I knew I wanted to do this ever since my father put me up on my first horse and led me out on the track,” he concluded, “I worked on the starting gate with him for a year and a half and we still enjoy going dirt-biking together every summer.”
Daughter Meagan began working in Arlington’s track photography department four years ago and is now in her second full season as an Arlington placing/patrol judge.
“I really didn’t plan on getting into this business,” she said. “I just kind of fell into it but it has really turned out to be a lot of fun. You get to know everybody and I enjoy meeting new people all the time.
“Dad is a really fun guy to be around,” she said. “He likes to enjoy himself. He likes to have a good time. One of my favorite memories of him happened while we all were on a family vacation at a resort in Mexico a couple of years ago. During one of the shows at the resort we all dared him to run across the stage wearing a sombrero and little else, and he took us up on it. That was fun!”
Liane Davis began training horses in 1983. She met her future husband when she took a difficult but promising 2-year-old named Rullahoftherib up to Canterbury a couple of years after the Minnesota facility opened its doors.
“I knew the horse had a lot of talent but I was having a lot of trouble with him,” said the trainer. “Someone recommended that Hershell might be able to help with the horse, so I had Hershell get on him and he settled right down for him. We ended up winning the Minnesota Breeders’ Futurity that summer with that horse.”
Hershell Davis, 51, was born in Detroit, Michigan, as the son of a blacksmith. By the time he met his future wife at Canterbury, he had worked galloping horses for trainers like Ray Lawrence, Stanley Reiser and Wally Dollase.
“One of the things the kids and I have learned about Hershell is that he can fix just about anything around the house,” said the trainer, who is also remembered for taking on added duties as Arlington’s television hostess with admirable dexterity during the summers of 2006 and 2007.
“We all depend on him to fix things around the house and I always depend on him for his help with my horses,” Liane Davis said. “This winter, I had a horse named Defiant Flyer who I was having some trouble with, so I had Hershell start getting on him the mornings. After Hershell worked with him for awhile, I took Defiant Flyer to Sam Houston last February and we won the Jim’s Orbit Stakes with him.
“Defiant Flyer is Hershell’s baby these days,” she concluded, “and right now we are hoping we can bring Hershell’s latest baby back to run again at Arlington some time later this summer.”