Larry Sterling , who trained the great California closer Vigors, died July 27 in Hot Springs, Ark., after battling cancer. A native of Colorado Springs, Colo., he was 70.
Sterling trained Vigors for breeder/owner W.R, Hawn. Named for Hawn’s friend, Irish horseman Tim Vigors, the equine Vigors was nicknamed "The White Tornado" because of his roan color and his ferocious manner of closing. In the 1978 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), Vigors fell far back in the early part of the 1 1/4-mile race after colliding with another horse at the start. Working his way up, he got to within eight lengths of the leader at the quarter pole and stormed home to win by 2 1/2 lengths.
Vigors won four other graded stakes including the 1977 Hollywood Invitational Handicap (gr. IT) and the 1978 San Antonio Stakes (gr. I) in track-record time.
“Vigors was a horse that was kind of overlooked in the beginning,” said Sterling’s wife, Judy, from her Hot Springs home. “He was like a basketball player who was gangly and had long legs and just needed to be shown some patience and given time to develop. He was a little afraid at the beginning. Because he was white, he was treated differently as a youngster at the farm.
“We built him up with love. We would take pictures of him at the barn, feed him carrots, things like that. We tried to keep things for him the same. We had the same exercise rider and tried to keep the same grooms and jockeys.”
Larry Sterling, who saddled five other stakes winners during his career, allied himself with the everyday owner. “He liked dealing with the common owner and liked to rehabilitate horses,” Judy said. “He tried to get in a horse’s head and see what made them tick. I would call him a horseman instead of a trainer.”
The Sterlings settled in Arkansas after buying a farm in the early 1990s. Larry Sterling competed at Oaklawn Park and at nearby tracks.
Larry Sterling Jr. followed his father into racing. Larry Jr. was a trainer as a young man before switching to riding and then back to training. He currently is stabled at High Hope Training Center near La Grange, Ky.
In addition to Judy and Larry Jr.. Sterling is survived by a daughter, Patty, who is a Southern California clocker, and two other children.