Eric Berman has gone from looking to avoid seeing his horses getting parked out, a term for a harness horse which is not able to race near the inside rail due to the position of other horses, to parking cars at the track, but his love for racing remains intact and the trainer is now enjoying his best season ever thanks to a 33% winning clip with his Thoroughbreds at Los Alamitos.
Berman’s introduction to the world of horse racing came in a manner that could be described as conventional, as his parents first brought him to Los Alamitos Race Course to watch Quarter Horse racing when he was a schoolboy in 1969. However, the road Berman has taken to become a trainer at the Orange County track has been unique. Berman’s parents raced Quarter Horses with some success at Los Alamitos in the 1960s through the 1970s, but after their venture with horses came to an end, nothing could keep Berman away from the track.
“Even after my parents stopped having horses I kept going to the track as a fan,” said Berman, who is winning Thoroughbred races at Los Alamitos at a 33 percent clip this season. “In 1988 I got into harness racing and shortly after that I began training horses. I did that for 11 years.”
Berman saw harness racing as an enjoyable hobby and a break from his day job at a bank where he worked his way up to branch manager. But working at the bank was a job, his passion were animals, particularly the horses.
“I bought a pet shop in Long Beach in 1990 and while I ran the shop I continued to run horses,” Berman said.
When harness racing moved permanently to Sacramento shortly after the turn of the century, Berman didn’t hesitate to start working with Thoroughbreds. By 2004 he had a small barn running at Los Alamitos and his first Thoroughbred starter, Brite FX, hit the track on November 19, 2004. His other runners included L.B. Starlet, Shebeen and Roseman Bridge. While this was not a strong collection of horses, Berman went 0 for 23 with that lot; he was dealing with more pressing issues with his business.
“I had to downsize the pet shop and I closed the retail aspect of it,” he said. “I kept doing animal grooming until I sold the shop in 2007. That’s when I got a job in the parking lot at Los Alamitos Race Course. I’ve been here ever since.”
Always with a smile and an easy going demeanor, Berman is one of the first friendly faces that patrons see at Los Alamitos and can often be found working the preferred lot on racing nights. And of course, horses continue to be a part of his life.
“After I closed the shop the grooming I did was the racehorses,” he said with a smile. “On a typical day I worked with the horses starting at 7 a.m. until noon and when I’m in the parking lot from 12:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.”
After taking almost four years off from training, Berman went back to conditioning horses in the spring of 2009. On April 4 of that year, Berman won his first race with the horse named Bridge Too Far. Since then, the trainer has accumulated some decent stats, winning with 18 of 193 starters and earning nearly $170,000. Last year, Berman won five races from just 21 starters. This year, his horses have already won three races from his nine starters at Los Alamitos.
“There are nights when I have a horse running and I’m still working in the parking lot,” he said. “I am fortunate in that I can time my break in a way that I can see the race. I have good help and good grooms that make things work when I am still in the parking lot. We have our system under control and all the work is done by the time the horse gets to the track. I’ll always remember the night that Chris Kotulak was calling the races here (backing up track announcer Ed Burgart) and when my horse won he introduced me in the winner’s circle as Eric ‘Parking Lot’ Berman. I thought that was very cool.”
Berman is also proud of the emblem on his racing silks.
“My family is from the Island of Malta so I have a Maltese Cross as part of my colors,” he said. “My dad lives in New York and still watches the races on TVG. He enjoys seeing my horses and the Maltese Cross on TV.”
And for the trainer who first came here as a kid in 1969 continuing to work with horses remains as exciting as ever.
“You know, last year we did pretty well and this year we’re doing statistically better. For a little barn, I think we’re doing well. All the horses have been firing. I’m the owner or part owner of most of my horses, but periodically I have a new owner of two. George Sharp is a new Thoroughbred owner with horses in my barn. He used to be in harness racing. It’s very rewarding when you take a $2,500 claimer and you are able to move up the ranks. I had one this year that went on to win an allowance race at 870 yards. That’s a good achievement.”