The great Bald Eagle
by Grant Clark
efore Sunday Silence, before Ferdinand,
even before Ack Ack and Porterhouse, Charles Whittingham trained horses in
Regarded by many as the greatest
trainer of the 20th century, Whittingham, like many California-based trainers
in the mid-1930s, traveled north to Washington to run horses at the newly
opened Longacres. New to the game, Whittingham cut his teeth at the Renton
racetrack before going on to achieve legendary status as a trainer.
On September 18, 2004 a little more than 70
years after he saddled his first horse Whittingham was inducted into the
Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, joining fellow trainer inductees
Allen Drumheller, Jim Penney and Tom Smith.
I know the time he spent in Washington meant a
lot to him, said Whittinghams wife, Peggy, who he married in 1944.
I remember when he went back to Washington (in 1987) he was nervous
because he wanted to do well up there. Theres no question he would have
been delighted with this honor.
The Early Years
Born April 13,
1913, Whittingham was raised on a farm near San Diego where his love of horse
racing started at an early age. His brother, Joe, who began his career in the
Thoroughbred industry as a jockey before becoming a trainer himself, often
escorted Whittingham to Tijuana to watch the horse races just across the Mexico
It didnt take long for Whittingham
to know what he wanted to do with his life. He took out his first
trainers license in 1932, at the age of 19, and was in attendance when
Santa Anita opened its doors on December 25, 1934.
It was at that southern California racetrack where
singer/actor and horseman Bing Crosby introduced the young horseman to another
future training legend, Horatio Luro.
out to be a perfect match, as Whittingham and the Argentine-born trainer hit it
off from the start and soon after Luro, who would go on to condition stars such
as Northern Dancer, took Whittingham under his wing as an assistant.
At the time, Luro had horses located up and down the
west coast, including a stable of runners at Longacres. Unable to accommodate
all his charges, Luro turned his barn at Longacres over to Whittingham, who
oversaw the operation from 1937 until the end of the 1940 season.
Although success was minimal at the Renton racetrack,
Whittingham was saddling horses, many of which were owned by Luro, on a
consistent basis, providing him with valuable experience.
Whittingham did mange a triumph or two during his
three-year stint in Washington. On August 18, 1940, he conditioned the
Luro-owned Dandy to a seven furlong state record time of 1:23 2/5 a time
that still stands today.
Seven days later,
Whittingham saddled Dandy for the Longacres Mile. A Mile victory was not in the
cards for him that day as his charge finished second in the race, beaten 1 1/2
lengths by the Francis Keller-trained Pala Squaw.
Whittingham would not run another horse in Washington
for 47 more years.
After having his training
career briefly interrupted by World War II, in which he saw action with the
Marine Corps at Guadalcanal, Whittingham returned to assisting Luro.
The relationship lasted until 1948 when Whittingham
decided it was time to go out on his own.
years later Whittingham had first stakes winner, Porterhouse, who was also
champion two-year-old colt in 1953. He went on to train 10 additional
champions, as well as six of the first 50 Thoroughbred millionaires, including
Exceller, Dahlia, Perrault (GB), Erins Isle (Ire), *Cougar II and Royal Glint.
Ack Ack, a bay son of
Battle Joined out of Fast Turn foaled on February 24, 1966, was bred by Captain
Harry F. Guggenheims Cain Hoy Stable.
an extremely conservative juvenile campaign, in which he was trained by Frank
Bonsal, Ack Ack made just three starts, winning one race and earning $6,075.
The following year, he won seven times, including
victories in the Bahamas Stakes, Arlington Classic and the Derby Trial
where he broke the Churchill Downs mile-track record.
As Guggenheims health deteriorated, Cain Hoy
elected to hold a dispersal sale. Allegedly, Ack Acks reserve price was
$1 million. However, the colt was not sold and instead turned over to
Under Whittinghams watch Ack
Ack posted victories in the Autumn Days Handicap and Los Angeles Handicap,
while winning four-of-five starts as a four-year-old. It was only a shade of
things to come.
Ack Ack made his five-year-old
season debut in the 1971 Palos Verdes Handicap, finishing second behind Jungle
Savage in the Santa Anita stakes.
Whittinghams runner would not lose again
reeling off seven straight victories en route to being named champion sprinter,
champion handicap horse and horse of the year.
After his defeat in the Palos Verdes, Ack Ack, despite
giving six pounds, avenged his loss to Jungle Savage by defeating him 1 3/4
lengths in the San Carlos Handicap, ending Bill Shoemakers zero-17 career
performance in the San Carlos in the process.
Victories in the Hollywood Express, San Pasqual, San
Antonio Handicaps and in the American Handicap (where he set a new course
record for nine furlongs) followed. As well as wins in the Santa Anita
Handicap, where he carried 130 pounds, and in the Hollywood Gold Cup, where he
carried a Gold Cup record 134 pounds, 17 more than any other horse in the
His win the Hollywood Gold Cup not only
closed out his career, it also make Ack Ack just the third horse in history to
pull off the Big Cap/Gold Cup double as he joined the Tom Smith-trained *Kayak
II (1939) and *Noor (1950) as the only runners to accomplish the feat.
Ack Ack, who Whittingham partially owned with E. E.
Buddy Fogleson and his wife, actress Greer Garson and their Forked
Lightning Ranch during his 1971 campaign, saw his five-year-old season and
career cut short by colic. He finished with a record of 19-6-0 from 27 starts
with $636,641 before standing stud at Claiborne Farm, where he sired 54 stakes
winners, including 1987 Santa Anita Handicap-G1 winner and future leading sire
The Bald Eagle and the Bull
During the spring of 1985, Whittingham, who was fondly
referred to as the Bald Eagle due to his shiny pate, pulled Bill
Shoemaker aside one morning at Santa Anita and took him to one of his stalls.
He pointed out a big, unraced, chestnut two-year-old and informed the rider
that this was the horse with which they would win the Kentucky Derby-G1.
The following May, Whittinghams prediction came
true as the horse, Ferdinand, who had been named after the cartoon bull,
captured the 1986 Run for the Roses, making the 73-year-old Whittingham the
oldest trainer and Shoemaker, at 54, the oldest jockey to win the Kentucky
Owned by Mrs. Howard K. Beck, Ferdinand was
the first Kentucky Derby runner Whittingham saddled in 26 years. The son of
Nijinsky II out of Banja Luka, added wins the following year in the
Breeders Cup Classic-G1 and Hollywood Gold Cup-G1 before being named
horse of the year and champion older horse of 1987.
Ferdinand finished his career with a record of 8-9-6
from 29 starts with $3,777,978 in earnings.
took Whittingham only a mere three years to break his own record at the Derby.
Judge Angelucci and the 1987 Mile
In between those two wins at Churchill Downs,
Whittingham came back to Longacres once again to try his hand at the Longacres
Mile-G3. It had been 47 years since Whittingham saddled a horse in Washington.
He always stated he was simply waiting for the right horse to make his return.
If that statement was true, Judge Angelucci certainly was worth the wait.
If theres a list of the best horses to run in
Washington, the Judges name is towards the top.
Whittingham made his return to the state for the 1987
Whittinghams son, Michael,
had won the race the previous year with Skywalker. Like his son, Whittingham
definitely had the horse to beat in the race.
before the Mile, Whittingham stated there was only one horse in the country
better than Judge Angelucci. That horse was Judge Angeluccis stablemate
and classic winner Ferdinand. Whittinghams statement was up for debate,
however, as Judge Angelucci held a victory over Ferdinand that year.
The four-year-old Judge Angelucci, who was owned by
Olin Gentry, arrived from Los Angeles at 2:30 a.m. on the Friday before the
Gary Baze, seeking his fourth Mile win in
eight years, received the mount on Judge Angelucci. The
Baze/Whittingham/Angelucci trio proved too much for the fans to ignore, as they
sent them off as the near one-to-five favorite in the race. According to Baze,
the only time he was nervous during the race was in the post parade.
His nerves were settled the second the gates opened,
because everything went the Judges way, as he strode to a four length
victory and returned a Mile-low $2.60 on a $2 win wager.
I figured if I didnt win on Judge Angelucci
I was just going to keep riding him back to the barn and avoid Mr.
Whittingham, said Baze, who rode regularly for Whittingham in southern
California during the mid-1980s. Im not sure how much I did that
day. He was that good. He is one of the best horses Ive ever been
Two months later, Ferdinand and Judge
Angelucci met in the Breeders Cup Classic-G1. Ferdinand edged Alysheba by
a nose to win the $3 million race. Judge Angelucci had to settle for third.
conditioned a remarkable 252 stakes winners during his career, but Sunday
Silence was arguably his best.
Never worse than
second in 14 career starts, Sunday Silence, who Whittingham co-owned by Dr.
Ernest Gaillard and Arthur B. Hancock III, finished with nine wins and
$4,968,554 in earnings. He is, however, probably best remembered for his
rivalry with Easy Goer, the Eclipse Award-winning juvenile champion of 1988.
During their three-year-old campaigns, Sunday
Silence defeated Easy Goer in three of their four races, including wins in the
Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes-G1.
Whittingham and Sunday Silence were denied the Triple
Crown at the hands of Easy Goer, as Sunday Silence finished second to him in
the Belmont Stakes-G1.
The two would later meet in
the 1989 Breeders Cup Classic with Sunday Silence picking up the victory
en route to being named champion three-year-old and horse of the year.
In addition, Sunday Silence also won the Super
Derby-G1, the Santa Anita Derb-G1 and the San Felipe Handicap-G2 as a
three-year-old. As a four-year-old, Sunday Silence raced twice winning
the Californian Stakes-G1 and placing second in the Hollywood Gold Cup-G1
before suffering a career-ending injury. He finished with a record of
9-5-0 from 14 starts with $4,968,554 in earnings.
Following his incredible career, Sunday Silence, a 1996
National Racing Hall of Fame inductee, went on to become Japans leading
sire of all time from his base at the Shadai Stallion Station.
During a career
that spanned seven decades, Whittingham won 2,534 races and posted $109,215,527
He was inducted into the National
Racing Hall of Fame in 1974 and won Thorough-bred racings Eclipse Awards
as top trainer in 1971, 1982 and 1989. He held the national earnings title
seven times, from 1970-73, 1975 and 1981-82. His top earnings year was 1989
$11.4 million. (He had first hit the million mark in yearly earnings in
1967 with the help of Pretense, *Forli, Tumble Wind, etc.) More than 20 of the
horses he trained topped $1 million in career earnings. He was also the leading
career trainer at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. On February 9, 1987, he
became one of only five trainers to win four races in a day at Santa Anita. His
runners won the San Juan Capistrano Handicap 14 times, were nine-times
victorious in the Santa Anita Handicap and took eight editions of the Hollywood
In addition to his son Michael, other
trainers to make their mark on the racing world after time spent in the
Whittingham barn, include Neil Drysdale, Chris Speckert and Laura De Seroux.
Whittingham bred 13 stakes winners and raced,
alone or in partnership, 28 black-type winners.
April 20, 1999, a week after his celebrating his 86th birthday, Whittingham
died from complications as a result of leukemia.
Youre not going to find a better
trainer, said ESPNs Chris Lincoln, who inducted Whittingham into
the Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame. But as great a trainer
as he was, he was an even better individual.
Champions Trained by Charles Whittingham
Porterhouse Champion two-year-old colt, 1953
Ack Horse of the year, champion sprinter, champion handicap horse, 1971
Turkish Trousers Champion three-year-old filly, 1971
Champion turf horse, 1972
Perrault (GB) Champion turf horse,
Estrapade Champion turf filly or mare, 1986
Horse of the year, champion older male, 1987
Horse of the year, champion three-year-old colt or gelding, 1989
Alleged Champion turf filly or mare, 1991
Champion turf filly or mare, 1992
Kennedy Road Horse of the year,
champion handicap horse in Canada, 1973
+ Member of National Racing
Hall of Fame
for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.