Charles Whittingham - Washington Racing Hall of Fame

The great Bald Eagle

by Grant Clark

Before Sunday Silence, before Ferdinand, even before Ack Ack and Porterhouse, Charles Whittingham trained horses in Washington.
    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 Whittingham’s 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. There’s 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 border.
    It didn’t take long for Whittingham to know what he wanted to do with his life. He took out his first trainer’s 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.
    It turned 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.
    Five 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
    Ack Ack, a bay son of Battle Joined out of Fast Turn foaled on February 24, 1966, was bred by Captain Harry F. Guggenheim’s Cain Hoy Stable.
    During 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 Guggenheim’s health deteriorated, Cain Hoy elected to hold a dispersal sale. Allegedly, Ack Ack’s reserve price was $1 million. However, the colt was not sold and instead turned over to Whittingham.
    Under Whittingham’s 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.
    Whittingham’s 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 Shoemaker’s 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 field.
    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 Broad Brush.

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, Whittingham’s 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 Derby.
    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.
    It 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 there’s a list of the best horses to run in Washington, the Judge’s name is towards the top.
    Whittingham made his return to the state for the 1987 Longacres Mile.
    Whittingham’s son, Michael, had won the race the previous year with Skywalker. Like his son, Whittingham definitely had the horse to beat in the race.
    Days before the Mile, Whittingham stated there was only one horse in the country better than Judge Angelucci. That horse was Judge Angelucci’s stablemate and classic winner Ferdinand. Whittingham’s 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 race.
    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 Judge’s 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 didn’t 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. “I’m not sure how much I did that day. He was that good. He is one of the best horses I’ve ever been on.”
    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.

Sunday Silence
    Whittingham 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 Japan’s leading sire of all time from his base at the Shadai Stallion Station.

The Records
    During a career that spanned seven decades, Whittingham won 2,534 races and posted $109,215,527 in earnings.
    He was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in 1974 and won Thorough-bred racing’s 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 Gold Cup.
    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.
    On April 20, 1999, a week after his celebrating his 86th birthday, Whittingham died from complications as a result of leukemia.
    “You’re not going to find a better trainer,” said ESPN’s 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 Ack – Horse of the year, champion sprinter, champion handicap horse, 1971
Turkish Trousers – Champion three-year-old filly, 1971
*Cougar II – Champion turf horse, 1972
Perrault (GB) – Champion turf horse, 1982
Estrapade – Champion turf filly or mare, 1986
Ferdinand – Horse of the year, champion older male, 1987
+Sunday Silence – Horse of the year, champion three-year-old colt or gelding, 1989
Miss Alleged – Champion turf filly or mare, 1991
+Flawlessly – 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

Click here for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.


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