Sunday, October 5, 2008

Behind Every Great Horse....

...Is a Great Trainer. The Turk's been ruminating lately on the greatest trainer's of our generation, and what that even means. Is it the "Super Trainer" with greater then 100 horses and scores of assistant trainers working for them, or is it the old barn variety of a trainer who spends a great deal of time around a core group of horses that he influences every single day on a personal level.

The Turk passes to no judgement because he is not capable of fairly condeming or approving of what the best approach is. I spoke recently about Larry Jones, a trainer who lives his life and trains his horses with an honesty that I appreciate on many levels. I guess on some level, discussing Larry Jones and this next gentleman gives the reader some idea of what I consider the horse trainer image that I consider ideal.

I'd like to highlight a various trainer every few weeks in a recurring series of articles. To lead off this collection of articles , I'd be remiss to not post this obituary from the New York Times on Frank Whitely Jr, in my mind, one of the greatest trainers ever and a member of the NTRA Hall of Fame. Frank was the trainer of Ruffian and Damascus among others, and all I've read about him, including Jane Schwartz's "Ruffian- Burning from the Start"has left me with an indelible image of a man who lived for his craft at the expense of almost all else.

May 4, 2008

Frank Whiteley Jr., 93, Dies; Trained Ruffian

Frank Whiteley Jr., the thoroughbred racing Hall of Famer who trained the brilliant but ill-fated filly Ruffian, died Friday in Camden, S.C. He was 93. His death was announced by the New York Racing Association. A trainer for nearly a half century, Mr. Whiteley saddled the great gelding Forego and the 1967 horse of the year Damascus. But he was best remembered for Ruffian, perhaps the greatest female thoroughbred in history.

On July 6, 1975, Ruffian, undefeated in 10 starts — setting stakes or track records in most of them — and having swept the filly Triple Crown, was matched against Foolish Pleasure, the winner of that year’s Kentucky Derby, in a mile-and-a-quarter race at Belmont Park.

Coming two years after tennis’s celebrated Battle of the Sexes between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the match race of the 3-year-olds was billed as horse racing’s equivalent of a glamorous boy versus girl duel, an equine sideshow to the women’s rights movement.
But what promised to be one of horse racing’s greatest days became one of its grimmest. Nearly half a mile into the race, in front by a neck, Ruffian shattered her right front ankle. Flashing her competitive spirit, she continued to run for another 40 yards, compounding her injury, as her jockey, Jacinto Vasquez, somehow managed to keep her upright. In an emotional sports saga that captured national attention, a team of veterinarians operated on Ruffian into the night in the face of virtually hopeless odds. They placed a cast on her broken leg, but while coming out of anesthesia, Ruffian struggled so violently that she smashed it. At 2:20 a.m. the day after the race, she was put down by injection. That night, she was buried at Belmont’s infield, 70 yards beyond the finish line, beneath a flag pole that had been flying at half staff.

Twenty-five years after Ruffian took her fatal misstep, Mr. Whiteley recalled the moment he had first seen her, in a pasture at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky. He said, “She was only a yearling, but she had that quality you only see once in a lifetime.”

On Saturday, in the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby, the filly Eight Belles collapsed with two broken ankles after finishing second to the colt Big Brown and was euthanized.

Frank Yewell Whiteley Jr. was born and raised on a farm in Centreville, Md. He rode horses at shows and fairs and obtained his trainer’s license in Maryland in 1936.
Mr. Whiteley won a Triple Crown race for the first time in 1965, when he saddled Tom Rolfe in the Preakness Stakes. Two years later, he trained Damascus, who won horse of the year honors after victories in the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes, the Travers and the Woodward.
In 1976, Mr. Whiteley took over the training of Forego, who won the horse of the year title that year. Mr. Whiteley was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1978.

Mr. Whiteley was “a wonderful horseman, who did it the grass-roots way, and there just aren’t that many around any more,” his fellow Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey told the New York Racing Association. “When they got sick, he gave them aspirin. When they needed to be iced, he hosed them.”

Mr. Whiteley retired in 1984 and conducted winter training for many years in Camden. Last year, he was portrayed by Sam Shepard in the television movie “Ruffian.”
He is survived by his sons David and Alan. David Whiteley trained Coastal, the 1979 Belmont Stakes winner.

Two days after Ruffian’s death, a wreath of 1,200 white carnations in the shape of a horseshoe was placed on her grave by NYRA, an addition to a host of floral tributes there.
Mr. Whiteley glanced that day at Ruffian’s old stall in Barn 34 at Belmont. “That stall will never be occupied as long as I have this barn,” he said. “There’ll never be a horse worthy of entering it.”

And the below link will lead you to a Frank Whitely jr. interview conducted in 1983.

Good stuff.

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