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Charlie Whittingham Remembered

Charlie Whittingham in the paddock at Hollywood Park in 1998

Dateline: 04/20/99

Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham died today of leukemia at age 86. He was a three-time Eclipse Award winner and two time Kentucky Derby winning trainer as well as the oldest trainer to win the Derby at age 73.

Born April 13, 1913, in San Diego, he was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 1974 and won the Eclipse Award as top trainer in 1971, 1982 and 1989. He trained several champions including Ferdinand, Sunday Silence, Ack Ack, Cougar, Estrapade, Miss Alleged, and Flawlessly. He held the national earnings title seven times, from 1970-73, 1975, and 1981-82. More than 20 of the horses he trained had career earnings over $1 million.

A former Marine, he was known for his sharp tongue and quick wit. A former employee had these stories to tell about Charlie:

Charlie was once asked if he gave the jockeys a lot of instructions before a race. He looked incredulous and said, "Have you ever seen the size of their hats???"

He was very very funny......he also said, regarding jocks, that "they are incredible because their hat size, shoe size and IQ are all the same number."

Charlie told me to never believe what jocks say after a race, and then he gave this example: one time back in the 1950's a top rider named Ralph Neves had just gotten beat on one of Charlie's horses. Afterwards, he told Charlie, "This horse needs blinkers." Charlie said, "Uh, he HAS blinkers." Without missing a beat, Neves said, "Then take 'em off."


Charlie Whittingham in the paddock at Hollywood Park in 1998
Another quick story........After Exceller had beaten Seattle Slew, another trainer told Charlie he was thinking of going back to run against Slew. Charlie told him to bring extra blankets. The guy said, "Because it gets chilly?" And Charlie said, "No. Because that horse is gonna go by you so fast, you're gonna catch cold."

And when he came back, he'd watch them soooo carefully. He told me once that a horse I rubbed would be 99% on Friday, 99% on Sunday. "But on Saturday," he said, "he'll be 100%."

After his eye operation last year, he had to go back to the doctor for a check-up, and the doctor pronounced everything fine. Charlie's wife asked, "So, when can he go back to work?" The doctor looked at his patient, an 85 yr old man, and said, "He WORKS????"

Oh...and the Arlington Million story. A reporter told Charlie that they were gonna have a million dollar race for older horses, a mile and a quarter on the turf. The reporter asked what Charlie thought when he heard about it, and Charlie replied, "Hey, they wrote a race just for me."

Finally, I'll tell you how I remember him. I picture him standing on the road, waiting for a set to get ready. He would send sets of six, and they would join up one at a time as they got ready. He would stare at them like he could peer into their souls. In one pocket he had mints; another pocket had dog treats. He'd give a mint to someone while he waited, then they'd head to the track. And on the way, dogs would come up and get treats from him.


Charlie Whittingham in the paddock at Hollywood Park in 1998 saddling Young at Heart, a son of his Derby winner Ferdinand

If you would like to add a remembrance to this page, please email me.

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Photos courtesy of Karen Estis

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