03/17/2017 2:36PM

Hovdey: Whiteley dealt only in the finest jewels


David Whiteley did not know he had been nominated to the Hall of Fame – again. He knew he’d been nominated in 2016, and in 2015 as well. But not this time around, until a reporter called the other day

“No, I did not know it happened again,” he said. “And I doubt that my name is one many of the voters would recognize.”

That may say more about the voters than Whiteley, since Hall of Fame voters should be obligated to evaluate candidates in a context other than the current flavors. Retired from the racetrack since 1995, Whiteley has one of those records locked in amber, to be unearthed and examined as a preserved specimen of exceptional peculiarity.

After a long run as assistant to his legendary father, Frank Whiteley, David, now 71, began running horses under his own name in 1970, and for the ensuing 15 years, any horse with David A. Whiteley attached was taken seriously at the highest levels.

He trained champions in 1976 (Revidere), 1979 (Waya), and 1980 (Just a Game) and won major races on both coasts with Tiller, Astray, Instrument Landing, Highland Blade, French Colonial, Zen, Northernette, Sarsar, and Okavango. Whiteley rocked the racing world in 1979 with Coastal, the one-eyed son of Majestic Prince owned by William Haggin Perry who ended Spectacular Bid’s Triple Crown hopes with a smashing win in the Belmont Stakes.

In fact, not many trainers have ever had a season quite like Whiteley’s polished gem of 1979. He started just 91 horses and won 34 races and just shy of $1.7 million, good for eighth in the year-end standings. Of the seven in front of him, the trainer with fewest starters was Woody Stephens, with 315.

Besides the Belmont, Whiteley won the 1979 runnings of the Haskell Invitational, Peter Pan, Wood Memorial, Beldame, Test, San Antonio, Santa Barbara, San Juan Capistrano, Red Smith, Dwyer, and Top Flight. Trainers who do that today usually require the ammunition supplied to people like Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Bill Mott, or Chad Brown.

Whiteley and his father shared some of the sport’s most influential owners, including Martha Gerry, the Bancroft family, William Haggin Perry, Peter Brant, and Christiana Stable. When Frank Whiteley neared the end of his training career and accepted the role of Calumet Farm general manager in 1982, David Whiteley was named trainer of the fabled outfit.

“David replaced me, with no hard feelings,” said John Veitch, the retired Hall of Fame trainer and now a Kentucky racing official. “We had been great friends a very long time. David and I went to the same military school outside Baltimore along with Bobby Arcaro, Eddie’s son, and Carey Winfrey, Bill Winfrey’s son.”

Their fathers were racing royalty, either safely enshrined or heading for the Hall of Fame. Sylvester Veitch, John’s father, was inducted in 1977, while Frank Whiteley followed in 1978, with Damascus, Ruffian, Forego, and Tom Rolfe beside his name.

“It is a tremendous advantage, but it’s also a curse,” Veitch said. “You’ll always be held up to your father’s reputation, and a lot more is expected of you. My father’s advice was to remain an assistant for as long as I could because once you’re on your own, if you fall on your face, you’ll only be remembered as Frank Whiteley’s son or Syl Veitch’s son.”

According to close friends, Whiteley has been pretty much of a recluse since the death of Frank Whiteley in 2008. The son cared for the father until the end, and their lifelong relationship was complicated. After a lifetime of handling Thoroughbreds, Whiteley says he has no connection to the sport, despite living in the town of Camden, S.C., which is famous in the not-that-distant past as the winter home of New York’s most prestigious racing stables. Even today, to live in Camden and have nothing to do with horses is no mean trick, but Whiteley proves it can be done.

“Not really, but there’s a few things of my father’s around the house,” Whiteley said when asked if reminders of his training career remain.

“I read books, and I watch TV,” he said. “I don’t travel, don’t even own a car. I feel good, almost too good. But my barber’s died, everybody’s died but me, and I’m fine.”

Whiteley rarely started more than 100 horses a year.

“I had maybe 20 horses, four or five horses for each owner, and I trained those four or five like they were the only ones,” Whiteley said. “That helped me and hurt me because sometimes I’d get my hands on a good one and pay more attention to that one than a lesser one.”

Veitch was asked if Whiteley belonged in the Hall of Fame.

“I think he does,” Veitch replied. “He was a great horseman, and he had great luck with the horses he was given. Remember, we were training a small number of horses for breeders and owners who did not want their horses running in claiming races. They wanted quality over quantity.”

Whiteley was asked the same question. Does he long for a place in the Hall of Fame alongside his father?

“I hadn’t ever given it much thought,” Whiteley said. “I’m just living here in South Carolina without any worries about anyone else. But I appreciate your consideration.”