Old Dogs: New Tricks and Old Tricks

Feb. 24, 2013

| More

When Sanders Bros.’ All About Allie sizzled down the middle of the stretch to gallop to victory in the Downthedustyroad Breeders’ Stakes at Oaklawn, it had very much of the mark of Oaklawn’s leading trainer/former rider, David Whited.  Born almost 60 years ago in Houston, Texas, the effervescent former rider was enjoying success with his most accomplished trainee in All About Allie.

Under Whited’s tutelage All About Allie has won eight of 21 starts, finished on the board in 14, and bankrolled $301,281 in the old-fashioned way –she earned it.  For All About Allie the Downthedustyroad Breeders’ Stakes has become almost her personal property.  The race has been contested four times and she has won all three times she participated.  Those were the only years in which she was eligible.  She won’t get to retire the trophy, but she still holds an honor in winning a stakes three times at Oaklawn, an honor which previously was the exclusive property of former Horse-of-the-Year, Azeri, for her streak in the prestigious Apple Blossom Handicap  (2002-2004).

What distinguishes All About Allie from so many Oaklawn winners is that she always employs a come-from-behind style, similar to that which made her trainer famous during his 36-year riding career, during which he logged 3,784 wins.  David was always noted for winning races out in the middle of the track, staying away from the inside fence, almost to a fault.  David laughs when he admits that the middle of the track became “Whited’s Alley” to many of his fans.

I first became aware of David when he won the first Arkansas Derby I announced at Oaklawn, taking Promised City to the win in the 1975 edition of Oaklawn’s signature event.  Promised City won $82,140 for his effort that day.  For nearly a decade the winner of the Arkansas Derby has pocketed for just under two minutes of work in snatching honors in the mile-and-an-eighth closing day feature.   Clearly David was not winning in the halcyon days of purses in American racing, but he is now surfacing as a top hand of horses at his training center south of Hot Springs.  There he and his wife, Bonnie, (“Beans” to her close friends), keep a center full of horses, many of which go about their daily routines with Whited aboard.  Still trim, but not enough to even think about riding, David enjoys the life he has cut out for himself in retirement.  No question that David married up when he caught Beans.  The team work well together, “As long as she calls the shots,” laughs David.

What writers and the media have discovered is that David has become one of the most enjoyable interviews following races or even during training hours.  Whited is not often seen during training hours at Oaklawn, so busy is he at the training center, but it has been fun to watch him grow in stature as a trainer, thanks largely to the exploits of All About Allie.  “She’s doing awfully well,” he bragged to anyone who would listen on Friday, the eve of this year’s Downthedustyroad.   The public, which has zeroed in on the five-year-old Storm and a Half mare throughout her career, jumped on the bandwagon, sending her off at odds of 4-5.  The highly-regarded speedster, Bikini Bella, fresh off an eight-and-a-half front-running win in an allowance prep, was accorded a decent chance to defeat the defending champ and earned 17-10 win odds at post time.

Most prognosticators hadn’t figured that the 5-1 upstart, Hatter Nu Nu, would have the speed to battle Bikini Bella in the early stages and set up a runaway score for All About Allie, who eased to a two-and-three-quarters lengths tally and notch another popular win.  Once again it was done in typical Whited style, down the middle of the track and well away from the two pacesetters who tired on the rail.  There have been three last to first in the stretch winners in recent weeks at Oaklawn, the most recent on Sunday when Runge ran down the field in the six furlongs third race, all the kind of races which Whited won during his career. 

“I used to love to talk smack with those guys when I was riding,” admitted David.  “I’d fly by them on the outside and they’d be shaking their heads.   That gave me quite a rush,” he suggested.  “When this mare (All About Allie) runs, I sometimes wish that I was still riding, because she’d be my kinda horse.”  Luckily Whited has found that regular rider, Cliff Berry, is as comfortable in the old Whited style as the master himself.  You can pretty much figure out the instructions Whited gives his riders when they head to the track.  Staying clear of the inside rail would be crucial.  I notice that David rarely uses Calvin Borel.  Calvin’s “Bo-rail” tactics would give David the jitters.

Another veteran rider on the grounds, Jon Court, gave a couple of million dollar rides in recent weeks, which makes you wonder how the older guys embarrass their younger and, purportedly fitter, rivals.  Court raced at Fair Grounds on Saturday and made a slick move in the Fair Grounds Handicap on the turf course at a mile-and-one-eighth.  Aboard the even-money favorite, Optimizer, for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Court appeared snookered in second by second favorite, Wilcox Inn, who set the ace under heralded jockey, Jose Lezcano.  When it appeared that Jon and Optimizer were at the mercy of Lezcano and Wilcox Inn, Court surprised his younger rival by ducking to the rail and getting on even terms quickly.  From there Optimizer outran his multiple stakes-winning rival and established credentials as one of America’s standout turf horses.  The team of Court and Optimizer are a sight to watch, but that may not have been Court’s best moment of the last week. 

That moment came on Valentine’s Day in the eighth race aboard Come Acorkin for trainer Greg Compton.  Sent off at 8-1, the four-year-old filly was obviously not held in the highest esteem by the public.  But Court has won at Oaklawn on a number of “price” horses over the past couple of decades and he was primed to teach his rivals in a lesson in patience, which might have even impressed the “Master of Patience”, Pat Day, in his heyday.  Winner of Arkansas Derbies in 2010 and 2011, aboard Line of David and Archarcharch, respectively, the rider, who turns 53 years old this year showed why he had the respect of his peers in racing when accorded the George Woolfe Award in 2007, as he gained a nice, stalking position on the rail with his mount all the way to the stretch.  Then, when it looked like he was trapped, he simply let his ambitious rivals shoot on by and swung to the right (ironically, to “Whited’s Alley”) and mowed the field down, to win by a half-length. It was a classic ride, the kind only experienced hands seem able to provide.

Veterans like David Whited and Jon Court give some credence to the argument that “Youth is Wasted on the Young.”  Nothing impetuous about either individual, they both have learned not just to love the sport of racing, but to become positive ambassadors to those interested in following the sport.  Both honor Oaklawn by participating in the sport here annually and both have learned to apply their knowledge to keeping them at the top of the standings in worlds which are giving way to younger participants on a daily basis.

One would hardly call these two “Golden Agers”.  But they are succeeding in a sports world dominated by much younger individuals.  To those of us with a bit of age, it is a huge joy to watch them have success and do it without having to point to their individual greatness.  They let their actions do their talking.  These old dogs have used proven methods to have success in the new sports world.  The old dogs have learned the new tricks and strangely they look like what we have seen before.                           

blog comments powered by Disqus