On June 15, 1971, Cheryl White discovered herself in the starting gate at Thistledown Racetrack aboard a horse called Ace Reward. It had been her first official raceand she had been extremely focused.
“I just wanted those gates to start,” she told me lately. “I wasn’t nervous and knew I’d be out and find the guide.”
Cheryl was ideal. She took control in the $2,600, six-furlong event, and for almost half the race, she seemed like a winner. However, Ace Reward and White would finish dead last of 11 horses. However, Cheryl White had made history with her ride, getting the first African American female jockey of the time.
Cheryl grew up around horses and creatures that were hundreds of.
“We moved into the country once I was really young, so I always remember being around horses and being very comfortable around them. And we’d all types other creatures,” she said.
White came from racing inventory that was good. Her dad, Raymond, began his career as a jockey in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1924 and rode in Chicago, Cleveland and Cincinnati, among other areas. Raymond began training horses toward the end of his riding career and even conditioned two horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby. Cheryl’s mother, Doris, was an owner whose horse often conducted at Thistledown.
Cheryl was thinking about becoming a jockey, and her parents were mostly supportive.
“They encouraged me, but with my father being in the horse business, he was not exactly in favour of female riders,” she said. “My Dad was just old school and didn’t think, like many old timers, that girls belonged across the racetrack. There was a time when women were not even allowed on the backstretch after five o’clock. However, my parents didn’t try to talk me out of it, either.”
White didn’t do any better in her second outing and ran dead again, but it didn’t faze her. She had been granted an apprentice permit on June 26, 1971, and 2 months later, it happened. White rode her first winner on September 2, 1971 at Waterford Park on a horse named Jetolara, becoming the first black woman to win a thoroughbred horse race in the USA.
White received enough attention to be encouraged to the”Boots and Bows Handicap,” an all-female riders race at Atlantic City in 1972. She won on the longest shot on the plank in a field of 14. But the race wasn’t without controversy, as fellow rider Mary Bacon was angry at White after the race and also accused her of coming over on her horse. However, the two women were friends and eventually put the issue behind them.
White lasted riding in her recognizable circuit and held her own, but she needed more. While visiting friends in California in 1974, she chose to ply her trade in the warm and sunny Southern California tracks. However, Santa Anita, Hollywood and Del Mar were just plain rough places to compete , and several female riders found significant success on the California circuit.
“I probably should have remained in the east instead of heading west,” she told me. “I think the paths on the East Coast and Midwest were much more accepting of women cyclists, at least thoroughbred-wise. There were always five or six at any course I was at. Successful female jockeys on the East Coast, well, I don’t think they would’ve done too in the western paths. They simply wouldn’t have gotten the (great ) mounts and the chances that female jockeys had back east and in the Midwest.”
White shifted her attention to riding Quarter Horses, Paints and Appaloosas in the California County Fairs. She had a reputation for being fast out of the gate and was in high demand on the California Fair circuit. She topped the rider standings and earned the Appaloosa Horse Club’s Jockey of the Year 1977, 1983, 1984 and 1985 and has been inducted into the Appaloosa Hall of Fame in 2011.
Cheryl White also became the first female jockey to win two races in two different states on the same day when she rode a winner at Thistledown in Ohio in the day and scored again in the evening at Waterford Park in West Virginia. She was also the first female jockey to win five races in one day, accomplishing that feat at Fresno Fair.
Back in 1989, White dislocated her hip and began making plans to find an easier way to create a living. Back in 1991, she handed on the California Horse Racing Board’s Steward Examination and rode her final race on July 25, 1992 at Los Alamitos and just happened to go out a winner. She’s since functioned as a racing official in various roles at many distinct racetracks. Since her retirement, White has ridden many times in charity events, competing with fellow retired female riders.
Now, White works happily as a putting estimate at Mahoning Valley Race Course at Ohio. She has a brother and nephew who have an advertising business, Kabango Media. It supplies the family pleasure to see the name of the business, as it was named after one of Cheryl’s dad’s favorite horses, Kabango.
Although it appears White was severely underrated, she did get some awards and coverage. In 1994, she was honored as one of the”Successful African Americans at the Thoroughbred Racing Industry” by the Bluegrass Black Business Association in Lexington, Kentucky. She was also honored by the National Girls and Women in Sports Day, presented by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, California in 2006.
I asked Cheryl if she could sum up her livelihood in a few sentences.
“I had quite a long and relatively successful career winning 750 races. I got to retire on my terms and of my own choice and basically in 1 piece. I had been quite fortunate to have had a job that I loved and had a passion for. Many individuals just aren’t that lucky. It’s been a very long road, but it has also been an interesting and incredibly lucrative and enjoyable street,” she said. “I wouldn’t exchange it for anything”
When I inquired about any possible strategies of retirement, Cheryl said,”Retire? Retire from this? I had been a race track brat for a child, and I am probably going to expire on the track!”
Cheryl White was a real pioneer in our sport, and you can only imagine the hurdles she overcame to pursue her career. She had been young and determined, ignored the play and the bigots, and just put her head down and rode. She paved the way for countless individuals to pursue their own dreams, both on and off the racetrack.
It is truly fitting that Cheryl White went out a winner in her final race, as she’s surely a winner in my book.
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