On June 15, 1971, Cheryl White found herself at the starting gate in Thistledown Racetrack aboard a horse called Ace Reward. It had been her first race, and she had been extremely concentrated.
“I just wanted those gates to start,” she informed me lately. “I was not nervous and knew I’d be first out and find the lead.”
Cheryl was right. She took control in the $2,600, six-furlong occasion, and for almost half the race, she seemed like a winner. But Ace Reward and White would finish dead of 11 horses. Nonetheless, Cheryl White had made history with her journey, getting the very first African American female jockey of the time.
Cheryl grew up around horses and other critters.
“We moved to the country once I was very young, so I remember being about horses and being really comfortable around them. And we had all types other creatures,” she explained.
White came from racing stock. Her dad, Raymond, started his career as a jockey in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1924 and rode in Chicago, Cleveland and Cincinnati, among other places. Raymond began training horses toward the end of the riding career as well as conditioned two horses which ran in the Kentucky Derby. Cheryl’s mother, Doris, was an owner whose horse’s often conducted at Thistledown.
Cheryl was thinking about becoming a jockey, and her parents were largely supportive.
“They invited me, but with my dad being in the horse industry, he wasn’t just in favour of female cyclists,” she explained. “My Dad was only old school and did not think, like most old timers, that women belonged around the racetrack. There was a time when women weren’t even permitted on the backstretch after five o’clock. But my parents did not attempt to talk me out of it, either.”
White did not do any better in her second outing and ran dead last again, but it did not faze her. She was granted an apprentice permit on June 26, 1971, and two months later, it happened. White rode her first winner on September 2, 1971 at Waterford Park to a horse named Jetolara, becoming the first black woman to win a thoroughbred horse race in the USA.
White received sufficient 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. However, the race wasn’t without controversy, as fellow rider Mary Bacon was mad at White following the race and accused her of coming over on her horse. But the two women were friends and finally 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 decided to ply her trade at the hot and sunny Southern California tracks. But Santa Anita, Hollywood and Del Mar were just plain tough venues to compete at, and several female riders found significant success on the California circuit.
“I probably should’ve stayed in the east rather than going west,” she advised me. “I feel that the tracks 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 track I had been at. Successful female jockeys on the East Coast, well, I do not think that they would’ve done too in the western tracks. They just wouldn’t have gotten the (good) mounts and the opportunities that feminine jockeys had back east and west 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 from the gate and has been 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 at 2011.
Cheryl White also became the first female jockey to win two races in two different states on precisely the same day after she rode a winner at Thistledown in Ohio at the afternoon and scored again in the evening at Waterford Park at 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 started making plans to obtain an easier way to create a living. Back in 1991, she handed on the California Horse Racing Board’s Steward Examination and rode her last 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 a variety of functions at several distinct racetracks. Since her retirement, White has ridden several times in charity events, competing with fellow retired female cyclists.
Today, White works thankfully as a placing judge at Mahoning Valley Race Course at Ohio. She has a brother and nephew that have an advertising business, Kabango Media. It supplies the family pleasure to see the title of the company, as it had been named after one of Cheryl’s dad’s favorite horses, Kabango.
Even though it seems White was seriously underrated, she did get some awards and coverage. Back in 1994, she was honored as one of the”Successful African Americans in the Thoroughbred Racing Industry” from the Bluegrass Black Business Association in Lexington, Kentucky. She was respected 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 a long and relatively prosperous career winning 750 races. I must retire on my terms and of my choice and essentially in one piece. I had been quite fortunate to have had a job that I loved and had a passion for. Many people just aren’t that lucky. It has been a very long road, but it’s been a fascinating and incredibly lucrative and fun street,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything”
When I asked about any possible strategies of retirement, Cheryl said,”Retire? Retire out of this? I was a race track brat for a kid, and I am probably going to die on the track!”
Cheryl White was a true pioneer in our sport, and you can just imagine the hurdles she overcame to pursue her career. She had been young and determined, ignored the drama along with the bigots, and only put her head down and rode. She paved the way for countless people to pursue their own fantasies, both on and off the racetrack.
It is really fitting that Cheryl White went out a winner in her last race, as she is surely a winner in my book.
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