(From an edited NYRA release)
Hall of Fame trainer Frank Yewell Whiteley Jr., the hard-nosed “Fox of Laurel” and conditioner of superstars Ruffian, Damascus, and Forego, died today in Camden, S.C., at the age of 93.
A native of Centreville, Md., where he grew up on a farm owned by his father, Whiteley would often sneak off to ride horses for his uncle, Harmon, at shows and fairs. He got his trainer’s license at Marlboro, Md., in 1936, starting a 49-year career.
“I never worked under another trainer and I didn’t read (Hall of Fame trainer) Preston Burch’s book, either,” he once said
Whiteley conditioned top grass runners Bronze Babu and Polarity in 1962 and 1963, and then took on his first “serious” horse in Chieftain. The following year, he managed Chieftain’s half-brother, Tom Rolfe, who delivered Whiteley’s first classic winner when he won the 1965 Preakness Stakes. Two years later, he trained Horse of the Year Damascus, who won the Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Travers, Wood Memorial, Dwyer, Bay Shore, Aqueduct Handicap, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
“I worked for him and his son, David,” said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. “Frank Whiteley was just a wonderful horseman, who did it the grass-roots way, and there just aren’t that many around any more. When they got sick, he gave them aspirin. When they needed to be iced, he hosed them.
“He was a fun guy to work for, and he had great stories. He wasn’t easy, but the reason he wasn’t easy was because he was teaching you.”
In 1974, Whiteley took charge of what many believe to be his greatest horse, Ruffian. Her ascent to the top of the sport and her tragic death following injuries sustained in a July 6, 1975, match race against Foolish Pleasure was well documented and subsequently made into a television movie, “Ruffian,” which aired on ABC on June 9, 2007. Actor Sam Shepard portrayed Whiteley.
“He was one of the best horsemen I’ve ever been around,” said Hall of Fame jockey Jacinto Vasquez, who was aboard Ruffian in the ill-fated match race. “I met him in 1963, and he was like a father to me. We spent a lot of time together, sometimes from 5:30 in the morning to 6 at night.
“He had been very sick the last few months and was in and out of the hospital.”
In 1976, Whiteley took over the training of the champion Forego and helped him to another Horse of the Year title.
Whiteley was inducted in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1978. In later years, Whiteley would break young horses for top outfits, including the Phipps Stable.
Beginning in 1965, Whiteley wintered his horses at Marion duPont Scott’s training center in Camden, S.C., which set a trend with other horsemen that continues to this day. In recognition of his contribution to the Thoroughbred racing industry and the economy of the city of Camden, in 2003 the city council honored him with “Frank Whiteley Day” and awarded him a key to the city.
In addition, that same year the Governor of South Carolina awarded him the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor.
The “Frank Whiteley Room” at the Camden Archive houses a permanent collection founded in his honor.
Whiteley is survived by his sons, David, who followed in his footsteps as a successful trainer of a number of graded stakes winners, and Alan, who worked in construction.
Funeral arrangements are pending.