Longtime Calder-based trainer Bill White has spent many years in the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing and has had a successful career. He will soon add to his success as he hones in on his 2,000th career victory.
After scoring his latest victory at Calder Casino & Race Course on October 20, White sits at 1,999 career victories. He’s just one win shy of reaching the milestone, due to a lot of hands-on, hard work.
“Two thousand for a trainer is a big number,” said White. “In years past, trainers were where their horses were. You didn’t have multi-faceted stables split up all over. So that is the way I have operated from day one. I have never had horses here and horses up north or split stables. Every one of my wins has been me putting the saddle on, not an assistant. I think when you win 2,000 races that way, where every horse has come directly from your barn and every horse has come directly from your training, it is a slow grinding process, but we got it done.”
White has trained horses for more than thirty years. Many of his victories have come at Calder. During that time, he has started the careers of many top stakes horses including Little Mike and Mucho Macho Man. He even went to the Breeders’ Cup with Kiss a Native in 1999. He led all trainers in wins during the Calder meet in 1993, consecutively from 1997-2004, 2006, and 2009. He also led all trainers in wins during the Tropical meet from 1993-1996, 1998-1999, tied in 1999-2000, and led again in 2000-2001. He was inducted into the Calder Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2005. He ranks second in all-time wins for trainers at the Calder meet with 1,114, and is currently third in all-time victories for trainers at the Tropical meet with 392.
As a child growing up in Illinois, White was the only member of his family besides his grandfather, Lawrence Adolfie, who was interested in horse racing. He went to the track in the mornings and the races in the afternoon, and met numerous industry members in the process.
“What I found about racing is when you are introduced to it you either really, really love it or you just kind of shrug your shoulders and it doesn’t do anything for you,” said White. “I was one that when I saw it I really, really dug it.”
When his family moved to Clearwater, Florida, White was excited that Tampa Bay Downs was nearby, because that would help “soften the blow” of the move from his grandfather and longtime Illinois home. Unfortunately for White, he was unable to be involved with the races for some time.
“It was nice knowing Tampa was close by, but at that time it was a real eye-opener for me,” said White. “When I went to go to the track, I was told then that anyone under 21 could not enter the track, period, even if you were with your parents. I was only 16 then and that was a real shock to me, someone who had been on the track since I had been a little boy being told you cannot come in through the gates. That seemed really backward to me at the time. There was not much I could do about it.”
The horse racing world was on the back burner then as White focused on his education. He graduated from high school, double majored in Political Science and Education at the University of South Florida, while considering work in the field of law. He went on to earn his Master’s in Special Education.
“I realized that being in horse racing is an all-consuming endeavor,” said White. “Once you get into it, if you haven’t completed your education, chances are you won’t because it doesn’t allow you to take time to do that sort of stuff.”
White worked as a special education teacher in Sarasota County for six years; but that was not all that he was doing. While teaching his students by day in the classroom, White trained his other students, his horses, by night in a riding ring in Sarasota. He began his Thoroughbred training career by running his horses at Tampa Bay Downs.
His first career victory on March 23, 1982, at Tampa Bay Downs, is his most memorable highlight of his career.
“As surprising as this might sound my very first win was the most exciting,” said White. “It was just something that I had dreamed about since I had been a little boy and something that I wasn’t even sure that I was going to be able to do or how to get into it or when I was going to do it. When a horse that I was training won and I walked out into that winner’s circle, that was the highest thing, and that was just a little cheap claiming maiden race that really no one in the world remembers except me.”
White won with the filly Satu, whom he bred, owned, and trained. While he normally tried to run his horses only on the weekends, as he was teaching during the weekdays, the perfect race for the filly just happened to be on a school day. White was not going to let that deter him from running this time. As fate would have it, that victory helped pave the way for White.
“I called in sick that day and shipped my horse to Tampa and won, and I couldn’t help myself,” said White. “Even though I called in sick, I was so proud of winning my first race I showed the principal the win picture and he could tell how much it meant to me so he didn’t say much.”
With his job as a special education teacher, training horses was more of just a hobby for White at the time. He did not work under another trainer prior to taking out his trainer’s license; he simply learned by observation. By staying involved with horse racing while teaching, White met Thoroughbred owner Burt Butker. Butker offered him his horses to train for when he brought them south from New Jersey.
“I thought about it and thought about it, and I decided I wanted to do it,” said White. “It’s a decision I look back now and I shake my head. I guess it was youthful exuberance. I actually, in the middle of the school year, went in and talked to the same principal and offered my resignation. I quit my teaching job right in the middle of the school year and went to the racetrack. When I look back at that now, ‘whew,’ what a shot that was.”
White trained Butker’s horses for the Tampa meet then went north and trained at Finger Lakes Racetrack, Atlantic City Race Course, and River Downs during the spring, summer, and fall months; he continued to race at Tampa in the winter and added new clients to his stable. If he did not start training while still teaching, White would not be where he is in the world of Thoroughbred racing today.
“I’m sure if I wasn’t doing that on a part time basis I would never have been given the opportunity to jump in head first, which I did,” said White. “There’s no guarantee how something like that will work out, but then you have no regrets either, because you did what you wanted to do. I think one of the toughest things would be to live your life always wanting to do something and you didn’t try.”
While White was focused on beginning and expanding his Thoroughbred training career, he was also focused on building his family. First, however, he had to find a base where he would not have to travel and move every few months out of the year.
“My wife and I didn’t want to start a family until I found a place where I didn’t have to live like a gypsy,” said White.
Florida was the perfect place to be, as the state had been his home for quite some time, and the South Florida tracks combined had racing year-round.
“At the time, you had Calder running for seven months during the summer; then you had Hialeah and Gulfstream splitting the remaining five months. It really made for a nice circuit,” said White.
White has been stabled at Calder since 1986 and has not left. Since coming to Calder, White has become known as a 2-year-old trainer based on his numerous successes with younger horses.
While he grew his stable at Calder, White made sure to keep his family a priority. He and his wife, Laura, have two children, Jake and Lindsey. By being based in one place year-round, White was able to see and participate in his children’s activities as they grew up – football and soccer for Jake and horseback riding and cheerleading for Lindsey. He was even a coach for Jake’s little league baseball team. He has been able to enjoy his career and still maintain his family life. The 2,000 win milestone will be another success in White’s career that he can share with his family.
With only one victory needed to hit 2,000 wins, White has two horses entered into this weekend’s card.