Riding pine isn't Whitacre's idea of fun

July 25, 2004|by LARRY YANOS

Charles Town-based jockey Brandon Whitacre is eager to get back to work.

The 20-year-old apprentice rider broke his left shoulder blade in a spill on June 25 at Charles Town Races & Slots and will be sidelined for at least another month.

"It's tough sitting, watching, I want to ride," Whitacre said. "I hope to get back soon. I hate sitting still."

Whitacre, the son of jockey Gordon Whitacre and the grandson of former jockey Jessie Davidson, started his race-riding career last November at Laurel Park but has spent the majority of the 2004 season at Charles Town.

"A guy stabled at Bowie asked me to ride his horse at Charles Town in late March and I decided to give it a try," Whitacre said. "I had heard so much about the place but I was happy in Maryland and really wasn't looking to ride anywhere else."


Whitacre won that March 27 West Virginia debut on Extremely Smart and has been spending a lot of time in the winner's circle since then.

"I was doing well ... being hurt and unable to ride has been a real disappointment," Whitacre said. "I want to get back soon."

Whitacre was sitting comfortably as one of Charles Town's leading riders at the time he was injured, showing 66 wins, 48 places and 26 shows from 281 starts.

"I had first call for (leading trainer) Ronney Brown and we were doing real well," Whitacre said.

Then came the June 25 incident.

"I was on this 9-year-old mare (Shift Shape), all of a sudden she bolts to the rail and I had no time to react," Whitacre said. "We hit the rail and went down. The horse got cut up bad and I was shaken up. We hit that rail full force."

Although Whitacre has made the adjustment from bigger racetracks like Laurel Park and Pimlico, he says there's still a learning curve when it comes to riding at Charles Town.

"The 4 1/2 (furlong race) is really a challenge," Whitacre said. "I love the 7 furlongs or longer, it gives you some time to maneuver, but the 4 1/2 is different. You just have to get going out of that gate. You can't go 21 early or you won't finish. You have to be quick out of the gate and get position."

Whitacre has caught the eye of the horsemen and the fans at Charles Town.

"They say I ride a lot like my grandfather. I couldn't get any better compliment than that," Whitacere said.

Davidson led the nation in wins in 1965 and rode some outstanding horses throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Not falling far from the tree

The week before coming to Charles Town, Whitacre won all five races he rode at Laurel Park on March 12. He guided Popular Blues, A Newlove, Daffodil Princess, Lovable Rogue and Diamond Bullet to the winner's circle that day.

"My granddad said he never was 5-for-5 although he did win eight races on a card once," Whitacre said. "He was the national riding champion in 1985 and won the filly Triple Crown in New York one year. He also rode in the Kentucky Derby. That's big shoes to fill and I feel the pressure. But I'm trying to do well."

Whitacre started late in the thoroughbred horse racing business.

"I was entering my senior year in high school and wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with my life," Whitacre said. "Because of my size, it was suggested I try life as a jockey. I went to work on a farm, loved being around thoroughbreds and worked toward my jockey's license."

Whitacre earned that license in November 2002 and, days later, won his first race, riding Pyrite Gun on Nov. 18. at Laurel Park.

"It was only my second mount. Amazing," Whitacre said. "I'll never forget that day."

And the young rider has steadily improved.

"I've improved both mentally and physically," Whitacre said. "I'm more aware of where I need to be and what I need to do."

And, in his mind, where he needs to be is at the racetrack and what he needs to do is win races.

Pony Tales

  • Penn National will have a special starting time Saturday when the racetrack runs a nine-race live card, featuring the 32nd running of the $50,000 Pennsylvania Governor's Cup Handicap.

    The Pennsylvania State Racing Commission gave Penn National approval to begin the program at 6:15 p.m. The Governor's Cup, which is a 5-furlong turf race, is scheduled for the third race with an approximate post time of 7:10 p.m.

  • Mountaineer Park Race Track and Gaming Resort in Chester, W.Va., will present the 35th running of the Grade III, $600,00 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 7.

    Post time will be 2 p.m. with the West Virginia Derby scheduled to go off at approximately 5:15 p.m.

    The card will feature seven stakes races with purses totaling more than $1 million.

  • Longtime Illinois-based jockey Ray Sibille has retired after 3 1/2 decades of riding because of impending surgery.

    The 51-year-old native of Sunset, La., maintained a rigorous physical fitness schedule to extend his riding career, but is scheduled for hip replacement surgery on Aug. 24.

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