The story of Cheryl White, the first black female jockey in U.S. horse racing history


On June 15, 1971, Cheryl White found herself at the starting gate at Thistledown Racetrack aboard a horse named Ace Reward. It had been her first official race, and she had been extremely focused.
«I just needed those gates to open,» she informed me recently. «I wasn’t nervous and knew I’d be first out and get the guide.»
Cheryl was ideal. She took command in the $2,600, six-furlong occasion, and for nearly 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 first African-American female jockey of the time.
Cheryl grew up around horses and other critters.
«We moved into the country once I was very young, so I remember being about horses and being very comfortable around them. And we’d all kinds other animals,» she said.
White came from racing inventory that was good. Her dad, Raymond, started his career as a jockey in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1924 and rode in Chicago, Cleveland and Cincinnati, among other areas. Raymond started training horses toward the end of his 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 ran at Thistledown.
Cheryl was interested in becoming a jockey, and her parents were mostly supportive.
«They encouraged me, but together with my father being in the horse business, he was not just in favour of female riders,» she said. «My Dad was just old school and didn’t think, like most old timers, that women belonged around the racetrack. There was a time when girls 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 did not do any better in her second outing and ran dead again, but it did not faze her. She was granted an apprentice permit on June 26, 1971, and two weeks later, it happened. White rode her first winner on September 2, 1971 in Waterford Park on 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 after the race and accused her of coming on her horse. But the two girls were friends and finally put the problem behind them.
White continued riding in her familiar circuit and held her own, but she needed more. While visiting friends in California in 1974, she decided 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 at, and few female riders found major success on the California circuit.
«I probably should’ve remained in the east rather than heading west,» she advised me. «I feel 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 in any course I was at. Successful female jockeys on the East Coast, well, I don’t think they would have done too at the western paths. They simply would not have gotten the (great ) mounts and the chances that feminine jockeys had back east and west in the Midwest.»
White shifted her attention to riding Quarter Horses, Paints and Appaloosas at the California County Fairs. She had a reputation for being fast out of the gate and has been in high demand on the California Fair circuit. She awakened the rider standings and got the Appaloosa Horse Club’s Jockey of the Year in 1977, 1983, 1984 and 1985 and was inducted into the Appaloosa Hall of Fame in 2011.
Cheryl White also became the first female jockey to win two races in two distinct states on precisely the same day after 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 1 day, accomplishing that feat at Fresno Fair.
In 1989, White dislocated her hip and began making plans to obtain an easier way to create a living. In 1991, she handed 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 functions at many different racetracks. Since her retirement, White has ridden several times in charity events, competing with fellow retired female riders.
Today, White works thankfully as a putting estimate at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Ohio. She has a brother and nephew who have an advertising business, Kabango Media. It supplies the family pleasure to observe the title of the company, as it had been named after one of Cheryl’s dad’s favorite horses, Kabango.
Even though it appears White was severely underrated, she’d 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 also honored by the National Girls and Women in Sports Day, introduced by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, California in 2006.
I asked Cheryl if she could sum up her career in a few sentences.
«I had quite a long and relatively successful career winning 750 races. I must retire on my own terms and of my choice and essentially in one piece. I was very fortunate to have had a job that I loved and had a passion for. Many people simply are not that lucky. It’s been a long road, but it has also been a fascinating and very lucrative and fun road,» she explained. «I wouldn’t exchange it for anything.»
When I asked about any probable plans of retirement, Cheryl said,»Retire? Retire out of this? I had been a race track brat for a kid, and I’m probably going to expire on the trail!»
Cheryl White was a true pioneer in our game, and one can only imagine the hurdles she overcame to pursue her career. She had been young and decided, 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’s really fitting that Cheryl White went out a winner in her final race, as she is certainly a winner in my book.

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