Harry White: a jockey with true heart and gentle hands
Rarely has a jockey earned the reputation as one of the most skilful jockeys Australia has ever produced. Harry White, however, has achieved such a mantle.
In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, jockey Harry White would become revered for his handling of sprinters. He had a reputation as a brilliant rider of wayward horses. His hands, especially in the closing stages, were one of his great weapons – the whip sparingly used and as a last resort.
White won the Duke of Norfolk Stakes an incredible five times. The race is now known as the Andrew Ramsden.
He is a four-time Melbourne Cup-winning jockey. Three of those were trained by Bart Cummings, who also trained the quintet of Duke of Norfolk Stakes winners.
White, loved by all in racing, had to overcome adversity and indiscretion in his youth before being afforded the opportunity to showcase his sublime skillset on horseback.
Son of a Caulfield Cup-winning jockey but raised by his grandparents, White was in his early teens when he began riding track work.
His apprenticeship was over almost as quickly as it began, an act of vandalism leading to his indentures being revoked. Almost a year had passed when a plea for a second chance was granted. A relationship with a ‘nice’ girl put White back on the rails – Harry and Lauris married and remained devoted to each other until her passing.
White was loved by all in racing across Australia and overseas. He started his career at 13 and steadily made his way through the apprentice ranks and then was noticed by arguably Australia’s greatest horse trainer, Bart Cummings who had moved from South Australia to Victoria at the same time that White became prominent.
Cummings’ son Anthony was stable foreman for his illustrious father during the White-Cummings period and believes they made a formidable combination.
Cummings saw in White everything that he wanted his jockeys to do, and within months White was riding track work at Flemington for the master trainer.
“You know, when I look back, Dad and Harry never, ever had a cross word and that’s saying something, because Dad was a cranky old bugger who always wanted it done his way and the jockeys either fitted in or went elsewhere,” said Anthony Cummings.
“Dad always insisted on his horses going 15 seconds to the furlong during track work, and in just one morning Harry had got his head round what Dad wanted. It seemed Harry had been with Dad all his life,” Cummings said.
White was also brilliantly equipped to handle not only bad horses but speed horses. It was said that White could conquer any bad-mouthed horse and his coaxing ability in the closing stages was an artform. Punters who regularly backed White said that they would look in horror if White had to use the whip, as it was then a last resort.
“It seemed Harry didn’t have any problems with whatever horse Dad legged him on. He didn’t have to teach Harry patience, Harry came with that asset the moment he arrived at headquarters.
“But it was his lovely nature that we all were amazed at. We had to wake him up before the Melbourne Cup that he won on Hyperno as he’d fallen asleep half an hour before the race.
“But that’s what Dad liked – a jockey that didn’t get all upset because he knew that that would translate to the horse. Harry never got upset. He was a great loser and a very humble winner.” - Anthony Cummings
“When you talk about Hyperno you talk about a special skillset. He [the horse] could do lots and lots of things wrong. We tried everything with him and finally got him back enjoying racing. The placing of Harry on his back was the cherry on the cake,” he said.
In the late nineties after retiring from the saddle White confessed that he’d carried a secret that he only revealed on retirement.
“I can tell you this, I had a fall at Caulfield one day, it could have been on Cup Day actually and I lost the sight in my left eye.
“So I went to the surgeon and said this must remain our secret and I managed to get through my career with the use of just one eye,” White revealed in 1996.
Sadly in 2003, the same year he was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame, White was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
But without any fanfare, the jockey’s trademark relaxed approach applied to his illness. He quietly worked away and is still not letting the terrible illness overwhelm him.
And nearly all racing lovers around the world who knew and enjoyed his company and his skill are certainly in his corner.