Vale Harry White

8 November 2022 Written by Joe McGrath

Harry White, Australian Racing Hall of Fame inductee and four-time Melbourne Cup-winning jockey, passed away on 21 October, 2022.

The champion rider, who lost his long battle with multiple sclerosis at the age of 78, was sent off in a moving funeral service at Flemington Racecourse on Tuesday 8 November, a week after the Lexus Melbourne Cup was run, a race he dominated.

In his last public interview conducted by the VRC’s Warren Sim back in May this year, Harry stated,

“I came into racing a nobody … and I left in the same way.”

A humble man, as nothing could be further from the truth.

He began riding trackwork at Flemington at 13, and was apprenticed to Tony Lopes, the famous Flemington-based trainer who trained out of Chicquita Lodge. He was the son of 1943 Caulfield Cup-winning jockey, Harry White (Snr) and by his own admission, very green early.

In those early years, Harry found himself in and out of trouble with the stewards receiving a number of suspensions along the way, but eventually settled down, following his chance meeting with soon to be wife, Lauris. It was Lauris who proved the ultimate influence for this prodigy to maximise his potential.

More than 2100 race winners later, the rest is history. He rode 200 feature race wins with 60 at Group 1 level, and won four Melbourne Metropolitan premierships; two Caulfield Cups; a Cox Plate; five Australian Cups and three Newmarket Handicaps … the list goes on.

But for Harry, there would be one race which would stand alone – the Melbourne Cup.

In 24 rides, Harry would ride the race winner four times. No jockey in the 162 year history has ever won more. It’s a record he shares with turf legend Bobbie Lewis. It was at his eighth ride in the race that Harry would first strike Cup success, with Think Big. And it would be courtesy of a unique partnership with the ultimate Cup legend, J.B. ‘Bart’ Cummings. Three of Harry’s four Cup victories would be for Bart, the astute South Australian who could spot talent when he saw it. And it wasn’t just equine! Harry’s relaxed and often laconic approach suited stayers and suited Bart. That’s why Bart kept going back to the affable rider.

Think Big in 1974 proved to be the first for the dynamic combination, defeating stablemate Leilani, followed by another Cup victory 12 months later with the same horse. It was here that Harry’s Cup Day legacy became folklore. Asleep in the jockeys’ room as the horses entered the mounting yard, Harry was woken by the course doctor. Harry said, “I’m in this”, which became misinterpreted as, “I’ll win this”. After letting the horse relax for the first 2000 metres, Harry’s confidence grew as the race progressed further. At the top of the straight, he only had a couple of runners to get past and soon enough, destiny was met. Two Cups in two years. The third horse in Cup history to win back-to-back Cups. And of course, a very happy course doctor who backed the Cummings-trained galloper at 33/1.

A regular connection with another iconic Cup-training figure in George Hanlon allowed Harry to secure the 1978 Melbourne Cup aboard Arwon. The unusual horse name referenced, albeit spelt backwards, the small NSW township of Nowra. Nowra was also home to 1861 and 1862 Cup winner, Archer, the inaugural victor in the Melbourne Cup.

Harry would again make it back-to-back wins in the 1979 Cup. Following an epic battle down the Flemington straight, Harry on Hyperno narrowly outstayed long-time rival Roy Higgins on the Tommy Hughes-trained Salamander.

Long-time friend Midge Didham finished a close margin behind on Red Nose, third.

Harry’s impact at Flemington and staying races didn’t rest only with the Melbourne Cup. He secured five Duke of Norfolk Stakes (3200m – now the Andrew Ramsden Stakes) winners as well. Adding five Australian Cups and three Newmarket Handicaps victories to the CV, Harry’s Flemington legacy is enduring. He also rode five winners at Flemington on 4 October 1980. He was connected with many of the greats of the modern era including Think Big, Arwon, Ming Dynasty, Sobar and Rubiton.

In recent years, Harry downsized from the 500-acre Gisborne property that he bought back in the 1980s.

The property was where two of his Melbourne Cup partners, Think Big and Hyperno, lived out their days with him and were buried on the property.

He was most generous in setting up the Harry White Trust distributing much-needed funds across the racing industry to those in need. His long-time friends Peter ‘Crackers’ Keenan and John Didham were there continuously throughout his retirement years, and attended to the everyday needs of the champion hoop. Harry is survived by sons Dean and Brent and daughter, Karen.

Harry generously donated his entire racing collection to the VRC in 2012. It is only fitting that today, the winning Melbourne Cup jockey’s presentation whip be called the Harry White Whip. It is presented each year to the winning Melbourne Cup rider.

Harry was a feared competitor on the track but a much-loved gentleman off it.

Vale Harry White – your time has come, but your contribution will never be forgotten.