By Jim Freer
From the mid 1980s through last year Bill White spent most mornings at Calder Race Course, running his stable and building a record as one of the leading trainers in Florida’s racing history..
That includes being leading trainer in wins at eight straight Calder race meets from 1997 through 2004.
White is taking a break from training this year as he focuses on his new duties as president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association,
But he still spends several mornings each week on the backsides at Calder and at Gulfstream Park. He walks the barn areas, visiting trainers to get their thoughts and suggestions on issues that are impacting the Florida thoroughbred industry in 2015.
It is a year filled with controversy on the political and regulatory fronts.. It also is a year when White expects that the Florida HBPA, Gulfstream and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association will expand their alliance on many issues.
White has career totals of 2,031 wins and $34,839,761 in earnings. Those numbers are on hold at least until next March 31 That’s when White plans to return to training after he finishes what he says will be just one 12-month term as president of the Florida HBPA.
Since the 1990s White had several stints as a director of the Florida HBPA. But he did not seek the presidency until this year.
“I always felt that I could help make a difference for our industry,” he said. “But I also knew that running a stable with 40 horses is a full-time job. If I tried to do both (Florida HBPA and training) it would not have been fair to the FHBPA or to my horses, their owners and my staff.”
White opened his window to the Florida HPBA early this year, He dispersed his stable to other trainers and began a long-planned break from training. He soon decided to run for president if the Florida HBPA.
On March 26,, the Florida HBPA board elected him president for a 12-month term from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016. He succeeded Phil Combest who had been president of the horsemens’ group since 2011.
The Florida HBPA has a membership of about 6,000 owners and trainers who do business in Florida–some year-round and others for the winter months, .
Combest remains a member of the Florida HBPA board and of its executive committee with the new title of vice president-legislative affairs. That is an example of how White is delegating duties and responsibilities among Florida HBPA directors and other members amid what he calls “unprecedented challenges.”
“The debate is no longer over issues like race dates and the number of races per day,” he said. “It is about issues like what we are seeing in Tallahassee and that threaten our industry and its survival.”
On a positive note White said: “There are exciting opportunities with Gulfstream. This is the first year that Gulfstream has been able to plan for year-round racing without the potential of a conflict with Calder.”
Issues for 2015
A central issue for the Florida horsemen and their allies is their opposition to the goal of Calder, Florida’s greyhound tracks and harness track Isle Racing & Casino at Pompano Park to “decouple” live races from other gaming.
In each of the last three years, the Florida Legislature considered but did not approve bills that would end the greyhound tracks requirement to hold live racing while continuing to let them bring in simulcasts (including thoroughbred races in Florida and other states).and have poker rooms,
Late in this year’s legislative session Calder also made that request. All have cited declines in wagering on their live events. Under de-coupling, Calder would also be able to keep its casino with Las Vegas-style slot machines–and so would other pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The legislature will begin its 2016 session on Jan. 12. Committee hearings will begin this fall and decoupling will again be part of the discussion on gaming issues.
In meetings with legislators and at hearings, White has explained and will continue to explain why the Florida HBPA opposes decoupling for any pari-mutuels.
White points out that Greyhound and other pari-mutuel licenses are for live events and those licenses have enabled them to be eligible for poker rooms and incoming simulcasts. If they cut their operating costs by not holding live events they would have an advantage in their competition with thoroughbred tracks for poker and simulcast customers
“Calder in effect has already decoupled.” White said at a hearing of the House Finance and Tax Committee on April 22.
Under an agreement they signed last summer, Gulfstream has leased Calder’s racing operations through the end of 2020.
There are now only two months of racing each year at Calder,, in October and November wiih Gulfstream using the name Gulfstream Park West. Calder is in Miami Gardens, eight miles west of Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach.
On July 1, 2014 the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering approved an agreement that Gulfstream and its parent The Stronach Group reached with Calder and its parent Churchill Downs Inc. to immediately end the head-to-head weekend racing.that they began in July 2013.
The deal includes the Gulfstream lease of Calder’s racing operations. CDI remains the owner of Calder and continues to operate its casino.
“CDI has gotten out of the game (racing) in Florida, but they still have an ownership interest and that makes it worrisome about what they might do next,” White said.
During April, Calder tore down all of the barns that were on a section of its backstretch that it has designated for a non-racing commercial redevelopment Calder and CDI have not yet announced any plans for that development.
White as a Trainer
White began training in 1983 , starting at Tampa Bay Downs. He moved his stable to Calder in 1986.
He has been leading trainer based on wins at 11 Calder meets and at five Tropical at Calder meets held at the Miami Gardens track.
He has 1,534 training wins at Calder.
That places him second to his legendary and semi-retired friend Manny Tortora, who has more than 2,000 Calder wins. A precise number for Tortora is not readily available because of discrepancies between Calder data and Equibase Co. data.
White has trained several dozen horses that have won stakes races in Florida. That list includes Lavendar Gal, Blissful Kiss, Millennium Storm and French Village.
White is originally from the Chicago area, His grandfather Lawrence Adolfie, a thoroughbred owner in Southern Illinois, was the source of his love for horse racing.
White moved to Largo, Fla., in 1968. After earning his Masters Degree in Special Education from the University of South Florida, he taught in Sarasota public schools for six years while coaching baseball at Booker High School. To supplement his teaching salary, White shod horses on the weekends at Tampa Bay Downs during the 1970s
He obtained a trainer’s license in 1983. He spent the three years after that at Tampa Bay in the winter, and then training at Finger Lakes, River Downs and Atlantic City in the summer. In 1986, he began training full-time in South Florida.
White and his wife, Laura, have been married since 1976. They have two grownchildren, Lindsey and Jake.