David Whiteley broke away from the crowd around the winner's circle at Belmont Park and slipped off alone, to the outer rail of the racetrack near the finish line. Minutes earlier, the 34-year-old trainer had sent out Coastal to win the 111th running of the Belmont Stakes. Now the ceremonies had ended. At first simply stunned and then relieved that it was over, Whiteley was just beginning to feel the warming afterglow.
The feeling has become a familiar one over the last few months. No trainer has had the kind of fun David Whiteley has had this year. The $269,000 Belmont was his sixth victory in $100,000-plus races in 1979, an extraordinary achievement. Though he conditions a stable of 19 horses, he had sent only 38 starters to the post before Saturday's race, but together they had amassed earnings of $750,805—a remarkable average of $19,758 per start, more than twice the second-best average. Coastal's victory in the Belmont pushed the winnings of Whiteley's stable past the $900,000 mark, putting the average above $23,000. Until recently Coastal was regarded as a kind of second-stringer to his stablemate, Instrument Landing, the winner of the Wood Memorial and the trainer's chief hope for the Belmont until a sore hoof sidelined him. Whiteley is also in charge of the care and feeding of two of the best grass horses in America—Tiller and the gifted filly Waya.
Whiteley doesn't advertise himself, but you can't miss him. Wiry of build with gray-flecked, neatly combed hair, wearing spectacles and smoking cigarettes through a holder, he looks like the earnest young lawyer that he used to imagine he would one day be. He studied political science at George Washington University and the University of Maryland. "I had thoughts of being a lawyer at one time," he says. Instead, he teamed up with his father, Hall of Fame trainer Frank Whiteley. David couldn't have had a better teacher. Frank developed the champions Damascus and Ruffian and brought the sore, aging Forego through two brilliant championship seasons. Frank's influence on his son is manifest. Both are self-effacing, almost shy. They keep to themselves and their friends and take their work seriously, spending long hours at the barn. They race their 2-year-olds sparingly and choose their spots with care. Very old school, they are, in that way, cautious and conservative. "Maybe too conservative sometimes," says David.
David is one of a small group of second-generation New York trainers bound by old friendships and similar backgrounds. Greentree Stable's Jack Gaver, the son of former Greentree Trainer John Gaver, is a friend. And so is John Veitch, son of Sylvester Veitch, former conditioner for C. V. Whitney and George D. Widener. Jack Gaver trains Bowl Game, while John Veitch trains Davona Dale and Alydar for Calumet. Veitch and Whiteley, who once roomed together on the backstretch, are close friends.
An hour after Coastal had won the Belmont, David glanced up the aisle of his shed and saw the car he had been waiting for. "Uh, oh," he said. "See that big new Jaguar that just pulled up? Now here he comes."
John Veitch stepped through the barn door, about 30 yards away, smiling and shaking his head in mock disbelief. "Boy," he called out, "if that doesn't go to show you that training horses is no trick!"
Then he laughed and walked over to Whiteley. "Well goddam done, David," he said. And then, to everyone: "It's a good thing he's got a smart father, isn't it?"