Jockey Avery Whisman Dies at Age 22

January 12, 2023

Avery Whisman (Maryland Jockey Club Photo)

Past The Wire Staff

It was announced on Twitter today by Morell Bloodstock LLC that Apprentice Jockey Avery Whisman has died. No causes were mentioned. Whisman was 22 years old. He was most recently a member of the Presque Isle Downs jockey colony. 

https://twitter.com/P_MoBloodstock/status/1613311638865575938?s=20&t=ACUrBvZY6JfPiq6xZnecOA

Whisman had ridden on the Mid-Atlantic circuit in Maryland and Delaware and in Southern California for trainer Carla Gaines where he met his mentor, Hall of Fame Jockey Mike Smith.

Whisman had not ridden since a start at Presque Isle on August 23, 2022, when he finished fourth on Barola in a Claiming race for owner/trainer Matthew Kintz. He had two other mounts that day and five the day before. 

His last win was Aug. 8, 2022, on Indian Spider in a $35,000 MSW also for Kintz. 

Whisman won the $100,000 Karl Boyes Stakes at Presque isle aboard Surely Furious on July 5, 2022, for Glenn Wismer and owners Novogratz Racing Stables Inc. setting a new track record.

He was out of the saddle from August 2020 until May 2022 according to Equibase statistics. 

Avery Whisman had 90 wins out of 810 starts with 96 second places and 98 thirds earning $2,715,109 in purse money.

By David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club, originally published July 31, 2019

People, like horses, can stray from their pedigree. In much the same way a horse bred for turf excels on the dirt, or vice versa, Laurel Park-based apprentice jockey Avery Whisman is gradually proving his success in showing horses can translate to riding Thoroughbreds.

Whisman, 19, was raised on a small farm in Lexington, Ky. near Keeneland Race Course, in the heart of Thoroughbred country. He quickly developed a passion for horses thanks to his lineage – his father was an eventer and former steeplechase rider and his mother, a physician, also competed in eventing.

Regularly doing farm chores from a young age, by the time Whisman reached 11 he was riding horses. He displayed a natural talent that soon propelled him to the top of the junior eventing levels.

“My family has a small horse farm in Kentucky, and I grew up my entire childhood riding, mainly the show horses. I did that for about seven years,” Whisman said. “I had an off-track Thoroughbred that I ended up taking to the Junior Olympics in 2017 and did really well with him. We were the leading rider and horse in the region for three or four years in a row.”

Whisman knew he wanted to make a career around the horses, but his choice came as a surprise to those closest to him due to both his inexperience with Thoroughbreds and his size. Taller than most jockeys at 5-foot-6, getting his weight down and keeping it there safely was a concern.

“I wanted to have a career where I could ride. I love riding horses; I love working with them in the mornings and teaching them and trying to make them better and improve every single day. Just being around horses, it’s what I love,” Whisman said. “I wanted to find a career where I could do that for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, in the eventing and show world, there’s not really any kind of money in it. You can’t support yourself doing that, so when I started galloping and started making a little money and started getting a little taste of the racing industry, I loved it. It made the most sense.”

Whisman began riding under trainer Joan Scott at Keeneland, and soon was hired by trainer Carla Gaines to ride for her in southern California. He moved to the West Coast in the summer of 2018 and spent time learning and honing his craft at both Del Mar and Santa Anita racetracks.

“When I approached my family and friends and told them, ‘I want to be a jockey,’ I don’t think they really believed me at first. When I was eventing, I was 130 pounds. I was a pretty big kid,” Whisman said. “But I knew I wanted to do it so I just went at it full force. I took my time and worked at it and I got my weight down and was healthy and felt strong, so it wasn’t bad.

“Then, when I fully made the transition from eventing to racing, a lot of people in the eventing world were like, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ They thought I was making a really dumb decision because I was pretty much at the top of the ranks in my region, and I just completely dropped it for the racing,” he added. “But it paid off and people are seeing me having a little more success, so they’ve been super supportive.”

Whisman credits California-based jockeys Joe Talamo and Hall of Famer and Triple Crown champion Mike Smith with being his biggest mentors during his time out west. In fact, it was Smith’s suggestion that Whisman launch his career at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, where he could ride a lot and learn from the experience.

Whisman with his mentor, Mike Smith. (photo courtesy of Carla Gaines Racing Stable)

“I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given and the people that I’ve been fortunate to have helped me out, like Mike Smith and Joe Talamo. They hold themselves to such a high standard, when you’re around them you want to do the same thing,” Whisman said. “Being around somebody like Mike, who is absolutely a complete professional and so focused and so good at what he does, gave me the inspiration to strive to be like that. He does everything right. They give great advice and things like that, but to see how they conduct themselves and go about their business is inspiring and motivating.”

Smith even gave Whisman a leg up on his career by gifting the promising apprentice with several pairs of boots and the saddle he used to win the 2005 Kentucky Derby (G1) aboard 50-1 long shot Giacomo. It was the same saddle presented to Smith by another Hall of Famer, Laffit Pincay Jr., upon his 2003 retirement as the sport’s all-time leading rider.

“When I was just starting to ride races, I was trying to get everything together, equipment-wise. Mike said, ‘I can give you a saddle,’” Whisman said. “He gave me a saddle and as he was giving it to me he said, ‘This is the saddle I won the Kentucky Derby with on Giacomo.’ And he said Laffit Pincay had given it to him, so it has quite the background.

“I was a little bit nervous using it the first couple times, but he’s just such a good guy. I don’t use it a lot now. I have a couple other ones. I try to protect it as much as possible. I think the next time I see him I’ll probably give it back to him, if he wants to take it back,” he added.

Whisman made his professional debut Dec. 18, 2018, at Turf Paradise, finishing sixth with Sincere Warning. He rode twice more before the end of the year and remained in Arizona to start 2019, riding there through the end of March and picking up his first winner March 16 aboard Spring Sprung.

By the end of April, Whisman relocated to the Mid-Atlantic region and has found a home in Maryland, which is known for its cultivation of young talent. In 2018, Weston Hamilton became the 11thMaryland-based rider to win the Eclipse Award as champion apprentice, a list that includes Hall of Famers Chris McCarron and Kent Desormeaux as well as contemporary Victor Carrasco.

Whisman rode his first race at Laurel Park April 26 and was winless in three mounts before the circuit moved to Pimlico Race Course for its 12-day Preakness Meet. There, at the second-oldest racetrack in the country behind Saratoga, he finished with eight wins from 31 mounts, second in wins only to multiple meet and year-end champion Trevor McCarthy.

Between May 8 and 16, Whisman won with three of six starters, officially beginning his one-year apprenticeship May 16 with his fifth career triumph, coming aboard Sventastic at Pimlico. He registered his first two-win day there May 27, matching the feat at Laurel Park July 28.

Heading into August, Whisman had ridden 13 winners from 85 mounts at Laurel’s summer meet, ranking ahead of such accomplished riders as Horacio Karamanos, Jorge Vargas Jr., Julian Pimentel, Hamilton and Feargal Lynch. He had finished in the top three 27 times, with purse earnings of more than $354,000.

“All my family lives on the East Coast, so I wanted to come out here to ride and be around family and everything. I had been watching all the good apprentices come out of this area, leading riders and everything, and most of the Eclipse Award winners come out of this area, as well,” Whisman said. “I knew I wanted to be in this area. I had an old connection from the eventing world whose daughter used to gallop for Graham Motion. They kind of lined me up with an agent up at Fair Hill who brought me here. I knew I wanted to be in this area when I had my bug. I was in Arizona starting off, just to get started.”

Five of Whisman’s wins this summer have come in 12 rides for trainer Dale Capuano, a career winner of more than 3,400 races known for nurturing young riders, including being a big part of Hamilton’s Eclipse Award-winning apprenticeship.

“Dale’s a great trainer and great guy to work for, so I’m glad horses have been running well for him,” Whisman said. “Dale’s been really good to me. He’s given me a bunch of chances on good horses, so I’m always happy to get a win for him.”

Most recently, Whisman piloted 5-year-old gelding Eastern Bay to a rallying head victory in an optional claiming allowance for Capuano July 28 at Laurel, capping the card with a 31-1 upset aboard Going to the Lead for trainer Charlie ‘Snake’ Frock. Whisman began July with wins for Capuano in back-to-back tries on Determined Mission in the July 4 finale and Go Magician Go in the fifth race July 7.

“He rode both of them the way they needed to be ridden, so that’s good. I’m very pleased with him so far. He works hard, he’s quiet, and he’s a nice young man,” Capuano said. “So far, he’s done well for me. His background seems to help him. He’s very quiet on a horse. He really gets in tune with them and does that pretty easily. That makes a difference. He listens, he tries hard, all the things I like and for seven pounds, he’s starting off doing pretty well.”

For his part, Whisman is keeping his goals simple – for now.

“Mainly just to keep improving. Unfortunately, I started my bug at the wrong time in order to be in the running for the Eclipse, so I kind of just let that go. Now I’m just focusing on improving every single day and every single week, trying to get stronger and make less mistakes,” he said.

“I’m not super-focused on just winning as many races as possible. I’m trying to perfect every aspect of my riding and really learning to listen to trainers and do what they say and try to work everything out. I’m still really new to this industry, so I’m still trying to figure it all out and get myself in position to have the most success as possible.”

Avery Whisman (Photo courtesy of Carla Gaines Racing Stable)

We, at Past The Wire, send our deepest condolences to Avery’s family and friends. Out of respect for the family and friends we are not discussing or reporting the cause of death. We feel that is for them to do if and when they feel it is appropriate.

This article is a must read. 1st ballot Hall of Fame horseplayer, generous teacher and heralded writer! Thanks John. twitter.com/jonathanstetti…

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Comments

  1. Rub8 Jan 12, 2023 at 4:59 pm

    Very sad.But you can’t just tell us he died and not how he died.

    1. Mary Kalinich Jan 12, 2023 at 6:26 pm

      We don’t yet know how he died. When that information is available we will update the article.

    2. KT Jan 14, 2023 at 7:55 pm

      You don’t need to know that very personal detail dude

  2. Jeanette Reck Jan 13, 2023 at 9:46 am

    He gave our mare, La Limonada,her first win at Colonial in2020.
    Chris and Jeanette Reck

    1. Mary Kalinich Jan 13, 2023 at 9:51 am

      That is a really nice memory. Avery was a very good jockey and a really nice person. Thank you so much for the comment.

  3. Eugenia Smither Jan 13, 2023 at 10:34 am

    Thank you for the update. Sounds like he found his passion

    1. Mary Kalinich Jan 13, 2023 at 11:21 am

      You are very welcome. Avery was in our Maryland jockey colony and we were so happy for his success. He will be so missed.

  4. Caroline Invicta Stevenson Jan 13, 2023 at 10:35 am

    How wonderful that Avery had such great memories and what a fabulous mentor, Mike Smith. Of course his loss will be mourned by so many but now Avery, will be in so many memories of all those whose lives he touched. Even though his passion for the love of horses was short lived by his untimely death, he proved how well he could race ride and in his heart and those of his followers, all
    Knew how great he would become. Ride with the angels now Avery, you were so loved and shall be missed. God Bless.

    1. Mary Kalinich Jan 13, 2023 at 11:21 am

      Thank you so much for you comments. Avery was very special.

  5. Outlawsmorales@duck.com Jan 13, 2023 at 6:33 pm

    Was he Vaxxed?

  6. Richard Jan 13, 2023 at 9:35 pm

    I am so sorry to hear of Av ery’s passing. I know nothing about the horse racing world, and nothing about Avery untill today. It just struck me as a shame that we have lost someone so young with so much potential. Every account I have read about him tells a story of terrific young man. My heart goes out to his friends and family in their time of such a great loss.

    1. Mary Kalinich Jan 13, 2023 at 11:39 pm

      Thank you so very much for your thoughtful comments. Avery had a rich life that touched many even thought he was only with us for a short time. Maribeth, PTW Senior Editor.

  7. Laurie Jan 13, 2023 at 10:41 pm

    Probably died from covid jab!!

    1. Marla Roach Jan 14, 2023 at 9:32 pm

      I also did not know who Avery was, but saw this notice of his passing, and at such a young age! I truly pray that God will comfort his family and his freinds’ through this difficult time! Look to God and BELEIVE that Avery is still with you in spirit and in your memory! He lives on inside your hearts, and knowing this , it should help you through your greif! In my prayers, be safe!

  8. Al Peterson Jan 14, 2023 at 11:28 am

    Respected by the very best. Maybe he’ll meet Man O’War in Heaven.

  9. Yvette Powell-Pink Jan 14, 2023 at 1:09 pm

    A young man gone too soon. May his soul rest in Peace and his family be comforted. My son Trisen who is 12 yrs absolutely loves horses and horse racing, and we take him to Laurel all the time and he told me had the pleasure of meeting Avery.

  10. Jk Jan 14, 2023 at 9:11 pm

    Have you ever in your life seen more young people just fall over dead? Hmmmm just waiting for the government to tell us, nothing to see here.

  11. Floyd Searer Jan 15, 2023 at 5:33 am

    Maybe he was Vaxxed so many of our young hero’s were pushed to get Vaxxed and we are now finding sadistically it wasn’t necessary! Were we told to truth about the Vax.

  12. Kevin Jan 15, 2023 at 5:34 am

    A life enjoyed is a life well lived. A young pony rider, Jack De Bromhead died in a tragic riding accident her in Ireland a few months back. A tough price to pay for the love of horses but his family keep his memory so much alive.

  13. Adrienne Jan 17, 2023 at 1:21 pm

    So sad, and so young. It sounds like he lived his life to the fullest… God Bless his young soul. He did what he loved, so many of us young or old can’t say the same. May he rest in peace. ❤️

  14. rew Jan 30, 2023 at 7:56 pm

    Wow, so many conspiracy, anti-vaxx people making such a mess of this poor kid’s obit articles.

    https://www.racingpost.com/news/international/heartfelt-tributes-paid-to-jockey-avery-whisman-after-death-aged-23-aTEAS5W95nM5/

    He lost his battle with depression and ended his life.

    1. Jonathan Stettin Jan 30, 2023 at 8:12 pm

      Agree, felt the same and knew it had zero to do with it.

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