Even now, Lainie Whitmire still can’t believe her family’s striking gray mare, Whistle Stop Cafe, pulled off the impossible.
One week ago, she and her husband, Ray, experienced the moment of a lifetime when Whistle Stop Cafe streaked to victory in the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico.
In doing so, the mare kept her record a perfect six wins in six starts, and landed the cutters from Sallisaw, Oklahoma, the most prestigious and lucrative prize in the sport of Quarter Horse racing.
“It’s surreal. It still doesn’t feel like it should be real,” Whitmire said. “The next morning, I was literally walking around going, ‘I can’t believe that this happened!'”
Racing & Cutting
Winning the All American Futurity — the race for 2-year-olds is Quarter Horse racing’s richest event with a total purse of $3 million — is a lifelong dream for the family. Whitmire’s father, Wayne Phillips, was himself a racehorse trainer. Ray first owned racing Quarter Horses in the 1980s, and in recent years became more involved in the sport.
Their racing endeavors are in addition to their involvement in the cutting industry. They founded the World Cutting Horse Association, which promotes beginner-level cutting and aims to make the sport more affordable.
Whitmire has lifetime cutting earnings just shy of $40,000. Ray’s Equi-Stat record as a rider is more than $73,000, and daughter Lauren has $77,000. Both Whitmire and Lauren also show barrel horses.
While cutting horses and racehorses compete in vastly different events, Whitmire said the great ones share similar traits. A big thing that separates the special horses in each sport from the everyday ones is work ethic, she said.
“I think they both have to have grit and they have to have try,” she said. “I think they both have to like their job. I think they both need to be in the right hands.”
In the case of Whistle Stop Cafe, those hands were those of trainer G. Blane Wood and jockey Ricky Ramirez.
Finding Whistle Stop Cafe
The Whitmires first saw Whistle Stop Cafe at the 2019 Heritage Place Yearling Sale in Oklahoma.
According to Whitmire, her husband liked how she looked on paper: the mare was by graded stakes winner Freighttrain B and out of Sinuous, a daughter of Mr Jess Perry who placed third in the 2010 Heritage Place Derby (G1).
It was a racing pedigree to be sure, but Whitmire -— who, along with her husband, bought barrel horse stallion JL Dash Ta Heaven earlier this summer for $1.75 million — also saw something else she liked in the Bobby Cox-bred filly’s family.
“He showed the catalog page to me, and I liked her because she was a Freighttrain B and the Freighttrain Bs make barrel horses,” she said.
When they saw her in person, they liked her even more.
“She was phenomenal to look at,” Whitmire said. “Pretty gray mare, really pretty hip, real nice head and a good eye, and looked like she was going to be real intelligent.”
Wood liked her, too, and after they plunked down the $42,000 winning bid, the trainer took him back to his home base in Lubbock, Texas. Wood paired the filly up with Ramirez, who rode her in all her starts this year.
Road to the All American
Whistle Stop Cafe made her first start in early May in a Heritage Place Futurity trial in Oklahoma City’s Remington Park. She won that day by a neck, but her time wasn’t fast enough to qualify for the Heritage Place finals.
As with cutting, Quarter Horse racing contenders must qualify for a spot in the finals at the sport’s biggest events — only, in the case of racing, it’s the fastest times, not the highest scores, that get a horse in the starting gate.
Whistle Stop Cafe made the Heritage Place Futurity consolation race later in May, winning it by a nose.
Then it was on to New Mexico to try to qualify for the Rainbow Futurity, a prestigious 400-yard grade one race with a total purse of $1 million. Like the All American, the race is contested at Ruidoso Downs.
“We take her to Ruidoso, and she wins her trial in the Rainbow, and at that point I was like, wow, I just can’t believe all this is happening,” Whitmire recalled. “And then, when she won the Rainbow, I was just like … she would’ve never had to do anything else again for the rest of her life, for me.
“I was completely smitten by her. She tries her heart out every time.”
At that point, it was on to the All American.
The All American
The Whitmires have been in racing a long time, but they’d never had a horse qualify for the All American. Competition is stiff, and it’s common for horses to win their trials and still not have a time fast enough to make the finals. It’s such a fine line that a tailwind pushing the horses toward the finish line is seen as an advantage.
“There were several other races that horses qualified in the top five and they had a little tailwind or whatever, and she didn’t have any of that,” Whitmire said. “She had no help whatsoever. When she ran, the flag was just dead, because we were all watching the flag going, ‘Oh, we could use a little tailwind right about now!'”
It turned out she didn’t need it; she earned a spot in the starting gate anyway.
“When she qualified back [for the All American finals], it was kind of a dream come true at that point, no matter if she’d have done any good at all in the All American,” Whitmire said. “I think just making it back to the top 10, it was just one of those things, you just don’t even let yourself dream about that. It’s too far-fetched.”
On finals day, Whitmire just hoped for a fair shot. As with cutting, things happen so quickly in Quarter Horse racing that one wrong move — a slow start, hard bump from a competitor or drifting one way or another down the stretch — can be the difference between winning and finishing in mid-pack.
Whistle Stop Cafe and Ramirez broke clean from the gates, just as Whitmire hoped, and then powered toward the finish line 440 yards away like a veteran campaigner. She flashed across the line a neck in front of second-place finisher Instygator.
“She broke on top and she ran straight as a string. She’s a professional,” Whitmire said appreciatively. “And, for her age, for being 2 years old, she makes no mistakes. She doesn’t want to mess up.”
With the win came the tears.
“It’s really emotional for a horse to give you that much of themself,” Whitmire said. “And, she just tries so hard. I know I keep saying that, but I don’t know how else to describe it … She just guts herself every single time they open the gate, and for a horse to give that much of herself to you and try that hard, it’s pretty emotional to watch it.”
Whistle Stop Cafe’s Future
This week, Whistle Stop Cafe is back at her trainer’s home base in Lubbock. She’s done racing for the year, Whitmire said, and will have a long rest before going back in training for next year’s races.
The goal is for her to compete in some of the big racing derbies next year, and possibly contend for a year-end title, but Whitmire said the mare will run sparingly. She’s done enough, and anything else would just be icing on the cake.
“Whatever happens, honestly, she owes us absolutely nothing,” Whitmire said. “She has a home for life, and she will be treated like the little princess she is.
“And, she is a little princess.”