I recently happened to visit Dusty Lane Farms, the Ron Gass Farm nursery and training centre about eight miles west of Charlottetown but I hadn’t plan on doing any stories, just to get a look at my brother’s Sportswriter filly. Up and coming trainer- driver Adam Merner showed me around and finally I encountered a friendly face who had seen many times over the years and at many tracks from here to Blue Bonnets and to Mohawk and Woodbine. It was none other then Hector White, the brother of one of Canada’s greatest all-time horseman in Roger White.
In the late 1960s, Montreal was the hot spot to be with two beautiful race-tracks, the 5/8 mile Blue Bonnets downtown and Richelieu Parc, east of the Island of Montreal. The Montreal Canadians were in their glory with Beliveau, the Rocket, Serge Savard, Larry Robinson, Jacques Lemaire, John Ferguson and Henri Richard to name a few. There have always been great horsemen in Quebec, a la Herve Filion, and Roger White was right at the top at both tracks. White had come from a big family as 13 were born in Bathurst, New Brunswick and the remaining five were born in Quebec City. In this era, the Blue Bonnets driving community was special with Roger White, Keith Waples, Dunc MacTavish, Yves Filion, Mike LaChance, and Benoit Cote among many others.
Like many great horsemen, Roger White had nothing handed to him, he came up the hard way. At age 17, he won his first race at Quebec City with a horse called Joseph Guy who was 18 at the time, which in those days was legal, today horses can no longer race beyond age 14. By 1966, Roger White had established himself as an up and coming talented driver racing mostly at Quebec City, but also at Blue Bonnets and Richelieu Parc in Montreal for owner Allen Leblanc. One of their top pacers was Sir Winston Pick who banked $170,000 in four years of racing.
Another one of White’s early greats was the Invitational pacer Ack Ack, a speedster by Bullet Hanover. Ack Ack had 10 wins in 31 starts, mostly at Montreal but also won Invitationals at Brandwine and at Liberty Bell. Two of his wins were in 1:59 and change and that year only Bret Hanover at 1:59 broke the two-minute barrier. Ack Ack was voted Canadian Pacer of the Year for 1966 and was the first Quebec horse to crack the 2:00 barrier.
White was also an astute judge of horse flesh and in 1962 recommended Leblanc purchase Timely Knight for $15,000 and what an investment that turned out to be. Quebec City hosted a major mid-summer 1967 Invitational Classic which brought together some of the best pacers on the go and Timely Knight with Roger White driving won going away over Good Time Boy (Jim Larente) and Andys Son (Rufin Barrieau). One of Timely Knight’s rare “home” defeats during this era was a Blue Bonnets loss to stable-mate Ack Ack handled by Roger’s brother Donald a top driver whose career was shortened by numerous major on-track injuries.
Over the next few seasons, and at age six, Timely Knight had blossomed into one of the top Free For all horses in North America. The son of Good Time had banked over $200,000 and posted wins in the 1968 Canadian Pacing Derby over Blaze Pick (Keith Waples) and True Duane (Chris Boring). Roger was also adept at handling trotters as suggested by winning the 1966 Maple Leaf Trot at Greenwood Raceway with Sprite Kid from his own stable. White’s Stable usually numbered around 35 horses and in those days by late summer he’s take 12 of his better horses and head to Chicago which at that time was like Montreal, another hotspot for harness racing. Hector recalls one such stretch when for four consecutive weeks in Chicago, he won the top class with four different horses, impossible in this day and age. Besides Timely Knight, Roger had standouts like the trotter Sprite Kid, pacers Score Time and Ack Ack who were on the Montreal to Chicago group for the White barn.
Not only was White a great trainer and driver, he kept an immaculate stable, and as veteran Charlottetown horseman Mickey Gallant would tell you, “you could eat off the floor. He was a classy guy always dressed sharp and a real gentleman, I could see why he was voted Canada’s Harness Horseman of the Year”, recalled Mickey who worked for White for the better part of two years 1968-69 in Montreal.
There were other Maritimers working for the Roger White Stable at Blue Bonnets besides Mickey Gallant, and they included Wally Dalziel and Rheal Bourgeois.
Many of Roger’s brothers were top assistant trainers at the White Stable including Eddie, Denis, Henri and Hector who now resides in PEI, just outside Charlottetown. All of those brothers were very good horsemen, but there was only one Roger White.
It was Roger White who introduced prominent owner Irving Liverman into the word of harness racing buying young horses and enjoying the game. In the summer of 1970, White purchased a yearling called Silent Majority for $9500 at the Harrisburg, USA sale and the colt opened his two year old 1971 campaign by winning his first eight starts that season; Roger won his debut at Blue Bonnets, the final three legs of the Canadian Juvenile series and the final establishing the colt as the top two year old in Canada. Sadly, Roger did not get to enjoy Silent Majority’s three year old campaign or another Liverman purchase at the same time in Handle With Care. On his way to the Harrisburg yearling sale, White’s private plane crashed September 18, 1971 killing all four passengers and ending the career of one of harness racing’s brightest stars. Had it not been for Irving Liverman’s wife, he too would have been on that fatal flight.
White scheduled a trip for he, another owner and friend plus Liverman to attend the Harrisburg Sale in Pennsylvania but Irving’s wife insisted that he not go as that date was a Jewish holiday. Roger and his buddy and horse owner Jacques Cote were aboard the private plane cutting short a brilliant career just as he was about to join that elite level of trainer-drivers in North America harness racing. This man with the enormous talent never got a chance to show the rest of the world how great a horseman and driver he really was, not to mention the pleasure he and Irving would have had after Silent Majority was syndicated for $2,000,000 after his three year old campaign, a huge sum in those days. Roger’s wife Aline owned half of Silent Majority and she always gave credit to Irving Liverman who remained a great friend of the White family until his passing.
Fifty years later, veterans will still recall what a great all-around horseman he was. He was exceptional at breaking colts and working with troubled horses and as his pal Liverman once said, “he had the cleanest barn at Blue Bonnets. He was a devoted family man, a man who tried to attend mass every morning, a real special individual, besides being a great driver and trainer”. He was the leading driver at Blue Bonnets many times and who knows how many records he would have set but for that tragic plane crash.
Montreal Canadians great Serge Savard and his pal John Ferguson knew Roger White very well and Savard said, “ Roger White and Benoit Cote were two of the classiest horsemen one would ever want to meet both terrific drivers and trainers”. Roger’s barn at Blue Bonnets was always immaculate; his loss was painful. He never drank or smoked or used bad language, what a gentleman. Savard went on to say that Roger and his wife were great friends of John Belliveau and his wife and they remained that way until #4’s passing.
White’s tragic plane crash and his passing at age 40 robbed North America harness racing of one of its greatest stars and leaves the rest of us wondering what kind of numbers he would have had compared with other all-time greats.