Historic Season At Colonial Wraps For New Steward Whitney Verbal

Whitney Verbal at Colonial Downs | Darrell Wood


Colonial Downs may be wrapping up a historic 2023 season with Saturday's GIII New Kent Country Virginia Derby but several firsts paved the way this summer for brighter things to come in New Kent, VA.

In addition to hosting its first Grade I races, the Arlington Million and the 'WAYI' Beverly D., Colonial welcomed a new face in the steward's stand. North Carolina native Whitney Verbal joined veterans Jack Houghton and Pat Bovenzi in making the calls Wednesday-Saturday and has been nothing but a welcome breath of fresh air in what can be perceived as a stuffy occupation.

“I always had a passion for animals growing up,” Whitney said. “So after school [North Carolina A&T], I knew I wanted to further my career in the horse industry. I wanted more hands-on experience learning about them [horses].”

Whitney looked to continue a racing legacy that began with her grandfather, Billy Verbal, who raced and trained Standardbreds at North Carolina's Pinehurst Harness Track. What started as an all-around internship after graduation at Oklahoma's Lazy E Ranch where she foaled out Quarter Horse mares, trained weanlings, and prepped yearlings for sales turned into a passion for all things racing.

“As an intern, I learned so much about the industry.  And I knew then that I wanted to have a career down that avenue and to keep my grandfather's legacy alive. I'm sure he's proud of me.”

As she transitioned back to the Mid Atlantic, Whitney found a home with the Maryland Jockey Club as a placing judge before moving her trade to Colonial Downs last year. Upon passing each of the five required exams, she became accredited and joined the steward's team this season.

“It's been a great experience. It's definitely a wonderful opportunity to have. I set myself a goal every day to be better. I'm also learning new things every day and those experiences are part of my journey.”

With both Jack Houghton and Pat Bovenzi in the booth with her, Whitney has had a wealth of experience to lean on and learn from.

“I can't thank them enough for their guidance,” she added. “They're such great horsemen. I'm aware that this is tremendous honor and I'm grateful for the opportunity.”

But as every sports fan knows, being the referee is never easy.

“There will always be a time when you may disappoint someone. As a steward, you are the decision maker and you need to make the best call in your ability for the welfare of the horses and the integrity of the racing.”

“You have to be professional at all times,” she continued. “So you have to block out those personal relationships you have and know that you are part of this important decision-making process.”

When asked about any controversial calls at other meets, Whitney sympathized with their challenges.

“You have to be consistent in what your decisions. One thing we never do is judge another steward's call because we're not in their shoes. However, the consistency is very important because it protect the integrity of racing.”

But that's not to say she doesn't learn from the calls made in other racing jurisdictions.

“I watch and what I want to understand is 'what are the stewards thinking?' It's never 'Oh, I would've taken that down or not' but more like 'what are you thinking in that process?' You have to trust that what they did was the best decision for them.”

And though she's the only woman on the team, Whitney has found no reason to believe that she can't succeed with the same opportunities afforded to her male peers.

“I have a really strong support system, so I lean on that,” she said. “And everyone has been extremely supportive. No one has treated me any differently for it. I get up every day and I work just as hard as they do. That's what led me here.”

With a resurgence of women in racing, Whitney was encouraged by the comradery she's experienced through her career thus far.

“There were a lot of women involved in it [her steward's training]. There are women out there that are doing the same things and are finding their own spots here [in the industry].”

And even as the season comes to a close in New Kent, Whitney is already looking forward to the future of the industry she loves. Her time at Colonial Downs has fostered an overwhelmingly positive view of what racing has in store, even in today's age of controversy and change.

“One thing the public doesn't see is that a lot of these people, they're really good. They're passionate about this sport. They want to continue on. Especially the young people–they want to carry on the torch for those that worked hard before. When you have younger people, they may have different perspectives. Even when there's change, you have to give it a chance. The industry can only get better if we allow it to.”

Colonial Downs closes Saturday, Sept. 9 with six stakes races on the card including the GIII New Kent County Virginia Derby.

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.

Copy Article Link

Liked this article? Read more like this.

  1. Virginia Program Generated $86.2M Since 2017
  2. Colonial Releases 2024 Stakes Schedule
  3. Controversy Swirls Over Derby Non-Inquiry, But Affected Connections Aren't Disputing Officiating
  4. CHRB Denies Stay of Justify Decision, Will Entertain Appeal
  5. Justify's 2018 Santa Anita Purse Money to be Redistributed, Record to be Adjusted

Never miss another story from the TDN

Click Here to sign up for a free subscription.