Jockey Avery Whisman Passes Away at 23

Avery Whisman | MJC Photo

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Jockey Avery Whisman, who rode in the Mid-Atlantic region after beginning his career in 2018, passed away Wednesday at the age of 23 after what his family described as a “prolonged illness.” He was at his parents' home in Versailles, Kentucky at the time of his passing. Whisman had not ridden since accepting mounts Aug. 23 at Presque Isle Downs.

Though Whisman had been ill, his mother, Salli, described his passing as “a sudden an unexcepted event.”

“He absolutely loved the sport,” Salli Whisman said. “He was an incredible horseman. If you talked to anybody in the industry who worked with him they will tell you he was always kind and gracious and polite and had an incredible smile on his face. When he was on a horse he was only thinking about that horse and he brought all the skills he learned as a youngster. He could settle any horse. Everyone loved how quietly he sat on a horse and how he could read what horse needed.”

“From the time I first met him, we just clicked,” said trainer Matthew Kintz. “We had a lot of success together last year. I was really looking forward to him having a bright future. I'm thankful I was able to enjoy the time I did have with him because he was a great guy.”

After learning of Whisman's death, Hall of Famer Mike Smith took to Twitter to pay tribute to the young jockey.

“R.I.P my little brother you will Always be so Loved,” read his tweet.

Whisman met Smith when he moved to Southern California in the summer of 2018 where he went to prepare for his career. Smith took Whisman under his wing and gave him boots and the saddle he used win winning the GI Kentucky Derby in 2005 aboard Giacomo (Holy Bull). The same saddle was given to Smith by Laffit Pincay Jr. when he retired in 2003.

Salli Whisman said the entire family was involved in eventing and that her son had been around horses since he was a toddler.

“I wanted to have a career where I could ride,” Avery Whisman told the Laurel media relations department in 2019. “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. 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 made his debut Dec. 18, 2018 at Turf Paradise. He would move to the Maryland circuit in 2019 and also rode winners at Presque Isle and at Colonial Downs.

“He was a bit of an adrenaline junky,” his mother said. “He loved the speed.”

Whisman had 90 career winners. His best year came in 2019 when he had 53 winners.

He is survived by his mother, his father Lyman, a former steeplechase jockey, and sisters Caitlin Pinkney-Atkinson, Emma Whisman and Clare McCabe. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

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