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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The journey of Lewis and Clark alum Jon White: From Spokane’s Playfair to the Washington Racing Hall of Fame

By Jon White Special to The Spokesman-Review

At the top of the The Spokesman-Review’s sports section on June 10, 1973, a headline says: It’s Easy! Secretariat Wins Triple Crown

All these years later, I still have that sports section.

Back then, I was a senior at Lewis and Clark High School. I also was crazy about horse racing, as evidenced by what I wrote in my sports column in the high school newspaper on March 22, 1973: “Going out on a limb and living dangerously, I dare say that 1973 will be a historic year as Secretariat will become the first Triple Crown winner since the great Citation in 1948.”

Secretariat didn’t let me down.

Before Secretariat’s Triple Crown, I had become a huge fan of a local racehorse born just outside Spokane in 1965. His name was Turbulator.

It appeared that Turbulator would never be able to race after he injured a leg in a mishap on a ranch in 1968. His owner and trainer, Tom Crawford, even unsuccessfully tried to trade the horse with a damaged leg for two cows.

In time, Turbulator did race. His first start came at the racetrack in Coeur d’Alene on June 7, 1969. I was there that day. Turbulator finished third. Later in the year, he took Spokane’s Playfair Race Course by storm, winning seven races in a row. And then in 1970, Turbulator broke a world record at Longacres, a racetrack near Seattle.

I admit it. I fell in love with Turbulator. But I was far from alone. He became the most popular racehorse to ever compete in the Pacific Northwest.

In 1974, while much attention in Spokane during the spring was being focused on the opening of Expo ’74, I was attending Eastern Washington, where I was the sports editor of the college newspaper. In addition to covering the usual sports, I wrote about horse racing from time to time, including a story on the upcoming 1974 Playfair racing season.

Unfortunately, Playfair no longer exists. Racing there ceased after the 2000 season.

I am very thankful that there once was a Playfair. It was at that track in the summer of 1974 that my career in horse racing began. I was hired by a publication called the Daily Racing Form to cover the races at Playfair, Yakima Meadows in Yakima and Longacres near Seattle.

In 1977, I formed Media Madness, a racehorse ownership group consisting of eight people, all involved in the media, such as Jim Price, Playfair’s track announcer and publicity director, and Bruce Brown, a sports columnist for the Spokane Daily Chronicle. The first horse we bought, for $3,200, was called Political Pull. In Political Pull’s three starts at Playfair for Media Madness, he won twice and finished second the other time. Talk about beginner’s luck. Not only did Political Pull earn prize money for Media Madness in those three races, he then was purchased from us for $5,000. Media Madness would continue to be involved in the racing game for several years.

At Yakima Meadows in 1979, I became one of the youngest stewards in American racing history. I was 24. In horse racing, the stewards are the three racing officials in charge of everything that goes on at a racetrack. I later would also work as a steward in California and Idaho.

During my many years with the Daily Racing Form, I covered horse racing at tracks from coast to coast. And then in 1993, I became a television commentator at Santa Anita Park, a beautiful racetrack near Los Angeles.

At Santa Anita in 2009, I took on a new role as the person who issues the opening odds for each race. I also began doing this in 2020 for Del Mar, a racetrack near San Diego. I have provided the opening odds for a total of eight Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which is one of the biggest events in horse racing.

On June 16, I decided the time had come to retire.

Earlier this year, I was honored to be voted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame. The official induction ceremony will take place at Emerald Downs, a racetrack in Auburn, on Aug. 10.

All those many years ago, when I began my horse racing career in Spokane, I never could have imagined that someday I would be joining my all-time favorite racehorse, Turbulator, in the Washington Racing Hall of Fame.