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New book highlights legacy of Ohio native who was first Black female jockey

Image Courtesy of Sarah Maslin Nir

A book about an Ohio native, known as the first Black female jockey, is coming out in early September.

“The Jockey and Her Horse,” tells the story of Cheryl White of Rome Township, near Cleveland, who rode in her first race in 1971 at Thistledown Race Track.

"I did know there was a lot of buildup pre, I guess, for lack of a better word,” says Raymond White, Cheryl's brother, and co-author of the book. “Cheryl White is going to try to become the first Black female jockey. Teenage girl is trying to go get her license. There was like months of this buildup."

Cheryl, who was 9 years old at the time, watched his sister’s first race at the track on his father’s horse Ace Reward. Cheryl was only 17 years old.

“She broke out of the gate on top and she finished last,” says Raymond. “The horse finished last, but she rode her first race, and that was exciting.”

Image Courtesy of Sarah Maslin Nir

Raymond describes the huge crowd that witnessed the historic event.

"There were just reporters and cameras everywhere,” says White. “It was just it was an amazing event."

Raymond says his sister and other women challenging the horseracing sport endured harsh criticism.

"They faced a lot of backlash, you know, whether it was, you know, people yelling at them to go home and they needed to stay in the kitchen or, you know, I mean she faced her own challenges as a combination of being Black and female," Raymond says.

The White family knew a lot about horses. Their father, Raymond Sr., owned a 400-acre horse farm in Rome Township and he was a thoroughbred trainer for 60 years.

Cheryl also raced in Atlantic City and at Pennsylvania’s Pitt Park. She spent most of her two-decade career in horse racing in California. She rode thoroughbreds, quarter horses and Appaloosas.

Image Courtesy of Sarah Maslin Nir

She died in 2019 at the age of 65 from a heart attack.

In 2021, New York Times writer Sarah Maslin Nir met Raymond to write an article about Cheryl’s historic racing, which led to their collaboration on the book.

Raymond says he wants his sister’s unique career to receive well-deserved recognition.

"She just kind of faded and I started to notice she wasn't included in many museums and halls of fame where she should have been.,” says Raymond. "For instance, the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame, she's not in there. She should be. There's no reason in the world why she shouldn't be in the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame."

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.