Lynn Whiting, trainer of 1992 Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee, a horse which stunned the racing world as a 16-1 shot, died Wednesday at age 77, according to reports.
The Daily Racing form reported Wednesday that Whiting had died suddenly of complications from a long-term illness and a stroke suffered earlier this year. He had been seen at his Churchill Downs barn this week, the report said.
Whiting, a Great Falls, Mont., native who spent much of his career based at Churchill, learned the trade from his father, Lyle Whiting, who was also a popular trainer. At age 6, Lynn Whiting was walking horses. By age 10, he was a groom.
Until 1992, he had only one horse in the Derby, however, and it was Lil E. Tee’s sire, At the Threshold, who finished third in 1984 behind Swale and Coax Me Chad.
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“I’ve said right along that (Lil E. Tee) was better than his daddy,” Whiting said after the the 1992 Derby win. “I told (owner W. Cal Partee) this horse can be anything.”
Lil E. Tee gave Pat Day his first Derby win in 10 tries. Whiting and Day were close friends even though the successful jockey had turned Whiting down when asked to ride Lil E. Tee’s sire eight years earlier.
“It didn’t affect our friendship,” Whiting said in the run-up to the 1992 Derby. “We go out socially with our wives, and we have a close relationship,” Whiting said. “We don’t ask anything ‘above and beyond.’”
Whiting kept Lil E. Tee in his own barn at Churchill, spurning the ones set up just for Derby horses. That kept the horse under the radar for some observers, but others saw Lil E. Tee as a hometown hero going up against the likes of 4-5 favorite Arazi, a horse jetted in from France. Arazi finished eighth.
“When Lil E. Tee went by me on the outside I knew I was in trouble then, and that was about the eighth pole,” Arazi’s jockey Pat Venezuala said. “I got right to the leaders, right to Dance Floor. I thought I was just going to inhale them. I thought there was no way I could get beat today.”
Whiting had career earnings of $23,960,058, according to Equibase and trained multiple stakes winners including Phantom on Tour, Cyber Secret, J.T.’s Pet and Big Pistol.
He fielded 10 entries this year at Oaklawn Park, getting a win from Jury Wise in a claiming race on March 10.
But his greatest success was Lil E. Tee.
Lil E. Tee ran two allowance races at Churchill in his 2-year-old campaign. He finished second and first. He wintered at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans to nurse a shin issue. The next year, in Arkansas, he won an allowance Feb. 9 then ran third in the Southwest on March 7. He won the Jim Beam at Turfway on March 28 and placed behind Pine Bluff in the Arkansas Derby on April 18.
Then came the first Saturday in May.
“We felt like we knew what we had,” Whiting said. “We were going for it all the way.”
Whiting is survived by his wife, Nell, and two daughters. Funeral arrangements have not been completed.