While in North Carolina, convalescing from a case of malaria he had contracted in the South Seas, Whittingham met his future wife, Peggy Boone, from Rocky Mount, who was just 19 years old; Whittingham was 32. A sprinter in those days, Whittingham moved fast, and Peggy's mother begged her not to be hasty. "You don't know anything about him," her mother said. "What does he do when he's not in the Marines?"
"I think he's a horse trader," Peggy said.
"A horse trader?" her mother cried. "Argghhh...!"
Peggy and Charlie were married three weeks after they met, and upon his discharge from the service, Whittingham rejoined Luro's outfit. In 1948, they won the Santa Anita Handicap with a mount named Talon, and not long after, at Luro's urging, Whittingham set out on his own, taking over a string of horses for Mary Elizabeth Whitney Tippett's Llangollen Farm. Porterhouse was only the first of many stakes winners that he saddled for her.
Over the years no man in California racing has been more responsible than Whittingham for gaining the eastern racing establishments grudging respect, and two races in September 1956 were crucial to that respect. California-bred Swaps, the winner of the 1955 Kentucky Derby, was racing the wind at Hollywood Park and ran three world-record times there that summer. The colt was seeking to become the first California-bred horse to win the title of Horse of the Year. His rival for that honor was the pride of the East, Nashua. One of the horses Swaps had been thrashing all summer was the Whittingham-trained Mister Gus. The eastern chorus was predictable: Swaps hasn't beaten anything. Who's Mister Gus, anyway?
So Whittingham brought Mister Gus, as well as his top 2-year-old, Nashville, to Belmont Park, and he made his point: On the afternoon of Sept. 24, Nashville whipped the East's leading 2-year-old, the previously undefeated Bold Ruler, and five days later Mister Gus soundly defeated Nashua in the 1¼-mile Woodward Stakes. "Mister Gus couldn't warm Swaps up, but he beat Nashua in the Woodward," Whittingham says. At year's end, with that roundabout boost from Whittingham, Swaps was named America's Horse of the Year.
Fifteen years later Whittingham had his own national champion. He took a confirmed sprinter, Ack Ack, patiently trained him to run longer races, and made him into the 1971 Horse of the Year off wins in the Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup.
The horse business has made Whittingham a millionaire, but his life has been touched by tragedy. He and Peggy had three children—Michael, 43, now an accomplished trainer in his own right; Charlene, 38, an interior designer; and a younger son, Taylor.
In 1974, while mired in a life of using and dealing cocaine, 21-year-old Taylor died from an apparently accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. "If I'd known then what I know now, I might have been able to get him help," Whittingham says. "No one knew about cocaine back then."
He returned to the racetrack following the funeral and carried on. "I'm not an emotional person," he says.