According to the Times Union, local philanthropist Marylou Whitney and her husband John Hedrickson have decided to call off this year's Whitney Gala, an extravagant event for Saratoga's rich and famous. The two have said that they will concentrate on the racing industry's backstretch community of workers instead.
If you were one of the people standing with camera in hand to get a glimpse of her and her lavish gala each year, regretfully you will no longer be able to look forward to that thrill.
The Queen of Saratoga started the tradition of the Whitney Gala in the 60s after her late husband Cornelius (Sonny) Whitney asked her to liven up the town a bit. The lavish event has had numerous creative themes over the years, from The Wizard of Oz to the Wild, Wild West.
The gala was always held at Canfield Casino in Congress Park, and although it was a private party, the public would fill the park just to catch a glimpse of Whitney and her guests arriving. Guest would often throw souvenirs into the crowds of people, all pertaining to the evening's elaborate theme.
Marylou Whitney and her husband have decided to officially put an end to the Gala, and will instead focus their attention on the backstretch workers. Whitney's backstretch worker appreciation program is in it's fifth year. The program provides over 1,000 backstretch workers with games, dinners, and activities every night during the Saratoga meet. Some of the activities included are movie nights, magic shows, karaoke contests, casino nights, and "Learn English, Eat Spanish" dinners.
Most of the backstretch workers at Saratoga Racetrack are from Latin America, and are separated from their families for the duration of the meet. These individuals work long hours caring for million-dollar horses, and are essentially the backbone of the industry. Appreciation nights sponsored by Whitney's backstretch program helps counteract feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The backstretch appreciation program requires much more work than the Whitney Gala would, and relies on hundreds of volunteers, as well as donations from distinguished Kentucky horse farms, and local families including the Dakes, Tooheys and Riggis.
The Saratoga socialites will hold a small dinner party on August 4 at their Cady Hill estate, the evening before the Whitney Stakes.
If you would like to see Maylou Whitney this season, please do not hesitate to volunteer on the backstretch!
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia user Kimnelson46