The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and the City of Saratoga Springs have announced plans to pay tribute to the legacy of Marylou Whitney, who passed away on Friday, July 19 at her home in Saratoga at the age of 93. Whitney, known as the “Queen of Saratoga,” left her mark on the Racing City as a successful stables owner and breeder, a dedicated philanthropist, and a champion of both the Saratoga Race Course and Saratoga Springs.
Saturday, August 3 will be Marylou Whitney Day at the Track. In addition to the running of the annual Grade 1, $1 million Whitney Stakes, guests will watch a video tribute to the late Pillar of the Turf and are encouraged to come dressed in pink in her honor.
The Saratoga Race Course will also be naming its Clubhouse entrance the Marylou Whitney Entrance. On either side will be jockey statues dressed in Whitney’s signature silks — Eton blue and brown — in honor of her colt Birdstone’s 2004 Belmont and Travers wins.
Whitney will also be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, with a free, public ceremony at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion on Friday, August 2 at 10:30 am. Marylou had previously been honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2010, admitted into the Jockey Club in 2011, and earned her spot on the Saratoga Walk of Fame in 2015.
Whitney’s influence reaches beyond the Track and into the surrounding city, so it seems fitting that the City of Saratoga Springs will also commemorate her legacy. Centennial Park — located at the intersection of Union Avenue and Circular Street, on the fringes of Congress Park — will be renamed the Marylou Whitney Park. Whitney and her husband John Hendrickson funded the pocket park and its statue of Native Dancer in 2015.
“Marylou Whitney is synonymous with everything that is Saratoga Springs: the Saratoga Race Course, its backstretch, the Canfield Casino and Saratoga Hospital, to name a few,” said Mayor Meg Kelly in a statement. “Whether grand giving or anonymous donation, her generosity to this region knew no bounds.”
Whitney was a founding member of several important arts and philanthropic organizations, including Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the National Museum of Dance, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and the Saratoga Backstretch Appreciation program. She is recognized as not only an influential force in keeping the Track from closing in the 1970s during a drop in attendance, but also for her efforts to reinvigorate tourism in the historic Spa City.
“Marylou’s passion for racing was only matched by her love for the City of Saratoga Springs and her support for the backstretch community,” said NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke in a statement. “Her generosity was unparalleled and the list of her contributions is endless. Saratoga would not be the destination it is today without the esteemed leadership, dedication and support of Marylou. Marylou’s love of this sport and city will have a lasting impact on generations to come.”
Whitney was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1925 as Marie Louise Schroeder, and later became a radio, movie, and television actress. In 1958, she married Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney, whose grandfather bought the Saratoga Race Course in 1900. Together, they ran a very successful stable and began their cultural and philanthropic contributions to the Saratoga area.
After Sonny’s passing in 1992, she opened Marylou Whitney Stables, whose horses have earned 190 victories and nine graded stakes wins since 2000. In 1997, Whitney married John Hendrickson, and together, in addition to funding local programs, they helped found the Markey Cancer Center in Lexington, Kentucky. She is survived by her husband and her five children.