The New York Racing Association on Friday held a dedication ceremony and official unveiling of the new “Marylou Whitney Entrance” at Saratoga Race Course, which is named in honor of the eponymous owner, breeder and philanthropist, who died at age 93 on July 19.
NYRA will continue to celebrate the life and legacy of Mrs. Whitney at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Saturday, August 3, in conjunction with her family's namesake race: the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney. “Marylou Whitney Day” will include a special video tribute to the “Queen of Saratoga” and fans are encouraged to wear pink in celebration of Mrs. Whitney's signature color.
The newly renamed Clubhouse entrance, which serves as the gateway to the Spa from the City of Saratoga Springs, was dedicated as a tribute to Mrs. Whitney's passion, commitment and devotion to both racing and the community.
Flanking the entrance are two jockey statues adorned in the Eton blue and brown silks representing the classic colors of Marylou Whitney stables. The statues commemorate the 2004 victories of Mrs. Whitney's colt Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes.
The dedication ceremony took place following Mrs. Whitney's induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, which was held earlier in the day at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion.
“Marylou's impact on racing and the community as a whole are unmatched. She was integral in making our summer meet at Saratoga the success that it is today. Her dedication to this city was a driving force behind making Saratoga Springs the place we all know and love. And her commitment to the backstretch community, alongside her husband John, was unparalleled,” said NYRA CEO and President Dave O'Rourke. “For these reasons and many more, the Clubhouse entrance at Saratoga Race Course is now the Marylou Whitney Entrance, where Mrs. Whitney may watch over and greet racing fans who pass through these gates each summer.”
Joining NYRA for the ceremony were Mrs. Whitney's husband John Hendrickson, her daughter and son-in-law Heather and Tim Mabee, and grandchildren Margaret Schlachter and Erica Marian Schlachter Ness.
“Marylou had a lot of loves, but Saratoga was her first love. She held Saratoga dear to her. On behalf of Marylou and her family, thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said Mr. Hendrickson.
During the event, officials from the City of Saratoga Springs unveiled a plaque that will be placed at the newly renamed “Marylou Whitney Park,” formerly known as Centennial Park. Located at the base of Union Avenue, the park is home to the statue of Native Dancer, who suffered only one defeat in his Hall of Fame career that included wins in the 1953 Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes. The park was built in 2015 with funding provided by Mrs. Whitney and her husband John Hendrickson, who commissioned the statue of Native Dancer and donated it as a gift to the residents of Saratoga Springs.
“Marylou's generosity to this community holds no bounds. She was a tireless advocate of Saratoga as a true summer destination. The rededication will honor and remember her work and reaffirm her commitment to the City that she loved,” said City of Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly. “The park is a special place and a part of the legacy that Mrs. Whitney leaves to us. To family, friends and to me, Mrs. Whitney is the soul of Saratoga.”
Also in attendance today were leaders and workers from the backstretch community, who discussed Mrs. Whitney's many contributions to Saratoga.
“We are so thankful for Marylou's contributions and her work to make Saratoga such a very special place to live and work on the backstretch,” said New York Racetrack Chaplaincy Chaplain Humberto Chavez. “Her smile and generosity will always be remembered in our hearts, especially in the backstretch community.”
For seven decades, Mrs. Whitney was among the most successful owners in thoroughbred racing but her contributions to Saratoga went beyond trips to the winner's circle. In the 1970s, when wagering and attendance sagged during the summer meet, she helped convince NYRA to keep Saratoga Race Course open as a viable part of its racing calendar.
Following her husband Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney's death in 1992, Mrs. Whitney opened her own stable which quickly became synonymous with racing excellence. When Bird Town, trained by Nick Zito, captured the Kentucky Oaks in 2003, Mrs. Whitney became the first woman in 80 years to own and breed a Kentucky Oaks winner. The following year, she and her husband John campaigned Birdstone to memorable wins in the Belmont Stakes and the Travers. In all, Marylou Whitney Stables earned nine graded stakes victories among more than 190 winners from 2000-2019.
Mrs. Whitney's contributions to the arts resonate strongly today. As a founding member of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the National Museum of Dance, she helped lead the renaissance for Saratoga Springs and contributed to its emergence as one of the nation's leading summer tourism destinations: “the Summer Place to Be.”
Alongside her husband John, she later spearheaded the highly-regarded Saratoga Backstretch Appreciation program, which continues to serve as a vital resource for stable workers who are away from home during the Saratoga meet.
Mrs. Whitney was presented with an Eclipse Award of Merit in 2010 for her contributions to racing and was elected to the Jockey Club in 2011.
For more information about Saratoga Race Course, visit NYRA.com.
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