What’s in a (Race) Name? The Whitney Family

Marylou Whitney and her husband, John Hendrickson, at the 2012 Whitney at Saratoga. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The famous Whitney family has long been involved in the sport of horse racing, and nowhere has their participation been felt more strongly than at Saratoga.

After all, it was William Collins Whitney—politician and former Secretary of the Navy—who helped arrange and fund the purchase of Saratoga in the early 1900s, at a time when the track was failing to attract top-notch horses and losing its position of prominence in the sport. Thanks to William Collins Whitney and his descendants, Saratoga would bounce back quickly and impressively.

Whitney’s sons, Harry Payne Whitney and William Payne Whitney, would have some of the biggest impacts. Harry Payne Whitney raced a highly successful stable that won two Kentucky Derbys with Regret and Whiskery and his best horses—Regret included—ran frequently at Saratoga. In turn, Harry Payne Whitney’s son—Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney—would carry on the family’s participation in racing, taking over his father’s stable in 1930 and racing such legends as Equipoise (who won four stakes races at Saratoga), and Top Flight (winner of Saratoga’s historic Alabama Stakes).

William Payne Whitney—often known simply as Payne Whitney—founded the legendary Greentree Stable, which would rise to impressive heights under the management of his wife, Helen Hay Whitney, and their children John Hay “Jock” Whitney and Joan Whitney. The stable is best known for racing the Hall of Fame inductees Tom Fool, Twenty Grand, Devil Diver, and Jolly Roger.

The Whitney influence at Saratoga continues through Marylou Whitney, widow of Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, who in 2011 was declared the “Queen of Saratoga” by the Governor of New York. Marylou Whitney has long been active in social events in the city of Saratoga Springs and won the 2004 Grade 1 Travers Stakes with her colt Birdstone.

Considering that the Whitney family has been a huge part of racing at Saratoga for more than a century, it’s only fitting that the track annually hosts the $1.2 million Grade 1 Whitney Stakes named in honor of the family. The Whitney has been won by some of the greatest horses in racing history and is among the most prestigious races in the country. Since it was inaugurated in 1928, the Whitney family has had plenty of opportunities to win the race with their own horses—Harry Payne Whitney won it with Whichone (1930), Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney won four times with Equipoise (1932), Counterpoint (1952), State Dinner (1980), and Silver Buck (1982), and Greentree Stable won it six times with St. Brideaux (1931), Swing and Sway (1942), Devil Diver (1944), One Hitter (1951), Tom Fool (1953), and Cohoes (1958).

Let’s take a look at a few other upcoming races named for racing legends of the past …

Grade 3 Fasig-Tipton Waya Stakes at Saratoga

Waya was the definition of consistency and versatility during the late 1970s. The talented French-bred mare was a two-time graded stakes winner on turf in her native country and proved even more successful once brought to the United States, where she won four straight races in 1978, including the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes and the Grade 1 Turf Classic. The following year, she was transferred to the care of trainer David Whiteley and gave dirt a try, scoring wins in the Grade 1 Top Flight Handicap and the Grade 1 Beldame Stakes on her way to becoming the champion older female of 1979.

Dr. Fager Stakes at Gulfstream Park

The great Dr. Fager made a habit of defying logic. Blessed with an unprecedented amount of early speed, it seemed as though Dr. Fager was cut out to be a sprinter. Indeed, he was unbeaten in sprints, but it was his weight-carrying ability and phenomenal exploits in longer races that truly stamped his legacy. Consider this—in 1968, Dr. Fager was voted Horse of the Year, champion handicap male, champion sprinter, and champion turf horse, a record-setting four championships in a single year. He achieved this feat by:

  • Carrying 130 pounds or more in every start.
  • Setting a still-standing world record of 1:32 1/5 for a mile on dirt.
  • Defeating Hall of Famer Damascus in the 1 ¼-mile Suburban Handicap, clocking the distance in 1:59 3/5.
  • Winning his turf debut in the United Nations Handicap, one of the most prestigious turf races in the country at the time.
  • Cruising to a six-length win in the Vosburgh Handicap, posting a sensational time of 1:20 1/5 despite carrying a staggering 139 pounds.

They don’t make them like that anymore!

Meadow Stable Stakes at Laurel Park

Even some of the most casual of racing fans are familiar with Meadow Stable. As the racing division of Christopher Chenery’s Meadow Stud, where the legendary 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat was bred, the white-and-blue Meadow Stable silks have become almost as famous as Secretariat himself. Yet Secretariat wasn’t the only famous horse campaigned by Meadow Stable—1972 Kentucky Derby winner Riva Ridge, the 1950 Horse of the Year Hill Prince, and the three-time champion Cicada also raced for Christopher Chenery, his daughter Penny and Meadow Stable.

Hansel Stakes at Laurel Park

It’s hard to know what went wrong with Hansel during the 1991 Kentucky Derby. The accomplished colt entered the run for the roses as the favorite off an easy nine-length romp in the Grade 2 Lexington Stakes, but never fired in the Derby, finishing 10th while beaten nearly 11 lengths. However, Hansel rebounded powerfully two weeks later to win the Preakness Stakes by seven lengths, then prevailed in a hard-fought battle to win the Belmont Stakes, leaving some to wonder if he might have been a Triple Crown winner had things gone differently in the Derby.

Fasig-Tipton Lure Stakes at Saratoga

Jockey Mike Smith has ridden many champions over the years, with one of the first being Lure. The speedy colt was at his best going a mile on turf—he won two editions of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile under those conditions—but he was also effective at longer distances and on dirt. Yet despite his accomplished record (he was ranked No. 85 on Blood-Horse’s list of the top 100 Thoroughbreds of the 20th Century), Lure never earned a championship title.

Alydar Stakes at Saratoga

If not for the misfortune of being born in the same year as Affirmed, Alydar might have been a Triple Crown winner—after all, he finished second to Affirmed in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, beaten a combined total of less than two lengths. But despite being overshadowed by his Triple Crown-winning rival, Alydar was a remarkable talent in his own right, winning six Grade 1 races including the Champagne Stakes, Florida Derby, and Blue Grass Stakes.

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