Marylou Whitney, 93, who carried on the legacy of one of Thoroughbred racing’s great dynasties, died July 19, the New York Racing Association announced. Known as “The Queen of Saratoga,” Whitney is responsible for that iconic New York town’s comeback from the doldrums, bringing the biggest Hollywood stars to Saratoga and throwing grand parties.
Continuing the stable perpetuated by her late husband C.V. “Sonny” Whitney, Marylou Whitney won the 2004 Belmont Stakes with homebred Birdstone , who would go on to sire classic winners Mine That Bird and Summer Bird. She also took the 2003 Kentucky Oaks with homebred Bird Town.
Born Marie Louise Schroder in Kansas City, Whitney was the daughter of an accountant who knew eventual President Harry Truman and a mother who loved equine and showed five-gaited Saddlehorses.
“I was born on a horse,” she said in a 2011 interview. “We rode every single weekend. I had a horse from the time I was big enough to get on one.”
Whitney became a popular wartime disc jockey playing popular music for servicemen during World War II. In 1958, Whitney married Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney, the son of Harry Payne Whitney and grandson of William C. Whitney, the latter of whom bought the land and built the current racetrack at Saratoga. William C. Whitney won the Belmont Stakes in 1899, 105 years before Marylou duplicated the feat.
Before Sonny Whitney died in 1992, he dispersed his bloodstock, and Marylou took a chunk of the money she inherited and bought back all of the Whitney bloodstock she could. She had maintained a boutique stable ever since.
In 1997, Whitney married John Hendrickson, who assumed the duties of president of Whitney Industries.
In recent years, the couple started a backstretch appreciation program for stable workers in Saratoga, providing daily dinners and entertainment events. She also funded hospitals and the Museum of Dance, along with many other projects in the Saratoga area, as well as in Kentucky and other locales. She received the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2011, at which she said, “The backstretch workers are the sport’s unsung heroes. These wonderful people work long hours in dangerous situations while often living in poor conditions. All of us should try more to improve their lives and advance their dignity.”
“Marylou Whitney’s participation in Saratoga’s culture is the most significant of anyone in her time,” stated Saratoga historian, author, and turf writer Michael Veitch in 2011.
Statement from The Jockey Club on the Passing of Marylou Whitney
“The Jockey Club mourns the loss of Marylou Whitney, a true pioneer in horse racing. From her countless acts of generosity in support of racing’s backstretch workers to her success as an owner and breeder, she made important and lasting contributions to our sport, especially in Saratoga, and she will be missed. We extend our condolences to Marylou Whitney’s husband, John Hendrickson, and to her family and her many friends and fans.”
National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
“The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame extends its deepest condolences to the family of Marylou Whitney and her husband, John Hendrickson, on the passing of Mrs. Whitney. A kindhearted friend to the museum, the sport of Thoroughbred racing, and the Saratoga Springs community, Mrs. Whitney was a beloved and irreplaceable icon whose extraordinary legacy will have a lasting effect on future generations.”
NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop
“Marylou Whitney embodied all of the best qualities of the sport to which she devoted her time, heart, and resources. From her exceptional philanthropy to her innovative mind and indelible spirit, she was a champion of excellence in every endeavor she graced. The Thoroughbred racing community — and the world — have suffered a great loss but we are forever grateful for her lasting contributions to our sport.”