The sport of horse racing has evolved greatly in the last 100-plus years, and to move forward it required more than the heroics of a legion of its greatest runners and most skilled trainers and jockeys.
It needed the help of patrons.
People like Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney.
For decades, C.V. “Sonny” Whitney was one of racing’s leading figures. He was born into one of racing’s most successful families and continued its prosperity as both an owner and breeder.
Racing also benefited greatly from Whitney’s philanthropy. Among his many contributions was his work as a founder of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and serving as its first president.
As a testimonial of his family’s importance to the sport, one of Saratoga’s most famous races – the Whitney Stakes – is named for them. He was, quite simply, a great friend and benefactor to Thoroughbred racing.
Whitney was born on Feb. 20, 1899. He was the son of Harry Payne Whitney and Gertude Vanderbilt, making him an heir to two of America’s richest and most powerful families. He grew up on Long Island in New York and after graduating from Yale University became actively involved in number of businesses. He was a director of the Guaranty Trust Co. of New York, and also invested in companies such as the Aviation Corp. of America (which became Pan Am), the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co., the Technicolor Corp., and Marine Studios.
A passionate fan of horse racing, Whitney took over the family’s stable in 1930 from his father, Harry Payne Whitney, and enjoyed immediate success when Equipoise began a career that would eventually be rewarded with enshrinement in racing’s Hall of Fame. In 1931, he raced another champion in Top Flight, who was the champion 2-year- old filly in 1931 and top 3-year-old filly in 1932. She, too, would be voted into racing’s Hall of Fame and become another of the many great horses that carried Whitney’s light blue and brown colors.
Among his other great runners were First Flight; Silver Spoon; Phalanx; Counterpoint, who was Horse of the Year in 1951; Career Boy; and State Dinner, a multiple Grade 1 winner who in 1980 won the Whitney at Saratoga in the final start of his career.
He also oversaw an equally successful breeding operation as his Lexington, Ky., farm produced nearly 200 stakes winners.
Whitney married Marylou Schroeder in 1958 and they spent much of their time together in their Cady Hill estate in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., until his death in 1992. C.V. and Marylou Whitney were also great patrons to the Saratoga community, helping to support the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the National Museum of Dance, among many others.
After C.V.’s death in 1993, Marylou took over the operation of the stable and in 2004 won both the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes with Birdstone. Until her passing in July 2019, she maintained a small string of horses and, like her late husband, remained a great friend to the sport of Thoroughbred racing.
Fun Facts about C.V. Whitney
- An outstanding polo player, Whitney’s teams won the U.S. Open three times.
- Whitney volunteered for service during World War II and served as a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He also served in the Signal Corps during World War I.
- He won the Belmont Stakes with Phalanx in 1947 and Counterpoint in 1951.
- Whitney was one of the financial backers for the epic film “Gone With the Wind.” He later formed C.V. Whitney Pictures which produced the films “The Searchers,” “The Missouri Traveler,” and “The Young Land.”