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Marylou Whitney

Marylou Whitney
Induction Year: 
Dec. 24, 1925, Kansas City, Mo.
July 19, 2019, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Tab Wrapper


Marylou Whitney arrived at Hall of Fame trainer T. J. Kelly’s barn at the appointed time early one August morning at Saratoga Race Course during the final week of the 1993 summer meeting.


Armed with notebooks containing information about the historic and famed “Whitney Blood” that dated to the first decade of the 20th century, Mrs. Whitney was ready to talk racing and breeding. Eight months after the death of her husband in late 1992, Mrs. Whitney was in the early stages of bringing her own unique style to the thoroughbred game. She was both determined and prepared.


“I think anyone in the world who is retired and who has a little money — make that lots of money — should get involved in racing,” she said. “Instead of going to the golf course, which you can do anyways, get out here in the morning and get a whole new lease on life. A lot of people have said to me that I look younger. I feel younger now that I’m doing this. This is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever known in my life. This renews your youth.”


Mrs. Whitney related that when she married Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney in 1958, he did not encourage her to own thoroughbreds, but rather to enjoy the experience of his horses. Mrs. Whitney, however, grew to love the Whitney Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, and the captivating seasons of breeding, raising, and racing thoroughbreds. Coupled with her own intoxicating energy, Mrs. Whitney’s appreciation of her late husband’s family legacy produced classic results with champion Bird Town and classic winner Birdstone.


Bird Town won the 2003 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in record time then added a victory in the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park on the way to honors as Eclipse Award Champion 3-Year-Old Filly. The same year, her younger half-brother, Birdstone, won the Champagne Stakes at Belmont. In 2004, Birdstone captured the Belmont Stakes, ending the Triple Crown hopes of Smarty Jones, and followed with a memorable victory in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.


Both Bird Town and Birdstone were bred by Mrs. Whitney, and both were out of Dear Birdie, who was named Broodmare of the Year in 2004. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito conditioned Bird Town and Birdstone.


“Whitney Blood,” which had produced major stakes winners and champions in nearly every decade of the 20th century, surfaced again through Dear Birdie. With her husband, John Hendrickson, the Marylou Whitney Stable opened the 21st century with this gifted pair of siblings.


Dear Birdie’s mother, Hush Dear, twice won the Long Island Handicap at 1½ miles. Her dam, You All, won the Ashland Stakes, and she was out of Honey Dear, winner of the New York Handicap. Honey Dear was by the Whitney champion Counterpoint, winner of the Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup on the way to Horse of the Year honors in 1951.


Mrs. Whitney’s impact, especially upon Saratoga Springs, deserves its own encyclopedia. Saratoga Hospital, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, as well as the Markey Cancer Center in Lexington, have benefited immeasurably from her as a keystone.


Mrs. Whitney and Mr. Hendrickson were central to the Sesquicentennial Celebration of Saratoga Race Course in 2013, marking 150 years of organized thoroughbred racing in the city. They created the Hoofprints Walk of Fame at the clubhouse entrance to the track to honor the legendary performers of its history.


When Saratoga Springs celebrated its 100th birthday as a city in 2015, Mrs. Whitney and Mr. Hendrickson underwrote the entire cost of the Centennial Park at the intersection of Union Avenue and Circular Street, including the commission of a life-size sculpture of the great Native Dancer as the park’s centerpiece.


Perhaps most important to Mrs. Whitney would be the Backstretch Appreciation program of activities for the backstretch community each summer during the Saratoga racing season. Recreation, entertainment, field trips, and meals are provided by this program. Mrs. Whitney and Mr. Hendrickson spearheaded its creation in 2008 and coordinated donations from other owners for its funding.


In 2003, Mrs. Whitney was honored by the New York Turf Writers with the Ogden Phipps Award. In 2010, she was presented the Eclipse Award of Merit. As she accepted the Eclipse Award, Mrs. Whitney was also honored by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mother, Matilda, who presented her with a citation proclaiming her the “Queen of Saratoga.” The following year, Mrs. Whitney was elected to The Jockey Club.



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