July 14, 2024

Racing world mourns passing of Marylou Whitney

Marylou Whitney, the Queen of Saratoga, passed away in July at the age of 93 (c) NYRA/Coglianese Photography

A pall was cast over Saratoga, and spread throughout the racing world, Friday afternoon with news of the passing of Marylou Whitney. Respected as an owner/breeder and beloved as a philanthropist, the racing icon and doyenne of the Spa was 93.

Marylou married into one of the great racing families and campaigned horses for decades with her late husband, C.V. “Sonny” Whitney. After his death in 1992, she continued her involvement in the sport through her own breeding and racing operation and her charitable works.

Whitney’s homebred Birdstone famously thwarted Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown bid in the 2004 Belmont (G1), and went on to land the Travers (G1). The previous year, his half-sister Bird Town captured the Kentucky Oaks (G1) en route to champion three-year-old filly honors. Whitney’s last graded victory came June 15 at Churchill Downs, with the aptly named Hard Legacy, in the Regret (G3).

Aside from her success on the racetrack, the Marylou Whitney legacy has a strongly philanthropic tone, from establishing the Saratoga Performing Arts Center with Sonny in the 1960s, to her efforts in more recent years with husband John Hendrickson to support the Saratoga Backstretch Appreciation program. Married in 1997, Marylou and John were also involved in the foundation of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and the Markey Cancer Center.

Whitney’s list of honors includes the Eclipse Award of Merit (2010) and enshrinement on Saratoga’s Walk of Fame (2015). She will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Pillar of the Turf on August 2.

Dubbed the “Queen of Saratoga,” Whitney is survived by her husband, John, and her five children –Louise (“M’Lou”), Frank (“Hobbs”), Henry (“Hank”), Heather, and Cornelia.

The racing world joins her family in mourning, as expressed by the moment of silence observed at Saratoga, the formal statements issued by prominent organizations, and the flood of tributes offered on social media.

The 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.

The Jockey Club:

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.

Breeders’ Cup:

Like all of us in the racing world, we are deeply saddened by the passing of Marylou Whitney today.  Whether it was her extraordinary philanthropic endeavors, her festive galas, or her racing stable of stakes winners, Marylou devoted all of her energies to our sport and its traditions, most prominently, her beloved Saratoga. Marylou has left an indelible mark of distinction, class and style upon Thoroughbred racing.  Our sincere condolences to her husband, John, and Marylou’s extended family.

New York Racing Association CEO & President Dave O’Rourke:

An avid horsewoman and true lover of the sport, Mrs. Marylou Whitney was one of thoroughbred racing’s greatest ambassadors. As owner of her eponymous stable, Marylou was a top breeder and a committed supporter of the thoroughbred industry, who delivered some of the most memorable moments in New York racing. Marylou’s passion for racing was only matched by her love for the City of Saratoga Springs and her support for the backstretch community. Her generosity was unparalleled and the list of her contributions is endless. Saratoga would not be the destination it is today without the esteemed leadership, dedication and support of Marylou. Marylou’s love of this sport and city will have a lasting impact on generations to come. On behalf of the New York Racing Association, we offer our deepest condolences to her beloved husband John, and their family and friends.”

Track announcer Larry Collmus on informing the Saratoga crowd: