by Rich Rosentreter
News arrived last week of the passing of Marylou Whitney, age 93, a woman who was a key figure in horse racing and instrumental in making the Saratoga Race Course what it is today. Her philanthropic efforts and contributions to racing helped earn the nicknames “Queen of Saratoga” and “Grand Dame of Saratoga.”
Mrs. Whitney died Friday, July 19, at her Cady Hill home in Saratoga Springs, and information about her life were provided by the New York Racing Association.
Mrs. Whitney was among the most successful owners in thoroughbred racing. She married Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, one of the founders of the National Museum of Racing and Pan American Airlines, respectively, in 1958, and their stable embarked on a winning tradition, with Tompion capturing the Travers in 1960 and Chompion winning the Mid-Summer Derby in 1968, according to the NYRA.
In the 1970s, the Whitneys successfully convinced the NYRA to keep Saratoga Race Course open during a time when wagering and attendance had a decline, the release said.
“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,” NYRA CEO and President Dave O'Rourke said in a press release. “Marylou's love of this sport and city will have a lasting impact on generations to come.”
The Whitneys also had a key influence on the Saratoga community, as they founded the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), which opened in 1966. Marylou Whitney Stables earned nine graded stakes victories and campaigned more than 190 winners from 2000-2019, the release said.
Born Marie Louise Schroeder on December 24, 1925, she grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She was the daughter of Harry Schroeder, an accountant who had attended law school with Harry Truman, and mother Marie Jean.
Growing up, she was a member of Troop 44 of the Girl Scouts of America. After graduating Southwest High School, she attended the University of Iowa for a time before working as an actress, appearing in movies and television shows.
Mrs. Whitney was presented with an Eclipse Award of Merit in 2010 for her contributions to racing and was elected to the Jockey Club in 2011. Other honors include the name “First Lady of the Kentucky Oaks” in 2015 for her charitable works. In 2018, she was in attendance as the Racing Hall of Fame inducted three generations of Whitneys as Pillars of the Turf, including Sonny, his father, Harry Payne Whitney, and his grandfather Williams Collins Whitney, who purchased Saratoga Race Course in 1900 and helped create Belmont Park, according to the release.
She figured prominently in this area for the vast acreage she and her husband owned between here and Long Lake, and was a local benefactor in many respects. The park provided big employment for many local loggers over the years. A major portion of Whitney Park was sold to the state in the 1990s to further outdoor recreation in this area.
Mrs. Whitney is survived by her husband John Hendrickson and her five children, Louise “M'Lou,” Frank “Hobbs,” Henry, Heather and Cornelia.