This morning I went to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame ceremony to honor the day’s first 2019 inductee, Marylou Whitney, but stayed for all 16 – eleven other “Pillars of the Turf,” one jockey and three horses in a two-hour-plus standing-room-only event.
It was an inspiring short course on some of the most important names in horse racing over the last 100 years.
The inductees shared a common thread: a love for and dedication to the sport. They spanned well over a century, including James R. Keene, born in 1838, who built one of the country’s major breeding operations and was represented by descendants, and 97-year-old James “Ted” Bassett III, a World War II Purple Heart recipient and ultimately oversaw Keeneland, who graciously accepted the award and his Hall of Fame jacket. The National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame’s website has succinct writeups on all 16 inductees.
The ceremonies took place not at the museum, which is well worth a visit (catch the women in racing exhibit), but around the corner in the Fasig-Tipton auction pavilion (where you can bid – or at least watch the bidding – on yearlings this coming Monday and Tuesday).
When this year’s inductees were announced this spring, I was glad that Marylou, at 93 years old, was among them. Though I know she’s earned many prestigious honors over the years, I am sad that her passing, on July 19, came too soon to collect this award or to celebrate one more Whitney Stakes, Saturday’s big race. Her husband, John Hendrickson graciously accepted the Hall of Fame honor on her behalf. The two have done a great deal not only to promote horse racing, but also to improve the lives of the backstretch workers.
Separately, in his role as current president of the museum, Hendrickson briefly talked about the $20 million theater in the round scheduled for installation in the racing museum next year. Whitney and Hendrickson’s marks are all around, often subtly, in innovations and gifts to the city and the world of racing.