Tagged with " horse racing"
Aug 3, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

2019 Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductees share love of the sport

John Hendrickson, left, is welcomed on stage by master of ceremonies Tom Durkin at this morning’s (Aug. 2) National Museum of Racing’s 2019 Hall of Fame Inductions first as president of the museum and then to accept the induction of his wife Marylou Whitney, who passed away July 19.

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.

Next to an empty chair honoring the recently deceased Marylou Whitney sits her husband, John Hendrickson, and one of her daughters, Heather Mabee.

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.

Past Hall of Fame inductees present at the Aug. 2 2019 ceremony were called up to be recognized and photographed. Many are well-known faces in racing, past and present.

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. 

This is just a small segment of the lawn jockeys in owners’ silks that grace the front of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Marylou Whitney’s stable is in the forefront.
Jul 20, 2019 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Thank you, Marylou, for everything

A limited edition Yankee Candle features the scent of the classic Marylou Whitney rose commissioned by her husband on her 85th birthday. She passed away July 19 at age 93.

The stately “Welcome to Saratoga Springs” statue of Native Dancer surrounded by flowers where Union Avenue meets Congress Park was one of Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson’s many exceptional contributions to this city. I go by it all the time, and I always think of Marylou and John, always meaning to tell them both, thank you. Thank you for this beautiful gift.     

I think I told them all of this before. But I meant to send Marylou a note about it a few weeks ago, when I saw people posing for photos in front of the statue, as I often do, year-round. I procrastinated, as I often do, even knowing that Marylou was in failing health. Yesterday, on July 19, 2019, she passed away at her home in Saratoga Springs.

I first met Marylou close to 40 years ago, when I became managing editor of The Saratogian. My husband and I enjoyed her black-tie summer galas, attended by a mix of local people, big names in racing, and assorted celebrities. Crowds would gather in Congress Park outside the Canfield Casino to watch Marylou’s grand entrances and try to spot some of the rich and famous guests. Saratoga Springs was revived as a place to be in no small part because of Marylou’s parties, beginning well before my arrival in the city, the Whitneys’ generosity and their role in horse racing, and the sheer power of her personality.

My colleague at The Saratogian, Jeannette Jordan, whose duties included society coverage, and her husband, Augie, hit it off with Marylou. They’d frequently meet up for dinner at places like Winslow’s. “You didn’t have to have money to be a friend of hers. She loved everybody and was kind to everybody,” Jeannette told Times Union reporter David Lombardo (yes, my son).

Yet not everyone was kind to Marylou. Sometimes people would complain to me that the newspaper had “too much” coverage of Marylou Whitney. I’d explain they were mistaken to brush her off as merely a socialite, the wife and later widow of the accomplished C.V. Whitney, rather than the philanthropist, horse owner and lover, and keen businesswoman she really was. They didn’t understand or appreciate how important she has been, for decades, to Saratoga Springs and horse racing. She did plenty for this city — without seeking recognition.  

Marylou was extremely gracious, generous, smart — and funny. A few years ago, she and her husband, John Hendrickson, were driving on Route 50 heading home when they passed my husband and me walking to a show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (which, by the way, she helped create back in the 1960s and supported for decades). Months later we saw them, and Marylou leaned in to tell me, “If you need a ride to SPAC, let me know.”

Marylou and John, nearly 40 years her junior, married in 1997. Longtime friend Maureen Lewi yesterday told The Times Union: “No one thought so in the beginning, but it was a match made in heaven. They both know how to have fun and they both have such generous hearts.” Maureen is right. John has truly been a loving husband and, as the need arose, a devoted caregiver.

Marylou and John have generously donated millions of dollars, countless hours and hands-on leadership to continue to benefit the city – enhancing Saratoga Hospital and other health care institutions (especially in Kentucky); creating, funding, organizing and attending programs for the backstretch workers at Saratoga Race Course; underwriting much of the celebration of local thoroughbred racing’s 150th anniversary in 2013, including the old-fashioned Floral Fete. This was one of the most amazing, heart-warming things I ever saw in this city – some 40,000 people lining Broadway to cheer a parade of dozens of people on homemade floats.

Today I’ll brave the heat to visit the Congress Park garden of long-stem, scented pink Marylou Whitney roses that John commissioned for her 85th birthday. Classic, like Marylou herself. I’ll stop for a selfie at Native Dancer’s “Welcome to Saratoga Springs.” And I’ll say thank you, Marylou. Thank you for this beautiful gift. Thank you for everything.

This beautiful gift to Saratoga Springs welcomes people approaching downtown from Union Avenue, the main thoroughfare that runs from Saratoga Race Course to Congress Park.
Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson were “honorary chairs and hosts” (read: major planners and underwriters) of the 150th anniversary of racing, including the extraordinary old-fashioned Floral Fete along Broadway.
Jul 17, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Saratoga Race Course is a good thing … but we’re at risk of too much of a good thing

Kind of an ordinary weekday feel to opening day, perhaps because it was on a Thursday and a week earlier than in the past nine years.

A horse walked into a bar and the bartender asked, “Why the long face?”

“The longer racing season,” replied the neigh-sayer.

This year’s Saratoga Race Course season started eight days sooner than the norm for the past nine years. Eight days too soon, I think.

The cachet of Saratoga’s racing season is due in large part to the exclusivity of its limited engagement at the historic track. The Thursday, July 11 opening day felt like any weekday at the track.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy going to the track, and I’ve gone twice already (though not for the whole day, which is just too long); I won with my late dad’s favorite trainer, Linda Rice, on opening day and I saw hat contest participants and brought home my picnic cooler give-away on Sunday.

I’m grateful to be living in a lively, thriving city, which hinges to a great degree on the success of the New York Racing Association, which runs Saratoga and the downstate Belmont and Aqueduct thoroughbred tracks. I appreciate new seating options at both end of the Saratoga grandstand to lure new and young visitors.

However, for me, living in walking distance from both the track and Broadway, the earlier start was one more weekend of tourists taking over my favorite restaurants and planning travel around anticipated traffic jams – especially when the track coincides with big concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, as was the case with the Dave Matthews Band on July 12 and 13.

Not the worst problems in the world, I admit. But since a slow day at Saratoga makes more money for NYRA than a good day at Belmont or Aqueduct, I worry about continued lengthening of the Saratoga season. Total betting from all sources for these first four days at Saratoga was $73.4 million, exceeding betting on the first four days last year by more than $1.7 million.

In a tongue-in-cheek column in July 2016, the Times Union’s Tim Wilkin wrote: “Saratoga used to be known as the August place to be as the meet was 24 days, all in August. Then the light bulb went on at NYRA. Extend the meet! It grew to 30 days in 1991, then 34 three years later. In 1997, it was up to 36 days. In 2010, it hit 40 days. … Maybe they should run from the Fourth of July to Labor Day.”

Now, without adding racing days, the season is a full week longer. Instead of closing only on Tuesdays, the track will also be closed every Monday, the least popular racing day, except for Labor Day.

Though the earlier opening for Saratoga was ostensibly because of construction of an arena for the NHL Islanders on the Belmont property, who wants to bet on the length of future Saratoga meets?

I want the track to do well and for related local businesses and the local economy to benefit. I get that any inconvenience to local yokels is nowhere on NYRA’s priority list. But I worry about the bigger picture – the risk of losing the exclusivity that makes the Saratoga racing meet special.  

One of NYRA’s improvements in recent years was letting patrons buy and sell reserved seats online.
Give-away on first Sunday of 2019 season was a new item: Picnic cooler
Live music in the gazebo behind the grandstand is always a treat.