Queen of Saratoga Marylou Whitney dies, aged 93

Marylou Whitney, who carried on the legacy of one of thoroughbred racing's great dynasties, died on Friday, aged 93, at her home in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Known as "the Queen of Saratoga", Whitney was responsible for the iconic New York town's comeback from the doldrums, bringing the biggest Hollywood stars there and throwing grand parties.

Continuing the stable perpetuated by her late husband, CV "Sonny" Whitney, she won the 2004 Belmont Stakes with home-bred Birdstone, who went on to sire Classic winners Mine That Bird and Summer Bird. She also took the 2003 Kentucky Oaks with another home-bred Bird Town.

Born Marie Louise Schroeder in Kansas City, Whitney was the daughter of an accountant who knew President Harry Truman.

In 1958 she married Whitney, the son of Harry Whitney and grandson of William Whitney, who built the current racetrack at Saratoga. He had won the Belmont Stakes in 1899, 105 years before Marylou duplicated the feat.

Before Sonny Whitney died in 1992, he dispersed his bloodstock. Marylou took a chunk of the money she inherited and bought back all of the bloodstock she could and maintained a boutique stable.

In 1997, Whitney married John Hendrickson, who assumed the duties of president of Whitney Industries. In recent years, the couple started a backstretch appreciation program for stable workers in Saratoga, providing daily dinners and entertainment events.

She also funded hospitals and a museum of dance, along with many other projects in the Saratoga area, as well as in Kentucky and other locations. She received the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2011.

For seven decades, Whitney was among the most successful owners in thoroughbred racing. 

The family's contributions to racing went beyond trips to the winner's enclosure. In the 1970s, the Whitneys helped convince NYRA to keep Saratoga open as a viable part of its racing calendar at a time when wagering and attendance sagged.

"An avid horsewoman and true lover of the sport, Marylou Whitney was one of racing's greatest ambassadors," said New York Racing Association chief executive and president Dave O'Rourke.

Following CV Whitney's death at 93, Marylou Whitney opened her own stable, which garnered industry-wide acclaim with her Eton blue and brown silks synonymous with racing excellence.

In 2003, the Nick Zito-trained Bird Town made Whitney the first woman in 80 years to own and breed a Kentucky Oaks winner.

Whitney and Zito continued to make history with Birdstone's Belmont win, ending Smarty Jones' Triple Crown bid. Birdstone then won the Travers just before a massive rainstorm pelted Saratoga.

In all, Marylou Whitney Stables earned nine graded stakes victories and campaigned more than 190 winners from 2000-19.

Whitney was elected to the Jockey Club in 2011, earning the moniker "First Lady of the Kentucky Oaks" in 2015 for her charitable works.

Whitney is survived by her husband and her five children – Louise, Frank, Henry, Heather, and Cornelia.