By Lynne Snierson
The $1 million Whitney Stakes (G1) will be run at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday for the 92nd time. It just won’t be the same without Marylou.
Marylou Whitney, who despite failing health and even suffering a stroke in recent years always made it to the track on Whitney Day to enjoy the races from her special box and present the ornate silver trophy to the winning connections of her family’s namesake race, passed away July 19 at the age of 93 at her beloved Cady Hill estate in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Though she will be missed, she won’t be forgotten.
The racetrack and the city are teaming together to ensure that the esteemed thoroughbred owner, breeder, philanthropist and socialite affectionately known as both the “Queen of Saratoga” and the “Savior of Saratoga Springs” will be honored in fitting and lasting tributes.
One day after Mrs. Whitney is inducted as a Pillar of the Turf into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, where she is featured in the recently-opened “Women in Racing” exhibit, the New York Racing Association will formally celebrate “Marylou Whitney Day” at the track.
In acknowledgement of Mrs. Whitney’s passion for thoroughbred racing and her many considerable contributions to the sport, the arts and the community, the main Clubhouse gate into the track is being renamed officially the “Marylou Whitney Entrance.” Inside the track, there will be a special video tribute to the doyenne of the horse racing world, who always dressed beautifully in her signature color of pink.
On the racetrack, there’s the 2019 edition of the Whitney, which is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Nov. 2. The salty eight-horse field boasts four Grade/Group 1 winners, and promises to be an affair that would have delighted and thrilled Mrs. Whitney.
McKinzie, installed as the 7-5 morning-line favorite, could add a first-time Whitney score to the impressive list of top-class wins for Hall of Fame and two-time Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert.
“It’s certainly a prestigious race and it would mean a lot to have it on McKinzie’s resume. It looks like a very good competitive field, so we’re hoping we can run our race and get a little bit of racing luck as well,” said Baffert said earlier this week.
Looking for his first Grade 1 win in 2019, McKinzie will break from post 6 under Hall of Famer Mike Smith and can expect a stiff challenge from 2018 and 2019 Group 1 Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow, who breaks from post 4.
Godolphin’s Thunder Snow, the richest thoroughbred in training with $16.5 million in earnings, is a multiple Group 1 winner but has yet to cross the wire first in North America. A victory in a race as prestigious as the 1 1/8-mile Whitney would keep him squarely on his planned path to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“I think the Whitney has positioned itself as the most prestigious older horse race and congratulations to NYRA for putting together what I believe is the strongest field for older horses this year. It’s earned its prestige, and I think any horse trying to go to stud would like to have the Whitney on their resume,” said Jimmy Bell, president of Godolphin.
Yoshida, a rare Grade 1 winner on turf and dirt, the Todd-Pletcher trained and Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes winner Vino Rosso, Grade 2 winners Preservationist and Imperative, Grade 3 winner Monongahela and Forewarned round out the stellar field.
“This has always been a tremendous race. Outside of maybe the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it’s probably the most prestigious race for older horses in the country,” said Pletcher, a three-time Whitney winner with Cross Traffic (2013), Lawyer Ron (2007) and Left Bank (2002).
The Whitney is the showcase attraction on an 11-race card that also features the $500,000 Longines Test (G1) and the $200,000 Troy (G3). Gates at the Spa open at 11 a.m. ET. Post time for the Whitney is 5:46 p.m., and the race will be broadcast live by NBCSN.
Lynne Snierson, a former director of communications at Arlington Park and Rockingham Park, currently is a freelance writer and racing publicist. She covered thoroughbred racing as an award-winning sportswriter for newspapers In Boston, Miami, and St. Louis. She lives in New Hampshire. Secretariat remains her all-time favorite horse.