Marylou Whitney, the “Queen of Saratoga,” may be gone, but she’s far from forgotten. Whitney passed away on July 19 at the age of 93, but memorials and touching stories about her are still circulating online and across New York State. The most recent high-profile person to pay respects to Whitney was none other than New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. On August 3, while visiting Saratoga Race Course for the first time as Governor, Cuomo announced plans to honor Whitney by constructing a new hospitality center for backstretch employees called the Marylou Whitney Pavilion. This new, permanent facility, which will include an entertainment area and host dinners and special events for backstretch workers, will be located at the Oklahoma Training Track just across Union Avenue from Saratoga Race Course, where much of the training and preparation takes place before the big races. Governor Cuomo also officially declared August 3 to be Marylou Whitney Day across New York State.
“Marylou was the heart, the spirit, the personality, the mystique, the beauty and the charisma that represents the best of New York’s horse racing industry,” Governor Cuomo said at Saratoga Race Course’s 1863 Club on August 3, the day of Whitney’s signature race, the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes. “Marylou and her husband John [Hendrickson] were the drivers for the industry’s success, and they were extraordinarily devoted to the wellbeing of the many seasonal backstretch workers who are the backbone of Saratoga Race Course.”
The former actress, philanthropist and racehorse owner and breeder was instrumental in revitalizing interest not just in Saratoga Race Course but in the Spa City as a whole. Whitney first came to Saratoga Springs in 1958, back when the Spa City was pretty much a ghost town, and immediately set out to transform Saratoga into the summer tourist hotspot it is today. In 2007, Whitney and her husband John Hendrickson, the President of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, began a Backstretch Appreciation program, hosting and attending regular dinners and events in a tent on the Oklahoma Track. The new Marylou Whitney Pavilion will replace this temporary tent and continue the programming of Backstretch Appreciation, offering dinners and entertainment for the track’s many backstretch workers. The new facility is scheduled to open by July 2020, and once completed, will hold up to 400 people.
“Her decades of consistent support improved the lives of the men and women who sustain racing not only here in Saratoga but around New York State,” said David O’Rourke, the president and CEO of the New York Racing Association (NYRA). “The Marylou Whitney Pavilion is a fitting tribute to the life and legacy of someone who meant so much to the fabric of Saratoga Race Course. Thanks to Governor Cuomo, the Backstretch Appreciation program will now have a permanent home.”