Wednesday, March 27, 2013

saratoga racetrack's 150th celebrations is underway with help from the fabulous, marylou whitney.

Saratoga's grande dame, Marylou Whitney, helps unveil plans for 150th anniversary of Spa City racing

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SARATOGA SPRINGS — When Marylou Whitney comes to town, summer can’t be far behind.

The “Queen of Saratoga” aptly picked a Whitney horse named Top Flight — drawn completely at random — that will forever bear the lead position on a new Hoofprints Walk of Fame honoring the best equine athletes ever to compete at Saratoga Race Course, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

Plans call for unveiling the attraction early this summer outside the track’s clubhouse entrance. The inaugural class features 30 horses whose careers spanned the track’s entire history, starting with one named Kentucky that captured the first-ever Travers Stakes in 1864.

A selection committee originally planned to select 20 horses, but found the task too daunting.

“There’s just so much history,” said John Hendrickson, Whitney’s husband. “There are so many greats that have raced here. To do 20, we’d have to a lot of greats to catch up with.”

MORE: Click here for the full list of inductees to the Saratoga Hoofprints Walk of Fame

More than 100 people turned out at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, where the new Walk of Fame was announced. It’s one of 180 special events and observances planned for this year’s 150th anniversary celebration.

“This is embarrassing,” Whitney said, smiling, after picking Top Flight’s name from the silver Whitney Cup.

“What’s embarrassing?” asked Tom Durkin, master of ceremonies and the track’s long-time announcer.

“It’s a Whitney horse,” Hendrickson said. Continued...

“Do we have 29 on there that aren’t?” said Durkin, prompting a round of good-natured laughter.

Whitney and Hendrickson are honorary co-chairs of the Saratoga 150 Committee. The couple wintered at their Palm Beach, Fla. home and after a brief stay in the Spa City will be headed to Kentucky for next month’s Keeneland meet, followed by the May 4 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Whitney, looking fit as ever, wore a signature pink jacket, matching button-down vest and Saratoga-style hat with a string of white pearls set against a black blouse to go with black slacks.

She gave a special invitation to another 150th anniversary activity, a Marylou Floral Fete, scheduled for Friday, Aug. 2, on the eve of the Whitney Handicap.

The event hearkens back to the Spa City’s Victorian era and will feature a horse-drawn antique carriage decked out in flowers, heading from North Broadway to Congress Park where an old-time ice cream social is planned.

“Everyone’s invited at the (Canfield) casino,” Whitney said. “That will be something. We’re looking forward to showing the public a good time.”

She briefly recalled her first visit to Saratoga Springs with her late husband, Cornelius C.V. “Sonny” Whitney, in 1958.

“The town was absolutely dead,” she said. “You could throw a baseball or football down the middle of Broadway and not hit someone.”

Whitney said that Sonny challenged her to “Do something!”

She told him, “Sonny, with your money I could do anything.” Continued...

Ever since, she has contributed to Saratoga Springs in many ways and now she and Hendrickson are leading preparations for the biggest birthday bash the city has ever seen.

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