‘Queen of Saratoga’ Marylou Whitney dies at 93

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Marylou Whitney, a successful thoroughbred breeder and owner whose family helped keep Saratoga Race Course open in the 1970s, has died. She was 93.

The New York Racing Association said she died Friday at her estate in Saratoga Springs, after a long illness. No further details were provided.

Whitney became the first woman in 80 years to own and breed a Kentucky Oaks winner in 2003 with Bird Town, a filly trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito. In 2004, Whitney and Zito teamed with Birdstone to win the Belmont Stakes, spoiling Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown bid. Birdstone won the Travers, Saratoga’s signature race, later that summer.

Her stable had over 190 winners starting in 2000 and into the current year.

Before opening her own stable in 1992, Whitney teamed with her husband Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney to race horses. They won the Travers in 1960 with Tompion and again in 1968 with Chompion. C.V. Whitney co-founded the National Museum of Racing and Pan American Airlines in 1958.

In the 1970s, the couple helped convince NYRA to keep Saratoga open at a time when wagering and attendance sagged. Their efforts and long-term vision paid off, with Saratoga’s summer meet attracting more than one million fans annually.

Whitney was nicknamed “Queen of Saratoga” for her philanthropic initiatives in Saratoga Springs.

The Whitneys founded the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which opened in 1966 and continues to host world-class musical and dance performances.

C.V. Whitney died at age 93 in 1992.

In 1997, Whitney married John Hendrickson, who was 40 years her junior and an aide to Alaska’s then-governor Wally Hickel. The couple continued her philanthropic endeavors, helping establish a program to help Saratoga stable workers.

“Marylou’s passion for racing was only matched by her love for the City of Saratoga Springs and her support for the backstretch community,” NYRA CEO and president Dave O’Rouke said. “Her generosity was unparalleled and the list of her contributions is endless. Saratoga would not be the destination it is today without the esteemed leadership, dedication and support of Marylou.”

Whitney received an Eclipse Award of Merit in 2010 for her contributions to racing and was elected to The Jockey Club in 2011.

“Whether it was her extraordinary philanthropic endeavors, her festive galas, or her racing stable of stakes winners, Marylou devoted all of her energies to our sport and its traditions, most prominently, her beloved Saratoga,” the Breeders’ Cup said in a statement. “Marylou has left an indelible mark of distinction, class and style upon thoroughbred racing.”

Last year, she was in attendance as the Racing Hall of Fame inducted three generations of Whitneys as Pillars of the Turf, including C.V Whitney, his father Harry Payne Whitney, and his grandfather Williams Collins Whitney, who purchased Saratoga in 1900 and also helped create Belmont Park.

“Mrs. Whitney was a beloved and irreplaceable icon whose extraordinary legacy will have a lasting effect on future generations,” the Racing Hall of Fame and Museum said in a statement.

Born Marie Louise Schroeder on Dec. 24, 1925, she grew up in Kansas City, Missouri.

After graduating Southwest High School, she attended the University of Iowa for a time before working as an actress, appearing in movies and television shows and in radio.

Besides Hendrickson, she is survived by her five children, Louise, Frank, Henry, Heather, and Cornelia.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.