Ken Ramsey has a habit of naming his racehorses after real people.
Horses named after friends and family have had a hit-or-miss record for the Kentucky-based owner, who is a regular every summer at Saratoga Race Course. So when Ramsey decided to name a horse after the most prominent socialite and philanthropist in Saratoga Springs, he had to wait and see if the horse was any good first.
With Thank You Marylou one of the favorites for Sunday’s running of the $200,000 Adirondack Stakes, it appears that Ramsey picked the right horse to name after the woman he affectionately calls “Mrs. Whitney.”
The name of his horse stems from a relationship with Whitney and husband John Hendrickson that began almost a decade ago, when Roses in May, a horse owned by Ramsey and his wife, Sarah, won the 2004 running of the Whitney Invitational Handicap.
After the couples exchanged brief congratulations during a winner’s circle ceremony, they conversed again that night at a party hosted by Whitney. “That was the first time I got to be up close and personal with them,” remembers Ramsey, who said that Whitney made an impression on him earlier that year when she appeared a little embarrassed on television that her horse Birdstone played the spoiler to the Triple Crown hopes of Smarty Jones at the Belmont Stakes.
About a year later the couple crossed paths again, outside the winner’s circle at Gulfstream in Florida. Except this time, a horse owned by the Ramseys defeated a Whitney horse. After all of the backslapping and congratulating in the winner’s circle, Ramsey said of Whitney and Hendrickson, “They were waiting for us to congratulate us.
“I don’t think that I would have been a big enough sportsman to do that,” he admitted. “That’s just the kind of people they are. It left an impression on me.”
It was that impression that prompted Ramsey to call on the couple with a lifesaving request for help two years later.
In 2007, at their home in Florida, Sarah Ramsey had a stroke while doing the dishes. “I didn’t know anything about strokes,” said Ken, who later realized that his wife wasn’t given the proper treatment course by the doctor caring for her immediately after suffering the stroke. The error resulted in her slipping into a coma.
When doctors informed Ramsey that his wife had less than a 50-50 shot at surviving, he turned to the couple who had been so generous two years earlier. Knowing that in 2006, Whitney had suffered her own debilitating stroke, he looked to Hendrickson for advice.
Hendrickson told him about the doctor who treated Whitney and how happy they were with him. The only problem was that the doctor was in California, and the Ramseys were in Florida. That wasn’t a problem for long, though, because Hendrickson offered to fly the doctor across the country on a private plane he had access to.
“That was music to my ears,” recalled Ramsey.
The call from Ramsey brought back strong emotions for Hendrickson, who was reminded of his desperation a year earlier when Whitney suffered her stroke. “He was desperate to do anything to help his wife. You feel so helpless,” Hendrickson said. “I wanted to share our journey to help them.”
The doctor arrived and gave treatments to Sarah that Ramsey credits with improvements in her condition. “That may have very well been the difference in her making it and not making it,” he said.
Eventually Sarah was healthy enough to be moved to the Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Center in Kentucky, where Whitney had also done rehabilitation after her stroke. While at the center, Whitney and Hendrickson returned for the dedication of a new wing. While visiting for the ceremony, Ramsey said they made a special visit to see him and his wife, another gesture that felt “very special” to him.
In the fall of 2011, Ramsey was presented the perfect opportunity to offer a show of gratitude for Whitney and Hendrickson. A talented filly by Birdstone was spotted by his staff as a promising horse to buy, and it became Ramsey’s for the price of $47,000.
“I had the name [Thank You Marylou] in the back of my mind, but I wanted to wait and see if it was any good before naming it after a real person,” he said.
The horse quickly proved equal to the name he had in mind, and earlier this year Ramsey told Whitney what he had done.
“I am humbled to have the Ramseys have a filly named in my honor,” Whitney said.
In advance of the Adirondack, Ramsey ran Thank You Marylou in an early July warmup race, the Tippett Stakes at Colonial Downs in Virginia. It was a switch to turf for the dirt horse, but jockey Alan Garcia rode her to victory.
The 61⁄4-furlong Adirondack will stretch out Thank You Marylou, but Ramsey said trainer Mike Maker feels she has worked out well in advance of the race. To make Sunday’s race even sweeter, though, he would like to win with Whitney and Hendrickson in attendance. “That would be a real honor,” Ramsey said.
Off the track, Sarah continues a recovery process that will never be complete. Ramsey laments the fact that his wife of 55 years, whom he describes as the light of his life, will never fully regain her ability to speak or full unrestricted movement.
Whitney’s own recovery process is still ongoing, even seven years after she suffered her stroke. “For me, I have never given up hope that I will continue to improve,” she said.
Her mantra is “Never give up, never give up, never give up!” and she credits Hendrickson with helping her feel better than ever.
To aid in Sarah’s recovery process, Whitney and Hendrickson sent the Ramseys a makeshift standing frame similar to the one that Whitney had used for her rehabilitation process. Ramsey, who noted that his wife can now walk about 10 steps, said they use the frame practically every day.
The Adirondack is the ninth race Sunday and has a scheduled post time of 5:12 p.m.