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Marylou gets standing ovation at Hall induction

Marylou gets standing ovation at Hall induction

The "Queen of Saratoga," who died at 93 on July 19, elected to Racing Hall of Fame in the Pillars of the Turf category
Marylou gets standing ovation at Hall induction
John Hendrickson places a pink rose on the seat of his late wife, Marylou Whitney, during the Racing Hall of Fame ceremony.
Photographer: Erica Miller

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Early in her distinguished and colorful life, Marylou Whitney was an aspiring actress.

On Friday morning, she was the leading lady.

With 16 inductees to introduce at the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the Hall of Fame chose to start with her, asking for a moment of silence in honor of the "Queen of Saratoga," who died at the age of 93 on July 19.

Then her husband John Hendrickson kicked off testimonials to the inductees with heartfelt comments that drew the only standing ovation of the two-hour program at Fasig-Tipton's Humphrey S. Finney Sales Pavilion.

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Whitney was one of 12 people inducted in the Pillars of the Turf category honoring those who have made significant impact on the sport of thoroughbred racing over the years. She not only bred and owned such horses as Birdstone and Bird Town, but she and Hendrickson were generous with their time and money to support a variety of racing-related causes, most notably the Backstretch Appreciation program they started in 2008 to provide meals, recreation and field trips to Saratoga backstretch workers.

"She was extremely humble when she heard the [induction] news," Hendrickson said. "She told me she wanted to dedicate her induction to the horses and the people who loved them, especially the unsung heroes, the backstretch workers. She said the sport of horse racing gave her the most incredible life, and she was extremely grateful."

Also online: Donning pink in honor of Saratoga's 'grande dame'

Even when she became frail in old age, Whitney was a bright presence at Saratoga, especially on Whitney Day, when Saratoga runs one of the most prestigious and historically significant races on its calendar.

Her crowning achievement as a breeder-owner came in 2004, when Birdstone thwarted Smarty Jones' Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes, followed by Birdstone's victory in the Travers under a torrential thunderstorm at Saratoga.

Hendrickson brought one of the hybrid pink roses commissioned in his wife's name to the Hall of Fame induction, "so that she would be here with us in spirit," placing it on her vacant seat with the traditional navy blue Hall of Fame blazer draped over the back. He brought the flower to the podium, too.

"She loved the sport, and all of you, with her entire heart. So let us not cry because it's over. Let us smile because it happened," Hendrickson concluded.

Jockey Craig Perret and the mare Royal Delta  were inducted in the contemporary category.

Perret, the leading apprentice rider by earnings in 1967, had been a finalist for well over a decade before finally being inducted at the age of 68.

"I finally got off the also-eligible, and look where I am now," he joked, referring to the also-eligible horses in races with more entries than the starting gate will hold.

The New Orleans native won the 1990 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey and retired in 2005 with 4,415 victories that included the 1987 Belmont on Bet Twice to deny Alysheba the Triple Crown.

Three years later, Perret won the Kentucky Derby with Unbridled, and he won the Travers twice, with Honest Pleasure in 1976 and Rhythm in 1990.

Royal Delta won an Eclipse Award three years in a row while trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who was asked to keep working with her despite an ownership change through a dispersal sale after her 3-year-old season. She won the Alabama at Saratoga and the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic that year.

At 4, Royal Delta finished second to Love and Pride in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga, but came back to win the Beldame and BC Ladies Classic to earn a second Eclipse, then at 5 her championship season included a victory in the Personal Ensign.

Also online: Donning pink in honor of Saratoga's 'grande dame'

"After she won the Breeders' Cup as a 3-year-old, I was crying like a baby leading her to the van when she was on her way to the sale two days later," Mott said. "I was so lucky to meet [new owner] Mr. [Benjamin] Leon after the sale, and he gave me a call a couple days later and asked if I would take her back. That was not a very tough decision. She rewarded us with two more championship seasons."

The racehorses My Juliet, the 1976 Eclipse Award winner for Champion Sprinter, and Waya, who broke the world record for nine furlongs on the turf while winning the 1978 Diana at Saratoga, were chosen for induction by the Historic Review Committee.

The other Pillars of the Turf inductees were James E. "Ted" Bassett, Christopher Chenery, Richard L. "Dick" Duchossois, William S. Farish, John Hettinger, James R. Keene, Frank E. "Jimmy" Kilroe, Gladys Mills Phipps, Ogden Phipps, Helen Hay Whitney and Warren Wright Sr.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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