Marylou Whitney, née Marie Louise Schroeder of Kansas City, Missouri, has died at 93. She was a genuine American dame, and became more universally known as the Queen of Saratoga. Marylou near-singlehandedly resurrected this historic upstate New York hamlet from relative obscurity, for which she was well feted and much beloved. Although she married into the thoroughbred scene when she became Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney’s fourth wife, Marylou was hardly a stranger to the equine world. “I grew up on a horse,” she loved to tell her bluer-blooded colleagues, and indeed she had.
For more than 30 years, Marylou and Sonny managed a highly respected and successful stable, saddling such greats as Counterpoint, Phalanx, and Equipoise. When Sonny died in 1992, Marylou hardly rested on their laurels, and, calling upon her innate midwestern gumption, she bought back much of the C.V. Whitney bloodstock and created her own boutique stable. With her new (and younger!) husband John Hendrickson, whom she married in 1997, their “small barn” of Eton blue-and-brown-silked horses earned nine graded stakes victories and had 190+ winning mounts over a 20-year run.
Of course, Marylou was more than the horses and the houses and Sonny’s ever-expanding wallet. She had a whisper of “show biz” in her, which was nicely tempered by her naturally kind and generous manner. There was always that apocryphal tale about her riding a Central Park stable horse to the fashionable El Borracho Club and hitching the nag to a fence post before she joined the diners inside.
Glamorous as she was, in later life her charitable interests far outshone her glimmer. Most recently, and with the help and encouragement of her adoring husband John, she launched a backstretch appreciation program for stablehands in Saratoga. “The backstretch workers are the sport’s unsung heroes. All of us should try to improve their lives and advance their dignity,” said Marylou upon receiving the Eclipse Award in 2011. And, of course, she was again spot-on.
Quest attended The Spa last Saturday, August 3rd, for the Whitney Stakes, when thousands of Marylou’s fans celebrated the long and generous life of this legendary lady and soul of Saratoga. Long live the Queen!