Marylou Whitney, whose accomplishments and generosity in Thoroughbred racing and philanthropy have garnered national acclaim and admiration, will be honored by Churchill Downs with the designation of "First Lady of the Oaks" during a celebration on Longines Kentucky Oaks day on May 1st, at Churchill.
The First Lady of Oaks designation was introduced in 2009 with Susan G. Komen for the Cure® founder, Nancy G. Brinker. The official Oaks Day ambassador selection is to honor a special female who has used her professional and personal experiences to celebrate women and the causes that women support.
“In a sport and industry that has produced more than its share of legends and larger-than-life individuals in its rich history, the racing world has never seen anyone like Marylou Whitney, and Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Oaks are honored that she has agreed to serve as the ‘First Lady of the Oaks’ for 2015,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “It is impossible to measure the impact of the passion and compassion Marylou Whitney has displayed throughout her incredible life in Thoroughbred racing and beyond. Horses and humans have had few friends, if any, more special than our ‘First Lady of the Oaks.’
“In the horse industry, she long ago achieved ‘single-name status’ enjoyed by icons throughout the world of sports and one needs only to mention the name ‘Marylou’ to generate a smile among the many lives that she has touched in a positive way. She epitomizes more than anyone the ‘Ladies First’ spirit of our Kentucky Oaks celebration, its focus on women’s health issues and, of course, the horse and the celebration surrounding one of America’s greatest races. We thank Marylou for all that she has done and the work she continues to do, and we look forward to saluting her on Kentucky Oaks Day as the ‘First Lady of the Oaks.’”
Marylou, along with husband John Hendrickson, created the Saratoga Backstretch Appreciation program in 2008. The program includes Sunday dinners and various social activities for the workers and their families throughout the six-week racing season at Saratoga Race Course.
Along with her energy and advocacy in raising millions of dollars for the research and treatment of cancer and other health concerns, Marylou Whitney has championed causes ranging from equine welfare to support for the arts and the quality of life for workers on the backsides of American racetracks. While her philanthropic efforts have created a remarkable legacy of care and compassion throughout her life, she has been a respected presence in Thoroughbred racing with a roster of notable victories headed by a triumph by her homebred Bird Town in the 2004 Kentucky Oaks and a victory by Birdstone in the 2004 renewal of the Belmont Stakes (GI), the final leg of racing’s Triple Crown.
Our hats will be off to you, Marylou. Congratulations on the well deserved honor.