Owner, Civic Leader Wheelock Whitney Jr. Dies

Owner, Civic Leader Wheelock Whitney Jr. Dies
Photo: Coglianese Photos/NYRA
Quicken Tree (William Hartack up) led in by owners Wheelock Whitney (left) and Louis R. Rowan after winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup Oct. 26, 1968

Wheelock Whitney Jr., a longtime Thoroughbred owner, philanthropist, and influential business and civic leader, died May 20 at his Promise Hill Farm in Independence, Minn. He was 89.

A member of The Jockey Club, Whitney was diagnosed with cancer several years ago.  Born in St. Cloud, Minn., and a graduate of Yale University, he was an investment banker and a former chief executive officer of Dain Co., now RBC Wealth Management, and was chairman of family-owned Whitney Management Co.

Among Whitney's most notable runners was multiple stakes winner Quicken Tree, campaigned in partnership with prominent California breeder Lou Rowan. A son of Royal Orbit, Quicken Tree won at the highest level, including the 1970 Santa Anita Handicap and San Juan Capistrano, and 1968 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

One of the first horses Whitney bought into, 1967 Santa Anita Derby winner Ruken, finished eighth in that year's Kentucky Derby in Rowan's colors.

Most recently Whitney, who was an avid horseman and rider, kept runners with trainers Lisa Lewis and Shug McGaughey.

Whitney's interest in professional sports in Minnesota saw him as instrumental in bringing Major League Baseball and a National Hockey League expansion team to the Twin Cities. A one-time part-owner of the Minnesota Vikings, he also served on the board of the Minnesota Twins for 24 years and was a member of the investors group that was awarded an NHL expansion franchise in 1966, which became the Minnesota North Stars, ESPN reported.

A former mayor of Wayzata, Minn., Whitney loved politics as much as sports but was unsuccessful in bids for a U.S. Senate seat in 1964 and for Minnesota governor in 1982.

Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson told Minnesota Public Radio that Whitney, a member of the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame, was a key mover in making Minnesota what it is today.

"He was the one who was really persuasive in companies moving to Minnesota, forming their own headquarters in Minnesota," Carlson said. "He was just involved in everything, whether the arts or education. Any form of philanthropy and building, he was involved with. He was one of the greatest builders Minnesota ever had."

Whitney is survived by his wife, former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, and his four children, Wheelock Whitney III, Pennell Whitney, Joseph Whitney, and Ben Whitney. His first wife, Irene Whitney, died in 1985.

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