In recognition of a $250,000 gift from prominent racehorse owner, philanthropist and Saratoga, N.Y. icon Marylou Whitney, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame will name its courtyard in honor of Mrs. Whitney's late husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. The courtyard will undergo a renovation project in 2017 and the revitalized space is expected to be unveiled in the spring of 2018.
The Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Courtyard honors the legacy of Mr. Whitney, who had a prominent association with the Museum and for decades made a positive impact on the sport of Thoroughbred racing. Mr. Whitney was among the museum's founders in 1950 and served as the institution's first president from 1950-1953.
"It was a privilege for my late husband, Sonny Whitney, to help found the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame," Marylou Whitney said. "It is now my honor and duty to help recognize him in this important institution."
Mr. Whitney, the son of Harry Payne Whitney and Gertrude Vanderbilt, graduated from Yale University in 1922. He served in the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant and flight instructor during World War I and volunteered for service in the United States Army Air Forces in World War II. Mr. Whitney was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and Legion of Merit.
At the end of World War II, Mr. Whitney served under President Harry S. Truman as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force from 1947-1949 and Undersecretary of Commerce from 1949-1950. He was also appointed President Truman's special envoy to the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Spain and Italy.
In Thoroughbred racing, Mr. Whitney was the third generation of his family involved in the sport. He acquired his father's stable in 1930 and won his first stakes race as an owner that year with future Hall of Fame member Equipoise. Mr. Whitney also campaigned another Hall of Famer, the champion filly Top Flight.
Mr. Whitney won the Belmont Stakes with Phalanx in 1947 and with Horse of the Year Counterpoint in 1951, as well as three editions of the Travers Stakes with Fisherman (1954), Tompion (1960), and Chompion (1968). He bred more than 175 stakes winner at his C.V. Whitney Farm in Kentucky and served as a director of Churchill Downs. In 1984, Mr. Whitney was presented a special Eclipse Award for his lifetime of service to the racing industry.
Along with his service to his country and exploits in Thoroughbred racing, Mr. Whitney was a successful businessman and an important figure in the motion picture industry and the arts. He was a major shareholder backing the Technicolor Corporation and a financier of the classic 1939 film "Gone with the Wind." Mr. Whitney also served as a producer of his own C.V. Whitney Pictures, which made the films "The Searchers," "The Missouri Traveler" and "The Young Land." He also played a prominent role in the establishment of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Following Mr. Whitney's death in 1992 at the age of 93, Marylou Whitney continued to build on her late husband's racing and philanthropic legacy. Mrs. Whitney bred and raced Birdstone , winner of the 2004 Belmont and Travers (both G1), as well as champion Bird Town, winner of the Kentucky Oaks (G1) in record time. She continues to be one of the sport's most prominent ambassadors.
Mrs. Whitney's gift to the museum spearheads the redesign and beautification of the Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Courtyard, a project announced by the museum in December. A campaign is currently active that features the opportunity for individuals, businesses, farms, and other racing organizations to purchase personalized commemorative bricks to be a permanent part of the new courtyard.
"The Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Courtyard is a beautiful space within the Museum," Mrs. Whitney said. "I'm hopeful many people will purchase bricks to honor their loved ones, too."
Home to John Skeaping's iconic bronze statue of 1973 Triple Crown winner and Hall of Fame member Secretariat, the Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Courtyard is one of the most admired and popular spaces at the Museum. The commemorative bricks are available in two different sizes: 4" by 8" red bricks for $100 and 8" by 8" grey bricks for $250. The red bricks feature three lines of engraving at a maximum of 18 characters per line, including spaces and punctuation, while the grey bricks contain six lines with a maximum of 18 characters per line, including spaces and punctuation.