Twin Pillars By Evan Hammonds

 (Originally published in the January 15, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Evan Hammonds  

By Evan Hammonds
The Thoroughbred industry is recognizing a pair of the sport’s titans this month—and it couldn’t come at a more critical time. These “Twin Pillars” of the Thoroughbred business have devoted most of their lives to the improvement of the industry, and their insights as true originals are vital to making sure the breeding and racing of Thoroughbreds will endure to the next generation.

Marylou Whitney, who has spent much of her life around horses and horse people, has been a successful owner and breeder, and has given generously to many causes in the realm of racing, will be honored with an Eclipse Award of Merit Jan. 17 at the Eclipse Awards in Miami Beach, Fla. Richard Duchossois, a leader in the business since he headed a group that purchased Arlington Park in 1983, was the 79th Honored Guest at the Thoroughbred Club of America Jan. 9 in Lexington.

When they speak, we better listen.

If there is anyone who enjoys a day at the races more than Whitney, we haven’t found her. Known as the “Queen of Saratoga” for her lavish parties and galas and for having a grand time at the racetrack, Whitney continues to carry on the racing success of her late husband, C.V. Whitney, and the Whitney family, which through three generations has bred and raced more stakes winners in North America than anybody else.

Her passion for the Thoroughbred and the people who work in the industry remains as strong and steadfast as ever. Her efforts—through her time and money—to improve the lives of those who work on the backstretch are legendary, as is her steadfast stance on horse slaughter.

“The thing that bothers me most about racing is the people who slaughter horses,” Whitney said from her residence at Cady Hill in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., earlier this month. “These Thoroughbred horses have given us so much. We ought to give back to them everything.

“At the racetrack I’m never unhappy with any of my horses,” she said. “They can’t always win, but when they do win, boy…it’s the best you can do. Many first-time owners get frustrated because they don’t achieve success. However, over the years we’ve learned success as an owner means one thing: that your horse finishes the race unhurt. That’s all.”

Duchossois has already earned an Eclipse Award of Merit, having received his in 2003, the year after Arlington Park hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The track itself was given an Eclipse in 1985 after it hosted the “Miracle Million” that was run 25 days after fire destroyed the grandstand.

“I’ve had the same job since 1946 (as head of the family-owned Duchossois Group),” said Duchossois last week from his office at Arlington Park. “I’ve been through recessions before. The majority of people today haven’t been through deep recessions and had to scratch for the next buck. You sometimes learn by just having been there.”

In 2000 Arlington Park merged with Churchill Downs, and “Mr. D” has since been a director of Churchill Downs Inc. and the company’s largest shareholder. As a hard-nosed businessman, he continues to battle with the state of Illinois to allow alternative gaming to come to the state’s racetracks. “We can’t continue on the basis we are now without slot machines,” he said. He likes to turn challenges into opportunities and always faces them head-on.

Mr. D. points to night racing at Churchill Downs, innovations at Keeneland, and New Jersey’s experiment with fewer racing dates and larger purses in 2010 as bright spots and advocates creativity to push racing forward.

“We’re going through a struggle of trying to reinvent ourselves,” Duchossois said. “In racing we have to play with the hand that’s dealt us.

“The direction we’re moving in…fewer and fewer tracks are going to survive,” he said. “No tracks are really making money now. The entire amount of dollars bet on pari-mutuel wagering is going to be reduced, but those dollars will be split among fewer tracks. The fewer tracks will get a bigger slice of a smaller pie, but it’s going to be bigger than a thinner slice of the big pie. It’s pure and simple economics.

“The industrial revolution took between 150-200 years before it really took effect on everything,” said Mr. D. “The electronic revolution has taken about 10 years. It’s changed the way we all live and do business, and we’re just at the beginning of it. The industry has changed more in the last 10 years than it had since it started…since George Washington was running horses—and he had a pretty good string.”

Throughout their lives Duchossois and Whitney have never shied away from challenges and are always optimistic at what the future might hold. We should all follow their examples.

17 Comments

Leave a Comment:

txhorsefan

Mary Lou Whitney has always impressed me as a lovely, caring person devoted to the Thoroughbred.  Now, seeing her quoted as saying the horse finishing a race unhurt is to be considered a success, she has more firmly planted herself at the apex of horse owners in my book.  This industry needs more people like her.  Thank you.

12 Jan 2011 9:54 AM
Darren James Fish

Firstly, With all do RESPECT for everyone with more power and money than me, especially Marylou Whitney(May GOD BLESS You)and Mr. Duchossosis.  I have been involved with horse racing for only 39 years, and am extremely frustrated watching North American Horse Racing (what I live for!) and it's market go down hill.  Horse racing has many many strengths and CAN BE very attractive to most every person, especially baby boomers, women, children and seniors. Competion is one thing but attracting new customers and serving the customers is another. Once someone it turned off...it is very difficult to get them back. This industry needs NEW BUSINESS, New People and New Users.  They CAN BE attracted, gained and secured for life.  We cannot continue to place our marketing efforts on the regulars like You and I.  We need 'NEW People - NEW Business'.  We need any and every person to come to a race track occasionally and not only a few people coming regularly.  The key is 'bringing NEW the people in the door'.  This simple accomplishment (bringing people in the door) will solve every single problem that Horse Racing currently possesses. New Users bring New Business, more cash flow and more money which is exactly what this industry needs.  Please remember ALL 'publics' want something like entertainment, food, drink, commerodory, a challenge and excitement.  But why aren't they picking Horse Racing to fulfill their needs?  I have enjoyed many successful marketing campaigns & projects in my past and am sitting back, frustrated with the lack marketing focus and direction in this industry.  It seems 'they can't see the forest amongst the trees'. These VLT's are only a band aid solution to the problem.  The immediate rush and attraction to these VLT machines will surely ware off over time and then where will Horse racing be? This VLT revenue has simply bought Horse racing more time to solve their underlying problems. NEW BUSINESS being the KEY!  My marketing accomplishments in the sport of Curling are known around the world, but this industry has not allowed me to break in and help out.  If I can be successful with curling? What do you think We could do with an industry like Horse racing that currently still enjoys a huge international TV audience and a market of millions. Horse Racing's market which is dwindling progressively downward  can be resurrected through many inexpensive regional marketing plans.  WE CAN DO IT!  I have many (proven effective) marketing plans and strategies that will work at any race track in North America.  Currently I am a thoroughbred Trainer, groom and horse lover. I understand this business, it's people, it's history and have many good plans for it's future.  I live for and will die for Horse Racing (I have no family or children) but am in love with the animal. My passion is strong and my efforts limitless. If you have any access to Mr. Frank Stronach -  or anyone else who has the power, please help me gain access to them.  I can really help out which in turn will help horse racing immensely.  "May the Horse be with You".

12 Jan 2011 10:14 AM
Ava

The racing big wigs need to realize that the little people are not involving themselves in racing because of the high prices the trainer and VETS are charging. It's great when you can walk into a barn and have a 'Whitney' for a last name,-- but try that with a 'Jones'- and only having 2 horses- Vet prices are to the moon, and no one is stopping them. Have you ever raced in New York and see what they take out of your check if you have a horse that has earnings? You'll have a morsel left if you are lucky. The industry is messed up-You can afford to buy horses, but not afforf to train and keep them- the trainers and vets are taking advantage of the small people, and so now there are no small people- eventually it will trickle down, and only the rich shall survive- I am glad Mary Lou helps with her charities, at least she gives back. And by the way, Horse of the Year should be Zenyatta-  

12 Jan 2011 10:39 AM
twsaratoga

Mary Lou is an icon here in Saratoga.  Her tireless work for thoroughbreds and their humans is well known.  This is an honor long overdue.

12 Jan 2011 10:58 AM
mike

When the people running the game finally understand that racing CANNOT exist without players/gamblers, maybe they will do something for the player.

12 Jan 2011 11:53 AM
Tommy

Want to see someone giving back to Charities? Go to Jockey Mike Smiths Facebook page- every month he has a Charity of the Month-

12 Jan 2011 5:46 PM
Terri Z

It's so inspiring that the Eclipse Awards have honored Mrs. Whitney and the Mosses with their Team Zenyatta. Both the Mosses and Mrs. Whitney have been a positive influence on horseracing and the care of retired thoroughbreds. Both the Mosses and Mrs. Whitney have placed the welfare of the horses above all else. Their good karma has reaped rich rewards. Mrs. Whitney's ownership of Birdstone is a gift that has kept giving back throught SummerBird and Mine That Bird. And the Mosses ownership of Zenyatta is truly a blessing to them and the sport of horse racing.

I hope that there is a meeting of the minds and hearts when they meet at the Eclipse Awards dinner at Miami Beach. And that all the horse owners and track owners can work out a plan to get more people interested in horse racing.

And maybe they can come up with a plan to save more retired thoroughbreds.

Speaking of saving racing, I'll bet that most people don't know that they can do better at the track than at the casino. And there are no glorious horses, stories of jockeys, trainers, and owners as well as the history of horses and their pedigree at the casino.

Horse racing is so much beyond handicapping and betting. I often tell people that I can't bet on my favorite horses as they are retired, dead, or pay 3 to 5 odds. But I never stop looking for the new best ones on the track.

13 Jan 2011 4:51 AM
MikeM

Ava - you forgot to mention all of the commissions and extra charges that are deducted by the trainers.

13 Jan 2011 7:36 AM
NancyP

Evan,

Thank you for this wonderful piece highlighting Mary Lou Whitney.  She really is the Grand Lady who loves and respects horses, as well as the people who care for them.

13 Jan 2011 11:52 AM
Jeanne from Texas

I am  very grateful for Marylou and all she has done for thoroughbred horse racing; she has a tremendous amount of class and integrity.  However I still feel the sting of Birdstone's win over Smarty Jones; if there was ever a horse that could and should have won the Triple Crown it was Smarty Jones.   And I too want to raise the flag for Zenyatta, if there was ever a horse that did more for horseracing than her, I can't name one.  

13 Jan 2011 12:14 PM
Bellwether

"THE LADY IS AS STRONG AS U.S. STEEL WAS N THE FIFTIE$"...ty MARY LOU...

13 Jan 2011 12:27 PM
Buddy Hogan

I have always admired Marylou Whitney for everything she did for horse's. All the things she did for the less fortunate and her love of horse racing.

Marylou along with Gretchen Jackson,Ann Moss,Patricia Hogan and Penny Tweedy have made great contributions to horse racing and I salute them with my appreciation and thanks.

13 Jan 2011 10:04 PM
Sophie15

Darren James Fish

Your comments are right on. There is no marketing of horseracing. All of last year they could have had a huge marketing campaign on not only Zenyatta, but of Rachel's return to racing. This would have brought thousands of new fans into the sport. I also believe that this sport needs to be marketed in a positve way. All you hear from many people these days is how bad the sport is and how badly they treat the horses. I know that racing has its share of problems but racing is not a bad sport. Let people see all of the good things that are made possible by this sport. There is so much research that benefits all horses because of this industry. We should be seeing all kinds of advertising and marketing talking about the positve side of this sport. Yes horseracing does have a negitive side but I challenge anyone to tell me what horse industry doesn't. The horse racing industry needs to market itself positively to not only bring in new fans but to convince the general public that there is good that comes out of this sport. I love the racing industry too, and it is my ultimate goal to go into research and study racehorse injuries. I don't know if I can convince this industry to make any changes or if I can convince someone that this industry needs to market itself positivly, but I am certainly going to try.

14 Jan 2011 1:23 PM
Destin Heath

There need to be more owners in the world that take after Marylou Whitney. Her and her husband are two of nicest, most gracious people I have ever met. When I was thrown from one of their horses, they called to make sure I was alright and see if I needed anything.They took the time out of their day to check in on an exercise rider thousands of miles away. That phone call alone speaks volumes about the love and care the Mrs. Whitey has not only for the horses in our industry, but they people that work with, and care for these horses.

14 Jan 2011 4:46 PM
TomF

Hope this isn't a duplicate - my computer locked up. Anyhow, Evan, this is the sort of writing that keeps Blood Horse where it is - congratulations! These are two icons of thoroughbred racing, and their insights into the future of racing must not be disregarded. I hung on their every word. Without them, thoroughbred racing wouldn't be where it is today. We need more people like them who have an understanding of the future of racing. Great article Evan - one for the books!

14 Jan 2011 11:46 PM
Marion

I love horse racing very much and I think also that the sport need more advertising. Another problem is that I have only Laurel MD racetrack near me and they race at 1PM when I'am at work.So that gives only a couple of old men a chance to go and  enjoy the day at the track.Night time racing would bring more people in for a beer with some friends and the excitment of betting on the horses.

nd alos people dont like to see horses get hurt on the track and breack downs like in Charlestown WV that will not bring more people out there. Run Clean...healthy well trained horses and not medicated horses with iced legs. But that is what I think and that is why I dont take my grandson to Charlestown any more on the weekends.

I also like to see Zenyatta as HOTY .

16 Jan 2011 4:14 PM
nina

Mrs Whitney is a great example of a concerned owner and breeder. When she sells her horses she always makes sure they they will have a home in case they need one.She writes so in their papers. In a world of irresponsible breeders and owners she is a shining light. Another lady of the turf (in addition to the already mentioned)that cared about the horse and did so was TCA founder the late Mrs.Allaire Dupont.

17 Jan 2011 8:24 AM

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