Transcript of Mary Lou Whitney's Eclipse Award of Merit Speech

Mary Lou Whitney's acceptance speech upon receiving the 2010 Eclipse Award of Merit, Jan. 17, 2011, Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel:

I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this prestigious award. I have loved the sport of Thoroughbred racing ever since Sonny Whitney introduced me to it in 1958.  I am grateful for the honor—in a small way—to carry on the traditions of the Whitney family who have been in this business since 1894. Horses and people involved in racing have always given me more than I could ever give them. Horse racing is where I feel the most alive and at home. You are my family.

Being part of the horse racing family is a pleasure and a privilege but also it means responsibility. Many first-time owners get very frustrated that they don’t achieve instant success. However, over the years, we have all learned success as an owner means our horses have finished a race unhurt. As owners, you have to be accountable to the horses—all horses—from the beginning of their lives to the end. We are advocates together. One must fight to ensure that there will be another never, ever horse slaughtered in America.

Another obligation we must share is to our backstretch workers. They are the sport’s unsung heroes. These wonderful people work long hours in dangerous situations while often living in poor conditions. All of us should try more to improve their lives and advance their dignity.

We also need to know that racing is not just about betting. The beauty, the pageantry and flair is what separates our sport from any out there. Every race meet must be an extraordinary event. The only place to be. As we look to the future we must also pass on the passion and the excitement of this wondrous sport to the next generation is our obligation. A candle loses nothing by lighting another.

Thank you for honoring me tonight with this most prestigious award in our industry. There are so many others who deserve this before me, however, I want you to know that you have given me one of the greatest moments of my life, and I am forever grateful. Tomorrow I am going to wake up inspired to do more for the horses and for you, the people I love. May God bless you and this wonderful sport.


 Video of Mary Lou Whitney's acceptance speech:




Leave a Comment:

Mary Zinke

What a beautiful speech! It brought tears to my eyes. The part about passing along the excitement of horse racing to the next generation is an important message. Congratulations on your award Mrs.Whitney.

21 Jan 2011 6:09 PM

THANK YOU Marylou for all that you do. I'm HUGE fan of yours and your

breeding program. Especially, the 'Bird' line

21 Jan 2011 6:12 PM

She's a treasure.

21 Jan 2011 6:45 PM
backside sweetie

This lovable lady indeed deserves this award !!Other than the other QUEEN ZENYATTA,receiving HOY,this dear lady's speech and humble receipt ,love of horses and horse racing was the highlight of the evening for me.All of us in the racing world should open our hearts and minds and follow her example!!God bless this amirable lady.

21 Jan 2011 7:09 PM

Mary Lou Whitney speaks from the heart and we must all heed her words.  Our horses become our responsibility when we become their owners. Win or lose we owe these magnificent animals our care and love for their entire lives. This means after their racing and breeding careers we give them a dignified retirement. What a wonderful spokesperson for the racing industry.  She truly deserved the award. Bless you for giving a voice to our horses.

21 Jan 2011 7:21 PM
Zen's Auntie

Wow, I didnt think just reading it would choke me up again like she did when I first watched it, but it did.  

Mary Lou Whitney exemplifies Class. What a great woman.

Thanks so much for this reprint and video.  This was a very high point during the Eclipse awards for me.

21 Jan 2011 7:55 PM

Mrs. Whitney gave an eloquent and compassionate speech.

Only one point bothered me.  If the industry continues to breed thousands of foals,each requiring 25-30 years of expensive care, humane horse slaughter must be considered. We must either produce fewer foals or resign ourselves to humane slaughter. Killing them cruelly in Mexico out of our sight is not the answer.

21 Jan 2011 8:03 PM

What a class act.

And she speaks the truth about our horses and the backstretch workers.

A classy, classy lady.

21 Jan 2011 9:25 PM

Wonderful and inspiring.  Thank you.

21 Jan 2011 9:51 PM
John T

It was a very touching speech.It showed what great respect Mary Lou

Whitney has for the thoroughbred and the people who look after them

who don,t get enough respect.

21 Jan 2011 9:54 PM

Unfortunately the people who love and look at racing as a sport are dying.She's one of the few left and her love of thoroughbred racing can be seen in her expression and her heartfelt words. May G-d bless Ms. Whitney.

21 Jan 2011 10:26 PM
Kim R


21 Jan 2011 10:37 PM
needler in Virginia

I was lucky enough to meet Ms Whitney at Saratoga in the late 90's, and am ashamed to say I can't remember the exact year. She was then, as now, a truly elegant lady with great depth of passion for her sport; her acceptance speech was EXACTLY what I would have expected her to say. If you know nothing else, you will always know where Mary Lou Whitney stands on any given subject, and on Eclipse night we all heard her stand up for that which she believes.

Well said, Ms Whitney, well said! And, by the way, congratulations!

Cheers and safe trips to all.

21 Jan 2011 11:09 PM

She is simply one of the classiest people ever to be involved in racing. I do hope her words will be taken to heart by all.

22 Jan 2011 8:24 AM
LouAnn Cingel of Union, Missouri

Mary Lou Whitney's speech was exceptional and inspiring as well as heartwarming.  She is a one of a kind woman and she is an asset to the sport and to the horses.  She knows just what it is all about and hopefully she passes on to all of us what she has always known and has done throughout her life.  She is a candle that will always burn bright in our wonderful sport!

Thankyou Mary Lou!

My Love & Blessings Always!

22 Jan 2011 9:14 AM

What a truly beautiful speech. It seems to me that sometimes when I watch the Eclipse Awards the people involved almost forget why they're there in the first place - it's because of the horses. Mary Lou Whitney spoke the truth about what truly matters: the horses - and she actually uttered the forbidden word "slaughter". Very seldom do you ever hear anyone in the racing business say that word when there's a camera and a microphone nearby. And instead of staying in her ivory tower, she talked about the backstretch workers and the obligation the owners have to improve their lives. What a class act. Back from the time I saw her reaction when Birdstone beat Smarty Jones. I thought at the time "here's somebody who really has a heart". Kudos to her - an award well deserved.

22 Jan 2011 11:20 AM

She is a beautiful, fantastic lady!

22 Jan 2011 11:24 AM
Zen's Auntie


While this isn’t the proper place for the discussion. Let me start with I am not completely anti slaughter.  

However I am completely anti racehorse slaughter.  Any horse that has been on the track (or was conceived with the intention of making a racehorse) should be guaranteed a HUMANE death certainly not in a Mexican or Canadian slaughter house, at the very least.

Furthermore any racehorse that has ever have won even a penny should be guaranteed a home for life and a good death when it comes time. I think a horse should retain part of its earnings to cover this and if a horses "reserve" exceeds its own need the extra could go to cover the life and final expenses of other not so earning horses.  

I would rather see horses put down than neglected and starved or shipped off to be slaughtered - sorry NOT good enough for horses that give it ALL too us.

Not good enough for Thoroughbreds.

And I think in our hearts we ALL know this.

I do believe this is where Marylou Whitney is coming from on this.  

She is speaking to the people that treat race horses as disposable.  

Marylou is right to make the appeal because it STILL happens all too often.  

22 Jan 2011 11:54 AM
Linda in Texas

Sentinel - own a horse, take care of it always is all she was saying. This is a tribute to a lovely lady who happens to love the horses and respects all stages of their lives.

This Eclipse Award was given to honor her and she accepted it with dignity and grace,she simply personified the issue that horses should receive humane care at the end of their lives.

All of us must accept her challenge.

God Bless Mrs. Whitney-Hendrickson, a brave, elegant and above all, honorable human being.

Thank you.

22 Jan 2011 12:34 PM
Linda in Texas

Zen's Auntie - ditto on everything you stated.

I totally agree that if a horse is being neglected and starved and  no longer wanted after attempts are made to find a home for it, that i would rather them be euthanized in the field where they call home than to have them taken to sale barns, sick and too old to stand, then loaded by a backhoe onto a Mexico bound truck to be horrendously and brutally killed.

It is barbaric and has no place in our society.

I was one of thousands who worked tirelessly calling my Senators and Representatives to have 3 of the U.S. slaughterhouses (2 in Texas) closed down. 3 of them voted NOT to close them down. And i did not vote for them when the time came for them either.

22 Jan 2011 12:43 PM

The problem with slaughter, Sentinel, is that it can never truly be humane.  Because animals are slaughtered for consumption you can't use drugs to put them down like in humane euthanasia.  I hate for any animal to be "put down", as the euphonism goes, just because no one can give it a home, but I'd certainly rather have that happen than for an animal to suffer or be slaughtered.

22 Jan 2011 1:47 PM

Great lady - can we clone her and have more?

22 Jan 2011 2:19 PM
john liviakis

everyone loves you so much Mary Lou, you are an angel from heaven.I agree entirely with your brilliant speach.Margaret Thatcher's speach at President Reagan's funeral and yours were the two finest I've heard in my lifetime

22 Jan 2011 2:38 PM

I run a very small horse rescue that focuses on Thoroughbreds and Mustangs. The idea of reserving part of a horses winnings to care for that horse when he/she retires is an excellent suggestion. Horse people across the country are stepping up to provide homes for retired horses, but resources are limited. I for one cannot take any more horses only because I can't afford it. If the industry stepped up also and provided more funds to help with retirement I'm sure there would be more homes.

22 Jan 2011 3:57 PM

Ms. Whitney,

Thank you so much for giving a voice to the horses and to the people who care for them.

Your grace and beauty are surpassed only by your compassion and humility.

May God bless the Queen!

22 Jan 2011 4:11 PM
needler in Virginia

Zen and Linda, to give you a foundation for what I'm going to say, we do own horses now, have had horses for years and will probably always have a lawn ornament or two. I cannot imagine life without a horse mowing the lawn! That said as a qualifier, I'll give you the bare bones because the rest is my emotions when we lost other horses. I've always said I'd drop them in their pasture before they would go to ANY auction and that still stands. If we have 'em, we care for 'em, and if they get sick, SO WHAT? We deal with the illness or give them peace when necessary; that's what we told them we'd do when they came to live with us. If you can pasture a horse, you can find a place to bury that horse where he lived. To hell with worrying about drugs for horses that are going for food. My horses have not, and WILL NOT, go for anyone's food. Each will rest where they lived. FULL STOP. If I can't do that little thing for them, I have no business having them. So I agree with both of you and am thrilled that Ms Whitney put it out there in our faces. While the three of us have little, or no, chance of being heard, what do you bet Ms Whitney has a better than GREAT chance at it???? I hope so...........

Happy New Year to you two and everyone else, as well; and, by the way..... cheers and safe trips!!

22 Jan 2011 9:28 PM
Rick Gold

What a lady.  What a great night.  Class.

22 Jan 2011 9:44 PM

I agree with Sentinal.  Too many unwanted horses are starving in pastures.  These horses are often owned by people who say "I'll NEVER sell a horse for slaughter" yet can no longer afford to keep it.

Humane slaughter houses (yes they DO exist) provide research with tissue and control samples worth millions.

No one wants to send their horses to the knacker, but unless you have endless resources and no one does, they can't all be saved.  The rescues are swamped with thousands more needing homes.

Horse dealers are wily and many are buying up unwanted horses privately promising good homes only to load them onto trucks for days long rides to Mexican plants.  Horses no longer have to go through auction barns to end up there.

While I agreed with Mrs. Whitney's sentiment on responsibility, I do draw the lime at "no horse slaughter".  

23 Jan 2011 2:11 AM
Tales Untold




23 Jan 2011 8:15 AM

Congratulations to a truly great lady!Mary Lou Whitney has always had my admiration for all that she is and has accomplished. She is a wonderful advocate for the horses and people who work with them. Her acceptance speech brought tears to my eyes. She put into words what horse racing is really all about. I hope she inspires other thoroughbred owners to follow her example.

Thank you for showing this video of her speech from the Eclipse Awards! I have never met her, but I have watched her from afar at Saratoga and clearly seen her graciousness and love of racing on display.

23 Jan 2011 9:29 AM
Dawn in MN

The Eclipse awards have never interested me because the Eclipse awards are for people, not for horses.  

There are some very controversial issues facing the people responsible for the care and ownership of Thoroughbred horses today.  It is the horses, "The beauty, the pageantry and flair [that] separates our sport from any out there. Every race meet must be an extraordinary event."  

In spite of some evidence to the contrary I try to continue to believe that most of the people who care for the horses love them.  The parallel between the lives of the backstretch workers who rub the horses, who touch them and provide for their needs, and the fates of some horses when they leave racing is alarming.  

When I read this article I was moved to tears.  Mary Lou Whitney's comments on her horse racing family, the lives of the Thoroughbred horses, and the backstretch workers were prophetic.... Mary Lou Whitney really "gets it."  Thank you Mary Lou for restoring my faith in the people.    

23 Jan 2011 12:20 PM
Linda in Texas

needler in Virgina, your statements and feelings are the best i have ever heard a companion caretaker say. Ever, ever, ever. My feelings exactly. Bravo for you and aren't your horses lucky to have you.

It is a subject that will just about orbitize me when people ditch their responsibilities to end a life so brutally. One highway thru my town heads straight to San Angelo and on south. Won't go into any explanation of what i have witnessed as i try to chase the

open trailers filled with beautiful horses down. Sometimes they are going to a killer's pen in West Texas or straight to the border. One even has his name on the side of his cab.

But thank you needler in Virginia,

have had some of the same kinds of 'mowers and yard ornaments' myself. And i always agree with your posts. All of them.

23 Jan 2011 3:49 PM

What a heart-felt and regal speech by such a legend in horse racing. Tears in my eyes upon reading and hearing it, joy and pride in knowing I share her love of such a beautiful sport as horse racing. Such class and caring for the heroes in this sport, the back-stretch workers and gallant, brave horses themselves. Hail MaryLou!

23 Jan 2011 5:05 PM
needler in Virginia

Thanks, Linda, for your very kind words. I have the feeling that we MIGHT be related anyway. I grew up in Lubbock, and am familiar with the area where you live (even though you're not specific, I get it). I've been complaining, in a MUCH less ladylike way than Ms Whitney, for years about getting 'em and keeping 'em, for good OR ill. They are alive, we bred or bought 'em, and you don't pass living things around like used tissues. The aging Sicilian donkey in my pasture raises crabbiness to an art form and she stays. The aging Plantation Walker in the pasture doesn't do much anymore, but is a true fan of his food bucket, and HE stays, too. We are in the process of losing just about everything, including the house and the pasture; if we must go, they either go with us, we find a way to board them, or we'll put them to rest in their pasture. I KNOW THAT SOUNDS TERRIBLE, BUT THEY WILL NEVER GO TO AN AUCTION. I, too, have seen the trucks on their way "out of town"; I've seen the terrorized horses in the back, and know where they're going. Mine will NOT go there. It's my responsibility, my job, and my pain, but they won't die like that.

OK, enough crappy; this whole subject gets me in the dumps in about a nanosecond. So I'll go on, and hand out apple treats, and annoy the donkey because she is SO much fun to annoy!

Glad to meetcha, Linda..........we just MUST be related!

Meanwhile, congratulations AGAIN to the Queen of Saratoga; long may she wave!

Cheers and safe trips!

23 Jan 2011 5:37 PM

What a lovely lady.  I will never forget her class when Birdstone took over and won the Belmont.  Everyone WANTED a Triple Crown winner and her horse Birdstone was the best horse on that day in racing history.  She apologized but accepted her horse's win with grace and good will. That is as it should be.  Congratulations on this award to you.

23 Jan 2011 11:21 PM

People who have been involved in the killer business, past or present, should NEVER be able to have a owner or trainer lic.

24 Jan 2011 8:44 AM
Living in the real world

- Only less than 1in 5 horses are Tb. Who going to save all the other horses?

- 100,000 USA horses a year  get slaughtered, due to no Slaughterhouses in USA, that just forced more suffering just so PEOPLE can FEEL good about themselves.

- Slaughter of horses is no more inhumane than the slaughter of Cows, Sheep, Pigs, and Chickens! Let's outlaw their slaughter!! What is inhumane is the transportation distance they have to travel! How about a slaughter house in every state. Then the horses would have value and people tend to take care of things with value.

- Not everyone agrees with Anti-Slaughter. The AQHA represents the largest  group of Horsemen in the country. They are FOR slaughter !

- Living in the real world, I know first hand the plight of horses in the stables of "top trainer."

Just a different view from with-in the Tb industry.

I'm sorry if these views upset some but horses live in the real world as I do.

24 Jan 2011 10:03 AM
Zen's Auntie

LMaris, I agree with you on the whole slaughter issue. I will go further to say People can even eat whatever kind  of critter they like, I could not care less – not MY critters, but if Cheval en chalots is for someone that’s up to them.

I do live in the real world - the very real world.

But here’s the thing we need to look at. Putting a horse down humanely, fast and painless, where they live or after a short ride if possible in a familiar trailer with you their owner or their own handler is BETTER than starving them in pastures with no foot care or maintenance and WAY BETTER than sending a TB to slaughter.

I say what I do. Man up and end the life right if you cannot care for your TB that cannot be placed.  Its the OWNERS job to make brave decisions concerning their animals.

I don’t know how often you all have to put a horse down but - I can tell you as a rancher that owns lots of animals these things Happen. I have done it myself – recently, and it sucks but I know when I have to be the one to do the right thing for those animals in my care. Good horses should die with Dignity and Mercy.

HERE is why no TB should Ever go to slaughter:

Did you know that Most Good equine research teaching hospitals / Universities will accept donated horses to be euthanized and properly disposed of for LESS THAN 300 bucks - I know WSU Pullman WA will for $260. I bet if you call you will find the same thing.

Yeah 300 bucks you get to walk in say goodbye and know that your horse will possibly go to helping vets know more, to maybe help other horses.  In the very least train students to give a horse a good death.

Nearly every TB that needs a good death would be within 200 miles of a teaching Vet Program -  there is NO excuse to not do the right thing if horses cannot be placed, or euthanized and buried at home.

24 Jan 2011 3:48 PM
Rhonda from Saskatchewan

Who can forget Mrs. Whitney's reaction after her pride and joy, Birdstone, beat Smarty Jones in the Belmont Stakes? She was so happy with her little horse, who has proven to be a very good sire, but was so humble in victory and almost in apologetic tears because Smarty Jones didn't win his Triple Crown.

She is a most gracious lady who cares very deeply about the horses, no matter what breed they are and about the people who are the backbone of the industry.

She not only talks the talk, she walks the walk and tries, in her quiet way, to take others with her.

I am so glad she was honored with an Eclipse award.

There is no person more deserving.

24 Jan 2011 8:56 PM
Donna Melendz from Grayslake, IL

A  beautiful speech, it brought tears to my eyes.  She is an amazing woman and earnest and she truly cares for the people behind the scenes and the racehorses and their futures.  New Owners should take note from this fine woman, she is a treasure.  

25 Jan 2011 1:29 PM
needler in Virginia

Zen's AUntie....amen and amen! Considering the tireless way Ms Whitney has worked for the horses, and what she said at the Eclipse dinner, I'd bet she would agree with you 100%. While I said it far less well than you did, I agree, too..........just in case no one noticed!

Cheers again to Ms Whitney; it was an honor to have met her at Saratoga and was one of those moments one rarely forgets.

Safe trips to all,

25 Jan 2011 2:36 PM

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