Homebred Colt Enters $400,000 Stakes on Two-Win Streak
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL â€“ For the past century, the Whitney name and Eton blue and brown silks that have accompanied it to racetracks around the world rank among the most recognizable, and successful, in thoroughbred racing.
They will be on display again Saturday when Marylou Whitney homebred Gorgeous Bird steps up to stakes company for the first time in the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
Trained by Ian Wilkes for Whitney and her husband of 17 years, John Hendrickson, Gorgeous Bird drew post 4 in an eight-horse field for the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth and is fourth choice on the morning line at 6-1. Joel Rosario will ride.
â€œWe know weâ€™re a long shot but we love the horse all the same and we think he has ability, so we thought weâ€™d take a shot,â€ Hendrickson said. â€œWe donâ€™t have any false expectations; we hope he just runs well. If he happens to win, we wonâ€™t have 120,000 people booing us, I hope.â€
Such was the case in 2004, when Whitney homebred Birdstone upset popular Smarty Jonesâ€™ bid for the Triple Crown at odds of 36-1 in the Belmont Stakes, her lone Classic winner. Birdstone went on to sire two-thirds of the 2009 Triple Crown in his first crop with Mine That Bird in the Derby and Summer Bird in the Belmont.
A prominent philanthropist, socialite and activist, Whitney, 89, got her introduction to racing through her late husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt â€œSonnyâ€ Whitney, who she married in 1958. Sonny Whitney, who died in 1992, campaigned 1951 Belmont Stakes winner Counterpoint and Phalanx, winner of the 1947 Belmont and second by a head in that yearâ€™s Kentucky Derby, a race his father, Harry Payne Whitney, won in 1915 with the filly Regret and 1927 with Whiskery.
â€œThereâ€™s a lot of history to that name,â€ Wilkes said. â€œEveryone knows Marylou. Sheâ€™s just a tremendous lady and John, theyâ€™re just tremendous people. Theyâ€™re such a pleasure to train for because the most important thing for them is the horse. They donâ€™t want to push the horse to get to the Derby. Take care of the horse first, thatâ€™s what theyâ€™re about.â€
Hendrickson was at Antony Beckâ€™s Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky. when Gorgeous Bird, by Unbridledâ€™s Song out of unraced Whitney mare Elusive Bird, was foaled in 2012. Elusive Birdâ€™s dam, Bird Town, is another Whitney homebred that won the Kentucky Oaks and was named champion 3-year-old filly of 2003.
â€œWeâ€™re thrilled that heâ€™s a gray,â€ Hendrickson said. â€œAntonyâ€™s mother, Rhona Beck, who is just a wonderful lady, she rarely goes out to see the horses foaled. She was there to see this one, too. She means the world to us.
â€œWeâ€™ve been there since the beginning. These horses mean more to us than trophies. We just hope he stays sound and continues to have a nice career. If not, heâ€™ll have a nice home.â€
Gorgeous Bird was unveiled last summer at Saratoga Race Course, finishing sixth in a 6 Â½-furlong maiden event. He broke his maiden in his next start going seven furlongs at Churchill Downs in November, and was a seven-length winner in his 3-year-old debut, a one-mile entry-level allowance on January 24 at Gulfstream.
â€œI was very satisfied the way the horse did it,â€ Wilkes said. â€œHeâ€™s just improving, and thatâ€™s all you can ask. Every step Iâ€™ve asked him to do heâ€™s improved and gotten better, and thatâ€™s all you can ask them to do.
As they were for the allowance race, Whitney and Hendrickson will be at Gulfstream for the Fountain of Youth.
â€œSheâ€™s thrilled, but Marylou is also realistic,â€ Hendrickson said. â€œWeâ€™ve been in this position before. Weâ€™re happy to be in the race and we think he belongs. We wouldnâ€™t have entered him unless we thought he belonged. Heâ€™ll have to take a big step up and we hope he does it.â€
Whitneyâ€™s last starter in a Triple Crown race was Luv Gov, who ran fifth in the 2009 Belmont Stakes. Neither she nor Hendrickson will let emotion dictate whether Gorgeous Bird follows on the Triple Crown trail.
â€œWe have a lot of respect for Ian and his ability and itâ€™s always the horse that comes first,â€ Hendrickson said. â€œItâ€™s not our expectations or whims; the horse will take us there if heâ€™s ready. If heâ€™s not, weâ€™re never disappointed. Theyâ€™re animals and we love them all the same.â€
In 2010, Marylou Whitney earned an Eclipse Award of Merit for her contributions to racing, 16 years after a similar honor was bestowed on Sonny Whitney. The award ceremony took place at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel.
â€œI have loved the sport of Thoroughbred racing ever since Sonny Whitney introduced me to it in 1958,â€ Whitney said in her acceptance speech. â€œI am grateful for the honor â€“ in a small way â€“ 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.â€
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