Whitney kicks off gala season at Siro’s
Event raises funds for the Center for Disability Services
SARATOGA SPRINGS Marylou Whitney’s hair was pinned back neatly, and the setting sun glistened off of her gold and yellow dress.
The 87-year-old socialite and philanthropist just smiled, showing no sign she was bothered by the humidity or the crowd of people swarming around her as she gracefully made her way into Siro’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs on Thursday for the kickoff event of the racing and gala season — the 20th Annual Siro’s Cup Gala.
“It is the first event of the season, and everyone comes,” Whitney said. “Probably one of the bigger events we have all summer.”
The cocktail benefit held at the trackside restaurant is the biggest annual fundraiser for Albany’s Center for Disability Services. The event, sponsored for the second year in a row by Robert Marini Builders Inc. of Clifton Park, was no cheap affair. Tickets cost $125 in advance and $150 at the door, or $1,100 for a group of 10.
Last year’s Siro’s Cup drew more than 1,000 people, and Whitney said she thinks this year, 2,000 were in attendance.
“I always try to support anything that can help,” she said.
The event brought out the stars, including retired jockey Ramon Dominguez, who was honored during the ceremony, starting with a traditional call to post.
Dominguez, one of the top jockeys in racing history, suffered a traumatic brain injury in January in an accident at Aqueduct Racetrack that forced him into retirement. During a speech, Dominguez spoke about his injury.
“Some disabilities we are born with, and some happen to us during our lifetime,” he said. “But we must use the abilities that we still have, as the slogan for the center says, get better at life.”
Last year, the event raised a record $200,000. Dominguez encouraged partygoers to continue to support organizations like Center for Disability Services.
“As you know, I have been recently tested, or my abilities have been tested, but I will never give up,” he said. “I get inspired by the people who this organization serves, who have overcome greater obstacles than I have, and they motivate me to continue.”
Several other prominent jockeys made appearances at the fundraiser, including Rudy Rodriguez, Richard Migliore and Angel Cordero Jr.
“Ramon is a great person, a great rider and a great person,” Cordero said. “I am glad to be here to see him. I haven’t seen him since the accident.”
Cordero, like Whitney, said this event is extra-special because it is the night before the horses break out of the starting gate for the first time this season.
“It is a very nice event,” he said. “It is special.”
All of the guests at the event seemed to share Cordero’s feelings.
Dr. Oliver Robinson, superintendent of the Shenendehowa school district, was among the guests in attendance.
“First of all, this is a great fundraiser for a great organization. Certainly to give time and funds for that is worthwhile,” he said. “And quite frankly, it is the day before the track — what a way to start it off.”
Bob and Mary Sweeney stood close to the band at the event; they said they enjoyed people-watching.
“It is a great cause,” Bob Sweeney said. “It is just a great cause, and we support it.”
Despite the 90-degree weather, it was an elegant night of live music, cocktails, raffles and food.
The Saratoga Race Course thoroughbred meet runs today through Labor Day.
“I love Saratoga,” Whitney said. “You know I started the slogan: ‘Saratoga, it’s the summer place to be.’ ”