Whitney Gala cancelled

NEWS10's Demetra Ganias reports

For decades, it's been one of this area's biggest and most known events – the Whitney Gala is one of the highlights of the Saratoga racing season. The lavish party, however, will be a no-go in 2009.

The ball is usually at the Canfield Casino inside Saratoga's Congress Parks. The Whitney Gala is a more than 40 year tradition that has only been cancelled twice: once in 2006 because host Marylou Whitney was recovering from a stroke, and now in 2009 because of the economy, putting Saratoga's premiere social event of the summer season on hiatus.

Socialite Marylou Whitney is known for making a grand entrance to her annual ball. In 2007, she was drawn by sled dogs at the Alaska-themed event. Often at her side at the star-studded event is actress Susan Lucci…

“It is so much fun always to be with Marylou and [Whitney's husband] John [Hendricksen],” Lucci once told NEW10.

But now the fanfare is cancelled, and Hendricksen tells NEWS10 that “this was a very difficult decision,”

He says the couple didn't feel in this economy that it would be right to hold the gala, saying people would ask why they were spending that kind of money.

Joe Dalton is the President of Saratoga's Chamber of Commerce.

“It's a little bit of a disappointment.

The Whitney's brought a lot of good exposure to Saratoga through the ball, bringing socialites in,” Dalton said.

The cancellation may hurt caterers, decorators and other staff, but we're told this will allow Whitney to focus her time and money on charity, primarily giving to backstretch workers at the race track.

“You're talking about dormitories, you're talking about bedding, you're talking about food, healthcare, you're talking about families,” Dalton said, “that is a monumental task to take on,”

Dalton also downplays any notion that Saratoga's social season is in trouble.

“There's not going to be a lack of events to put your gown or your tuxedo on,” he quipped.

There are hopes in the community that the gala will resume once good economic times do too.

Saratoga's opening day is more than five months away – Wednesday, July 29th.

With the slumping economy, expected attendance for this year's upcoming season is still up in the air.

Last year was the 140th year for the race track. During the 2008 season, attendance dropped 9.8%.

The handle also fell, dropping over 10.2%.

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