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Preakness Party


Article and photos by Nancy Brannon

What better place to enjoy the camaraderie of friends and the Preakness Stakes than at the former home (and barn) of Harry Payne Whitney in Hickory Valley, TN – Whitney Hill Estate. Current owner Regina Brotherton and her co-host Betty Haser prepared a plethora of delicious homemade hors de oeuvres and desserts, complete with mint juleps, sweet tea and lemonade, for racing fan revelers to enjoy. Betty specially prepared traditional Southern Maryland stuffed ham sliders: ham stuffed with kale and spices in a dinner roll. Yum!

Harry Payne Whitney was a prominent breeder of Thoroughbred race horses and had several winners in the Triple Crown races, each race sporting its own special flowers.

Whitney had 19 horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby, winning it for the first time in 1915 with a Broomstick foal, Regret, the first filly to ever win the race. Regret also earned Horse of the Year honors. Whitney won the Derby the second time in 1927 with Whiskey.

Whitney had six Preakness Stakes winners, wearing Blackeyed Susans: Royal Tourist (1908), Buskin (1913), Holiday (1914), Broomspun (1921), Bostonian (1927), and Victorian (1928). His record of six wins in the Preakness stood as the most by any breeder until 1968 when Calumet Farm broke the record.

Four of Whitney’s horses won the Carnations at the Belmont Stakes: Tanya (1905), Burgomaster (1906), Prince Eugene (1913), and Johren (1918). Whitney’s colt Burgomaster also received Horse of the Year honors.

Whitney inherited a large stable from his father and in 1915 established a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Lexington, Kentucky. There he developed the American polo pony by crossing Quarter Horse stallions with his Thoroughbred mares. He was Thoroughbred racing’s leading owner of the year in the U.S. on eight occasions and the breeder of almost 200 stakes race winners, wearing the Whitney silks of brown and Eton blue. The sad truth is that, in spite of his many winners, he never had a Triple Crown winner.

His Lexington, Kentucky stud farm was passed on to his son C.V. Whitney, who owned it until 1989, when it became part of Gainesway Farm (see May issue Mid-South Horse Review).

Whitney was an avid sportsman; he was a ten-goal polo player and was an organizer of the U.S. Polo Team. He also enjoyed quail hunting, which was a main reason he established a “hunting lodge” in Hickory Valley, Tennessee.

Whitney Hill was built in 1897 by Harry Payne and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in Hickory Valley, TN. Harry and Gertrude brought lots of their New Yorker friends to hunt in Hickory Valley. Whitney Hill is where Gertrude wrote her first novel, As Through the Glass Darkly. In 1900 they met Hobart Ames and invited him to hunt at Whitney Hill. Soon afterward, Ames purchased his own plantation at nearby Grand Junction, TN, which now annually hosts the National Championships for Field Trialing Bird Dogs in February. In 1915, Herman Duryea, close friend of Harry and Gertrude, also retired in Hickory Valley with his wife Nell, who already owned a tremendous amount of property in Hardeman County.

In 1994, Regina Brotherton purchased Whitney Hill and has spent years meticulously restoring the home to its original elegance and charm. Each bedroom has a special theme and is bedecked with antiques and treasures that carry out that theme.

Regina has rebuilt the stables on the site of the original, using a combination of new and reclaimed materials. It is “repurposed” for receptions, weddings, and parties. Her “hen house” for her chickens is just too quaint for words, although her blog “Regina’s Chic Coop” might capture the essence. (Mid-South Horse Review, May 2013)

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