JC / Railbird

NYRA

Where are the Women?

My most popular tweet on August 17, 2013, featuring a link to a Teresa Genaro column in the Saratogian about women in racing

Two years ago, Teresa Genaro wrote about the poor representation of women in racing. She’s back this week with an update of little progress, in a Pink Sheet column that concludes with this indictment:

Yet when it comes to putting panels together, or hiring executives, or filling board vacancies, women seem to be elusively difficult to find.

If the problem is a dearth of women on leadership pathways in the industry, current executives should be asking themselves why, and what they are doing to cultivate women and bring them into the sport, as other industries have long done and continue to do.

Instead, racing seems content, for the most part, to pander to stereotypes, to view women as decorations rather than as customers, and to overlook them when putting people in front of microphones and in board rooms.

How many times does this have to be said? (That’s a rhetorical question.) How can we do better? (That’s not.) The issue isn’t specific to racing — it regularly flares up in media and technology (the other industries I closely follow). Does racing need some equivalent of the VIDA Count? (Would be just a start.)

To anyone who scoffs that diversity matters, know this — diversity drives market growth. As the American population becomes more diverse, diversity is only going to increase in importance to any industry’s long-term survival.

Related: “NYRA Board less diverse than GOP primary field.”

The Handicappers

How we talk about women in racing — an ongoing series. Today’s entry begins with Scott Raymond’s appreciation for Saratoga, which includes well-deserved praise for NYRA’s announcer and in-house handicapping team:

Yes, this is your NYRA crew like we just experienced at Belmont, but they deserve credit for adding to the Saratoga experience. They are among the best in the business. You have Larry Collmus, arguably the best active announcer in horse racing. Mike Beer, Andy Serling, and all the guys on Talking Horses do a great job. They are horseplayers; they aren’t talking heads. And Maggie Wolfendale in the paddock provides solid insight. Her husband is a trainer and she has experience as an exercise rider. She’s not just a young, pretty face they put on camera. Her insight from the paddock is key, especially in analyzing younger horses and first-time starters.

Only Maggie Wolfendale’s professional ability is defined in relation to another person and physical appearance. For fun, let’s rewrite a couple of sentences:

You have Larry Collmus, arguably the best active announcer in horse racing. His wife is a trainer. He’s not just a hot, sexy voice they put on mic. Mike Beer, Andy Serling, and all the guys on Talking Horses do a great job. Beer’s significant other is a jockey. Serling’s mother is a steward. They’re horseplayers; they’re not just handsome faces they put on camera.

It’s obvious that no disrespect was meant to Wolfendale, but it’s a good example of how a compliment can display the unconscious bias that women couldn’t possibly be good handicappers in their own right.

Sometimes the bias isn’t so unconscious:

“A lot of people see me and think my husband is picking my card, but I play my own,” [Jeannie] King said. “We don’t even sit in the same room when we’re playing.”

Judy Wagner, winner of the 2001 National Handicapping Championship, and the first horseplayer appointed to the NTRA board of directors, heard much the same when she began going to handicapping contests.

For the record, King has finished fourth in the NHC, and Wolfendale was a great handicapper before marrying the trainer!

See also:

Which was in response to this “joke”:

(h/t @superterrific)

2015 Whitney

Breaking from the gate in the 2015 Whitney

Jockey Javier Castellano gives thanks for the winning the 2015 Whitney with Honor Code

Honor Code wears the Whitney winner's garland of Marylou roses

Connections of Whitney winner Honor Code leave the track with smiles

Honor Code wins the 2015 Whitney at Saratoga, earning a Beyer speed figure of 113 and a TimeformUS speed figure of 125.

Crammed

Jeff Scott is another questioning the “Big Day” trend:

So-called “mini-Breeders’ Cups” are a growing trend, but are they always a good thing? With the Saratoga meet extending over 40 days, does it make sense to cram nearly half the Grade 1s (6 of 15) into a three-hour period on a single one of those days? At a time when attendance has been in steady decline, wouldn’t it be better to keep the major attractions more evenly distributed, to give people — especially close followers of the sport — more of a reason to come to the track all seven weekends of the meet, not just four or five of them?

Cutting Down (or Not)

Steve Davidowitz on the too many races, too few horses situation:

In my own judgment, racetrack managers in most states have failed to see the problems they have created for themselves. Fact is, there are so many tracks open for so many months each year, the majority have had to cut down on the number of races they offer each day.

Instead of a five day racing week with nine and 10 races per day, Santa Anita just ran four-day race weeks, with eight races on Thursday and Friday. That pattern is repeated in many states that used to operate five and six days a week with plenty horses left over after running nine and 10 races a day! Even Gulfstream Park had eight race cards …

And yet, when Saratoga opens for 2015 on July 24, it does so with 427 races planned, or about 14 more than 2014, when NYRA slightly reduced the total. The schedule calls for nine-race cards on Monday, 10-race cards Wednesday-Friday and Sunday, and 11-race cards on Saturday, excepting the Travers and Woodward cards (PDF). This is also during a meet in which most graded stakes have been moved to weekends and stakes that previously headlined days — such as the Personal Ensign and Sword Dancer — have been bundled into a “Big Day.” As Mike Watchmaker, taking on the super card trend, observes, “The daily stakes schedule at Saratoga does look pretty lean in the middle of this upcoming meet” (DRF+). Saratoga is great, and it can be a grind. I fear this year it’s going to be more of the second for even the most devoted fans.

The Squeeze

Mike MacAdam is bruising on NYRA and this year’s changes to Saratoga:

They just keep adding layers of cost to the fans and bettors. They continue to introduce pockets of exclusivity in what historically has been one of the most democratic places in the country, the racetrack.

See also: “What’s next? Charging fans to drink from the Big Red Springs?”

House Rule

Relevant Belmont Stakes-eve information on whip use via the New York Times:

In New York, the state issues a fine or penalty for excessive use of the whip. But since 2010, racing stewards have also enforced a house rule of no more than five strikes in succession, with a pause of two or three strides to see if the horse responds.

When a rider violates the rule, one of the tan wall phones in the jockeys’ locker room will ring, Dr. Hill said, and the call will go out: “Movies for Jockey A tomorrow” — meaning a violation was caught on film, and the jockey will be given a $500 fine that will go to a track-related charity.

Retired jockey and NYRA analyst Richard Migliore says he’d like to see a whip rule that goes beyond the soon-to-be implemented California guidelines: “one strike of the whip, then wait a few strides to see if the horse responds.”

Old Warrior

When NYRA tweeted a photo of the newly retired Stymie parading at Jamaica in 1949, it immediately called to mind one of the great pieces of turf writing — Joe Palmer’s “Common Folks,” about the popular horse’s final appearance.

Stymie was retired after finishing second in the 2 1/4 mile New York Handicap on October 1; he was found sore in the right front leg, in the same spot where he had previously sustained a sesamoid fracture. “He was just getting good,” lamented trainer Hirsch Jacobs of the 9-year-old. A month later, Jacobs reported Stymie was galloping sound, “but he doesn’t trot the way he should.” The next day, the trainer declared that Stymie’s career was over.

New York Times correspondent James Roach described Stymie’s last trip to the track before the third running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup like so:

It’s about time to make mention of the fact that old Stymie, racing’s money champion, was very much among those present for the third running of the Gold Cup. He’s on the retired list now. In a sentimental gesture that was appreciated by all hands, Hirsch Jacobs had him jog through the stretch before the race and then take part in the paddock preliminaries. It was his last public appearance in New York before he goes to stud in Kentucky.

Stymie, with pink and green ribbons braided in his mane and tale, got a fond farewell from Jamaica’s children. There was much beating of palms when a pony boy, Alton (Mickey) Finney, led him through the stretch and there was additional applause when he was walked back to his barn …

Some think he’s the most popular horse that has run in this theatre of turf operations since Exterminator’s day.

Palmer, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, put it this way:

… the racetrackers, I think, save most of their affection for the Exterminators and the Stymies and the Seabiscuits, who do it the hard way in the handicaps, pounding out mile after bitter mile, giving weight and taking their tracks wet or dry, running for any jockey, and trying with what they’ve got, even when they haven’t got enough. That’s why Stymie fitted a farewell better at Jamaica than a welcome in Kentucky …

This tourist … will long remember the way Stymie came around the turn in the Pimlico Cup Handicap, making pretty good horses look as if they had just remembered a pressing engagement with the quarter pole.

He was not a great horse, in the sense that Man o’ War and Equipoise were great. He isn’t versatile … [b]ut give him a field with speed in it, at a mile and a half or more, and horses had better get out of his way, even Whirlaway.

Anyway, another fine and ardent and satisfactory story of the turf was brought to a close at Jamaica. And it was happy to note, for all the the long campaign, it was not a battered and limping warrior which left us. Stymie never looked better with his bronze coat in great bloom, and the high head carried as proudly as ever.

As he stood for the last time, before the stands, people around the winner’s enclosure were shouting … “Bring him in here, for just for one more time.”

The groom didn’t obey, and probably was right. Stymie never got in a winner’s circle without working for it. It was no time to begin.

(I love those last two paragraphs.)

Stymie retired with a record of 131-35-33-28 and earnings of $918,485.

Last Word (This Year)

NYRA’s Martin Panza on why he’s not having conversations about changing the Triple Crown schedule by moving the Belmont Stakes into July:

“Right now if you look at the Triple Crown, a month or three weeks before the Derby is when the preps end and there’s really not another big 3 year-old race until a month after the Belmont.

“I’m not sure the rest of the tracks in America would be willing to give us a 4-month break with no big 3-year-old races and that’s what you would be asking for. I just don’t see how that could happen.

“It’s a much more complex situation than just those three races …

“And anything I do at Belmont, I’m also very conscious of not wanting to affect Saratoga. I’m trying to complement Saratoga, not hurt Saratoga.”

Dissipated

Dick Powell:

No matter what the reason for California Chrome coming up empty when it counted, I am convinced that had the Belmont been run a week earlier, two weeks after the Preakness instead of three, he would have won since he was full of energy then. I felt the same way with Funny Cide and Smarty Jones who also looked great the week before but came up short on the big day.

Running the Belmont two weeks after the Preakness would definitely not be traditional: One of the most striking things in Natalie Voss’ report on the race schedules of the 11 Triple Crown winners is that the Belmont is consistently three to four weeks after the Preakness. Citation won a race between the two, but his Triple Crown season stretched 42 days. Assault, the only horse to win the Triple Crown in 28 days, had three weeks between the two races.

Related: Matt Hegarty writes about the proposal to increase the time between Triple Crown races to four weeks. “Plainly stated,” he asks, “is it worth it for the racing industry to risk the significance of the one event that the entire sporting world rallies around when there is no evidence that the public is clamoring for change?” Of course not! What makes me hopeful that this scheme will fizzle for another year is that NYRA just set a record, handling more than $150 million on their new mega-Belmont Stakes day.

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