Women in Racing
We’re just a few hours away from the Kentucky Oaks, when all eyes will be on likely post-time favorite Rachel’s Valentina, trying to emulate her dam, 2009 Oaks winner and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, with a win. I’m a fangirl, she’s my pick. For the more considered and better-priced opinions of other handicappers, check the Kentucky Oaks day picks grid on Hello Race Fans.
Earlier this week, Golden Gate Fields announced that it hired Angela Hermann as its new race caller, replacing Michael Wrona, who moved to Santa Anita. Hermann comes to her new gig as the former racing analyst and substitute announcer at Canterbury Park, and she’s now the only full-time female race caller working in the U.S. She’s not the first, though — that would be Jefferson Downs’ Ann Elliott, who began calling at the defunct New Orleans track in 1962. Her almost forgotten story emerged with a tweet from Ron Flatter, who shared an episode of What’s My Line that Elliott appeared on that same year. Let T.D. Thornton pick up the story:
[Elliott] was comfortable in front of a mike, already had a decent local following, and the small track could reap the benefits of the novelty of having a lady announcer. What could go wrong?
Well, for starters, Elliott got booed lustily the first time she called a race. Shortly thereafter, an inebriated owner barged into the booth and started rooting for his horse in the middle of a call. Elliott, trying to keep her composure, had to lean so far out the window that she almost fell to the grandstand. Eventually, the racetrackers and fans took a liking to her, and she to them.
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.”
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.
“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!
Men, be grateful the most important question about your professional performance is not "what does he look like?" https://t.co/sLPGj0fpwu
— dana byerly (@superterrific) August 14, 2015
Which was in response to this “joke”:
Cassidy Clerisse is the bug rider's name – congrats! – now the most important question, what does she look like?
— Jeff Siegel (@jsiegelracing) August 13, 2015
Both Bob Baffert and Linda Rice were breaking horses for their horsemen fathers while in their early teens, and both trainers have been successful at racing’s highest level. Guess which one gets a New York newspaper profile that emphasizes skill and accomplishment in its first paragraph?
For a trainer, there’s no substitute for the knack, and Bob Baffert had it in junior high. It’s called “the third eye,” the uncanny ability to scope out young horses and identify who will be the best runner in the bunch.
For an industry in which the ultimate compliment is being “a real horseman,” Linda Rice is an anomaly. Barely topping 5 feet, Ms. Rice has shoulder-length blond hair and sharp features that could make her a Ralph Lauren model. The first female horse trainer to top the standings at a major racetrack, she’s tough and she speaks at a no-nonsense clip.
… as far back as the age of 5, Head-Maarek said, she told her father she wanted to be a trainer. “One day he said to me, ‘You marry a trainer, but you won’t be a trainer because there are no women trainers,”’ she recalled.
But in 1978, after four years as her father’s assistant, Head-Maarek was granted a training license by the French racing authorities, the first for a woman. Her father gave her 35 of his own horses, and success quickly followed. Owners such as Prince Khalid bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the late emir of Dubai, sent her horses. She remains the only woman to train an Arc winner.
A proud “my father’s daughter,” she’s the youngest of trainer Clyde Rice’s four children and the only girl. She began helping at her dad’s stable in grammar school. She walked horses, then exercised them. At 17, as they drove back from a Keeneland horse sale, a major accident blocked their route for hours.
That’s when Rice revealed her career path. She turned to her dad and confessed, “I want to be a trainer, just like you.”
Clyde Rice measured his response before speaking it. He told her, “That career would be a lot easier if you were one of my sons.”
Rice won the Easy Goer Stakes with Kid Cruz, eighth in the Preakness Stakes and a former $50K claimer, on Belmont Stakes day.
More Head-Maarek in the Guardian: “We’ll take my Rolls-Royce …”
Over the next 10 years I saw the likes of Kingston Town and Red Anchor come and go from my father’s stable, Tulloch Lodge, and eventually I decided I could take the next step and become a horse trainer in my own right. TJ was very reserved about me becoming a trainer; he felt it would be too hard for me to obtain owners, purchase yearlings and make my mark. My father thought I would be much better off working under him for the time being as his PR girl and trackwork supervisor. But like most young people, I could not be swayed. I had an idea in my head and I could not be stopped. TJ was telling the truth, and he knew it would be an uphill battle for me to forge a career on my own.
She has succeeded.
Related: Miss Mary, Licensed Trainer (7/8/10).
Diane Crump reflects on her pioneering career as a jockey with Mary Simon, and the debate over whether women are strong enough to ride in races:
“You know what? None of us is that strong when compared to a horse. It’s the feel you have for them that matters. If you can get along with them, relate to them, those are the things that make you a horse person and a rider. Brute strength has no relevance at all …”
Or as Julie Krone, another rider who accomplished a number of firsts for women in racing, told Ed Zieralski recently:
“I know one thing. It takes both genders to ride a racehorse, the feminine for soft and subtle, and the masculine for strong and effective.”
“It takes a special filly [to win a Triple Crown race], one that is willing to stare down the boys and say, ‘No, this one is mine,’ ” said Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. “It’s so much about personalities and intimidation when these horses match up. I think it’s the same reason women don’t have as much, and the same kind of success, as men in the workplace.”
Three fillies have won the Belmont, out of 22 starters. That’s not such a bad record — only 141 colts or geldings have won, out of more than 1200.
Rosie Napravnik has the mount on Unlimited Budget, which makes her the first female jockey to ride in all three Triple Crown races in the same year. That’s wonderful, if also a reminder of the progress still to be made, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Julie Krone’s history-making Belmont win.
Meanwhile, at Suffolk Downs —
Elusive Son (inside) outfinishes Step Brother in the first turf race of the meet.
Tammi Piermarini, the leading rider at Suffolk for the past three years, tops the jockey standings again after three days of racing, with five wins from 19 starts. Gary Wales and Andria Terrill are tied for second with four wins apiece. Piermarini’s first win of the meet came in race two on opening day with Broadway Hat, shipping in for trainer David Jacobson. The once-pricey auction purchase obviously found his level, taking the maiden $5K by four lengths. Trainer Ambrose Pascucci made the claim, the only one so far this summer.
Piermarini’s second win came in race six on the same day with Elusive Son, whose thrilling by-a-neck victory over Step Brother withstood a stewards’ inquiry into a little stretch bumping. The first of her two wins on Wednesday’s card offered a different kind of thrill — Mister Dixie, a 5-year-old gelding making his first start since July 2012, won race two by 12 1/2 lengths in :57 3/5, a tick off Rene Depot’s 1972 :57 2/5 track record for five furlongs.
Another rider, Jordano Tunon, scored the biggest upset of the meet yet when he won race six on Wednesday with Lapantalones Fance, the longest shot in a field of 10, paying $87.20 to win. While that might have been the highest win price of the week, it wasn’t the first time since Saturday that exotic payouts have been high enough to trigger the new, onerous 5% tax on winning bets paying over $600 instituted by a 2011 change in Massachusetts law (and affecting only Massachusetts residents). “[T]his is a dealbreaker for Mass. horseplayers,” tweeted one. Per a notice in the Suffolk program, track management is working on a fix. Get in touch to support their effort.
6/7/13 Addendum: Jay Hovdey on the 1993 Belmont Stakes: “It has been 20 years since Colonial Affair emerged from the gloom of a rainy New York afternoon to carry Julie Krone and the colors of Centennial Farms to victory in the 125th running of the Belmont …”
This 60 Minutes segment on Rosie Napravnik may be the first coverage of the jockey (who’s riding Mylute in the Kentucky Derby) I’ve seen this spring that doesn’t remind me of Freddy Rumsen telling Don Draper that Peggy Olsen’s insight into the Belle Jolie campaign “was like watching a dog play the piano.”
Go ahead, joke, “There is a filly in the Derby. The thing is this one has two legs, not four.” Wonder, “Can a woman win the Kentucky Derby?” Say, “You can almost classify her as just ‘jockey,’ now.” Because Napravnik can ride: She’s 25, and she’s won the Kentucky Oaks and a Breeders’ Cup race within the last year. So far, in 2013, only Joel Rosario has won more races than Napravnik; only four other jockeys have won more money. And she has the right attitude:
“There still are owners and trainers that don’t want to ride a female. The only way that I deal with that is, you know, to try to beat that person in a race, beat that trainer or owner in a race.”
Napravnik might not be on the Derby winner this Saturday, but she’ll be on a Kentucky Derby winner before her career ends. Bet on it.
3:30 PM Addendum: Napravnik tells Byron King she’s pleased with how the 60 Minutes interview turned out: “They did an excellent job with it.”
In her remarks at the September 30 Thoroughbred Club of America dinner honoring her, Penny Chenery acknowledged a predecessor:
“I knew Isabel Dodge Sloan,” Chenery said. “I was scared of her. I saw her at the racetrack all the time and I never saw her open her purse.”
The first woman to top the leading owners list by earnings — in 1934, the same year her colt Calvacade won the Kentucky Derby — Dodge Sloan was the subject of a Claire Novak story for Kentucky Confidential in 2011.
“Racing and breeding horses are to me many things,” she said when she was honored by the TCA in 1951. “They are my hobby, my business, my pleasure and almost my entire life.”
Dodge Sloan was the first female honoree of the TCA; Chenery is the third. That’s in 81 years — as Chenery said, “Come on, guys.”
Suffolk Downs has been welcoming to women jockeys for years (in 1974, the late Denise Boudrot became the first female rider to win a meet title at a major track when she rode 94 winners as an apprentice*), but the seven-member East Boston lady riders’ colony is particularly strong this summer:
When Vicky Baze was riding at Suffolk last month, the women’s jocks’ room contained the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-winningest female riders of all time and three of the top four active women jockeys. Piermarini, fourth with 2.129 wins; Baze, fifth with 2,098 wins; and Jellison, sixth at 1,856 account for more than 6,000 wins together, and Piermarini entered Wednesday just eight wins behind Patti Cooksey for third on the all-time list behind Julie Krone and Rosemary Homeister.
Tammi Piermarini, the track’s leading rider the past three years, is currently leading the standings; Jackie Davis is running second.
Local photographer Bud Morton has been documenting Suffolk’s riding women — this photo, of Piermarini and Davis breaking from the gate, is really good. (The expressions on their faces!)
*Enjoy this Sports Illustrated profile of Boudrot from 1974: “At Suffolk almost every jockey has been beaten by Denise, and they have learned to live with it, which is not an easy thing for these little men who have discovered a place of their own in a big person’s world.” Boudrot died in 2010, at age 57.
7/23/12 Addendum: Congratulations! With three wins at Suffolk Downs today, “Piermarini becomes third-leading woman rider.”
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