JC / Railbird



It’s He Said, He Said round two with Paulick and DeRosa, and although I think Ed’s in the right and that in general, conversations about racing, marketing, and women are good to have, I also think that it’s a luxury to be in a position where all we’re talking about is a creepy-sexist Churchill Downs banner ad.

In the Saratogian on Saturday, Michael Veitch took NYRA to task for backing off earlier statements promising racino monies for backstretch housing:

Despite numerous statements by NYRA in recent years on the importance of improving living conditions at Saratoga as a first need, it now appears purse money and other improvements are more important….

With money finally available to help improve their living conditions, the association is going to back off previous assurances? You must be kidding.

I haven’t been in a Saratoga dorm since 2005, but it seems safe to assume conditions aren’t much changed. The buildings are probably still rundown and ill-maintained, and the women’s dorms probably aren’t much more comfortable or secure. In 2005, 15% of the available rooms on the Saratoga backstretch were allocated to female workers, even though female workers made up almost a third of backstretch labor. That meant overcrowding; every room in the women’s Clare Court dorm had 2-4 residents. I shared a 9×11 space with two others for six weeks. The room fit our beds and not much else.

That there wasn’t enough space wasn’t the only issue. The Clare Court dorm was also unsecured, and while residents could lock their individual rooms, they couldn’t lock the bathrooms or shower room. There were no locks on those doors, which opened, and were often left open, to hallways accessible to anyone who wandered in through the open front and back doors. And men did wander in. It wasn’t unusual to find one lurking just outside the bathroom or trying to peep into the shower room. This was — for some women — actually an improvement. Another stablehand told me that the situation was better at Saratoga than at Belmont, where men cut peepholes.

At least in the ad the guy with binoculars is looking at clothed women.

There is a problem with sexism in racing, and it’s not only in advertising, or the patronizing male attitudes Penny Chenery is depicted as overcoming in “Secretariat.” Female stablehands live and work with — as an anonymous hotwalker recently wrote — unwanted, and sometimes physical, attentions. They live with assaults on their privacy and dignity, and occasionally, on their persons. There’s a lot of “friendly banter” in the barns that isn’t so friendly — it’d be called sexual harassment almost anywhere else — and for women living in precarious backstretch housing, the talk is tinged with threat. As for why more women don’t speak up — the reasons range from a determination to be seen as tough and not a complainer, to not knowing where to go or who to talk to about what’s happening. And it’s complicated, as I commented elsewhere, by the fact that a significant number of female backstretch workers face challenges created by class and language, as well as gender.

I’d like to be more upset about Churchill’s banner, but I keep thinking about the anonymous hotwalker, and about women like her, the backstretch workers who will move into the shabby Clare Court dorm at Saratoga next summer and who will have to wonder who’s standing in the hallway while they shower.

The Male Gaze

Last year, I had a little fun with the view that women pretty up the racetrack, as expressed by trainer Louie Roussel and fellow blogger PowerCap. Today, TT news editor Ed DeRosa takes aim at a Churchill Downs banner ad that unfortunately plays not-so nicely on the same perspective. You have to go to his Big Event Blog to read about this marketing misstep (and to see the banner — I’m not going to post it here). His analysis of the ad is spot on; about all I can contribute is that equating women and horses is always disconcerting (at least to this woman), and adds to the overall creepiness of the banner.

Somewhat related, and on a more serious note, an anonymous hotwalker recently recounted a few startling, and all too plausible, experiences with men on the backstretch (via Sid Fernando). It’s one thing to brush off a lousy ad, it’s another to brush off an unwanted hand — and really, why should women have to do either to enjoy being at the track, whether as fans or workers? [That reminds me of a Railbird oldie-but-goodie: “Here’s a She-Tip for You, Andy Stronach.” For the record, the She-Tipsters were never deployed.]

To round out the post, here’s a profile of New York trainer Linda Rice, which includes the following relevant anecdote:

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 … would be a lot easier if you were one of my sons.”

Ain’t that the truth. And in racing, clearly, not only about a career in training.

This Is Her Town

Look up, Angelenos:

Zenyatta billboard

It’s official: Zenyatta is a crossover sports star.”

She really has ascended to another level, hasn’t she? It’s kind of fun. There’s a bit of an old time feel about Zenyatta’s super stardom, as well as trainer John Shirreffs’ reason for keeping the mare in California:

“We have to ship across the Rockies. It’s so much different out here than going up and down the East Coast.”

Well, maybe Zenyatta doesn’t like turbulence.

Instead of shipping east, she’ll go for a third consecutive win in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park next month. “Are they kidding?” Not at all. She’s a hometown girl; if you’re in the neighborhood, celebrate with a bobblehead.

Wednesday Notes

– Congratulations to Dana of Green but Game and her pal Swifty on the launch of the Hello Race Fans Network. Neither Railbird nor Raceday 360 is currently part of the racing ad group, but I do support their goals and wish HRF, member sites, and their charter advertisers much success.

– John Pricci reblogs without links reaction to trainer John Shirreff’s announcement of a conservative campaign for Zenyatta. (Original post and comments here.) I suspect Ed at Big Event Blog is onto something: “[M]aybe Shirreffs is just playing coy with the media.” It is early in the year …

Brooklyn Backstretch recounts our Saturday trip to Monmouth. I can’t say enough good about spending a day at the New Jersey track — the visit was my first since the 2007 Breeders’ Cup, and I left raving about what a jewel of a place it is to enjoy the races. Another visit this summer is certain.