Women on Horse Racing Boards: in America, a Resounding Non-Starter. :(

Marion Altieri, New York writer

Marion Altieri, New York writer

Often I think that perhaps my main role in this sport of horse racing is that of Observer of the Obvious:. Some people dig the stuff I write and say, while others hate it.  Yet others just don’t give a tiny rat’s patootie what I think, or the forum in which I state my thoughts.

But here’s the thing:  Some of the stuff I see happening in American horse racing is just Plain Damned Dumb.  SO dumb, in fact, that I don’t understand why other people don’t see the same–or maybe it’s just that they’re not bothered by that which acts as Pebble in My Shoe?

Oh, you know:  things like the fact that, in American racing, there’s no such entity as a Board of Directors that reflects accurately the female-t0-male percentages of race fans and the general population of, oh, you know–Planet Earth.  (i.e., while we females comprise 52% of the planet’s population; control 80% of the money spent on goods and are the majority of the paid admissions at race tracks–yes, there are statistics to back up this claim–in spite of these stats–absolutely no Board has a majority of women on their roster.  In fact, very few–if any–Boards of racing organizations or corporaions has more than ONE female, if any.)

This situation makes me insane, and,  whatever your own gender–should make you insane, too.  That is, only if you actually care about growing the sport in an intelligent manner, and aren’t content to turn racing into the sideshow at tracks, rather than the main meal.

Here’s the deal:  it looks to me that the Boards of the organizations and corporations that run horse racing in the good old U.S. of A.  don’t think that women can be trusted as businesspeople.  Plain and Simple.  If the men on Boards did trust that we females can figure out silly little things like spreadsheets and marketing plans–we’d be represented accurately on every Board in the sport.

You know, we womenfolk.  Our main concerns are things like making a fashion statement; scheduling a mani/pedi and Brazilian and looking gooooooooooood, so that the man on whose arm we glide into the clubhouse isn’t ashamed of us.

‘Cause it’s 2016, and those are the things that matter to the average American woman in horse racing.  

Never mind our Ivy League degrees; achievements as entrepreneurs, farm owners and media mavens.  It’s how we look that matters.  And of course, there are standards of how we ought to look.*  (*For reference, please see the Bikini Contest at the Pimlico infield every Preakness Day.)

Ironic, that the men who tell many of us that we’re not attractive–look like Danny DeVito.

Two different standards there.  A man can be “…ugly as a hedge fence,” as my Grandma would say…but women are all supposed to be 5’9,” blonde, size 0 and no older than 25.  On the other side of that coin, we have men who are Three Days Older than God, whose looks are in no way a consideration when they’re being chosen for any gig in horse racing–whether that job takes place on-camera or in a Boardroom.

Surely there are enough intelligent, educated, opinionated and insightful females in our sport, to fill 52% of the seats on American racing Boards.  Oh!  Did you wince when I wrote 52%?   If you did wince–perhaps, woman or man, you just met your own bigotry, head-on.

Well, if we’re 52% of the viewers on TV–according to Nielsen–we’re the majority of paid admissions at tracks–and we’re 52% of the population of the planet–should not the Boards of racing organizations (desperate to figure out how to market the sport and grow the fanbase)–should not these desperate Boards be willing to hand the majority votes of the reins to the very population that is renowned for loving horses?  To fill Boards with fresh faces–new ideas–deeply emotional connection to The Horse, our primary athlete?

Yes, I wrote “emotional.”  Business decisions made with no consideration for emotional values–for how the decisions will impact the audience/customer/client/horse–are Bad Business Decisions.  We’ve all seen how bull-headed, testosterone-fueled businessmen (“captains of industry”) both built America and at the same time, tore down many good human souls in that endeavor.

Ours is a sport like none other, for ours is a sport that grows entire crops of athletes specifically with the goal of pleasing us.  Race horses are actually created with the goal in mind of making money for the creator; for the betting public and for everyone else between those two roles.

So we have a responsibility to The Horse, precisely because we make them just for our own selfish motives:   we are obligated to look out for them, from the moment their tiny hooves hit the ground.  We are obligated to provide the best love, care and medical attention available, while they are on Earth.  And that leads me to the Big Obligation:  we are obligated never–ever–to allow those horses to end up on a dinner table in France.

We owe them that much, because we made them for our pleasure.

This is not emotional argumentation:  this is logical argumentation.  Believe me, I know logic.

So this is why–ergo–this is why American horse racing needs to do that which Arabian racing has done for years:  hand the reins over to women to run the show.  I’m thinking specifically of my friend, Lara Sawaya, whose resume is too long to list here.  Google her, and witness the wide, broad range of Arabian racing organizations for which she is responsible.  Then wonder why American Thoroughbred racing has no obvious female uber-administrator like Lara.

Arabian racing, as a whole, (both here in the US and internationally) has a far-better grasp at recognizing that women can be brilliant horsewomen and businesswomen.  Names like Kathy Kroll-Smoke; Jaci Wickham; Dennie Gault; Lynn Ashby and a host of others reflect a sport that sees its strengths–and plays to them.  These women all excel at their vocations, and move Arabian racing forward with grace and brilliance.

Listen, I know that you don’t want to hear or read me, ranting about the need for egalitarianism on horse racing Boards.  But the bottom line is that, we women can think in ways that are both business-centric and from the heart.  This is not to state that men can’t or don’t think from their hearts, not at all:  but societal pressure–even the pressure in a Boardroom–stealthily has silenced many a man who truly desired  to speak from his heart, and to rule from that same place.

Any human who is All-Anything is an incomplete human, male or female.  Any Board that is all male energy and no (or almost no) female energy–is imbalanced, partial, and probably not really all-that-interested in really growing the sport in a way that’s healthy and is a viable long-range plan.

Besides, it’s much easier just to bring in a bouncy-bounce house and face painting as a way to entertain children, than to introduce them to an actual horse, or to participate in local horse/pony clubs.  The distractions never will grow those bouncy-bounce kids into race fans, not in a lifetime of face painting.

A horse can grow a fan in one minute, flat.

Horse racing needs majority women on Boards.  Without our energy, horse racing cannot grow healthily into this century.  Without us, the good old boys will continue to throw a thousand darts at that barn wall, praying that something will stick.

But who am I to know how best to grow horse racing?  I’m just a fan for 56 years; a Mount Holyoke-educated,  assertive, unfashionable (except for my black leather jacket), purple-haired…grrrl.