What Horse Racing Needs is…a Woman’s Touch.
…and by “a woman’s touch,” I don’t mean a mani-pedi shop in every Clubhouse. Or shedrows that look like a Pepto-Bismol truck exploded. Oh.God.NO.
I mean…What if women ran horse racing in the United States? If you snorted, shook your head or gaffawed when you read that question–then obviously, this is a topic that still–in the 21st Century–reeks of Medieval bias, against 51% of the population. Because, no one should gaffaw at the thought of women in charge. Of anything.
I’m going to throw it out there, and let many of you get it off your chests: I’ll write, “If women ran horse racing…” and you get to fill in the blanks, with all the Henny Youngman-esque jokes you can muster. Here, let me get you started:
— “All the saddle cloths would be pink.”
— “Penalties for leaving the seat up at every track.”
— “No more beer, just Cosmos and Pink Squirrels.”
— “The book, ‘Baby Talk to Your Horse!’ would be required reading for trainers.”
— “There’d be so many big hats, no one could see the races…”
— “Classes in riding side-saddle.”
— “Cliff Notes for the Racing Form. ‘Cause, math is hard for itty-bitty female brains.”
Now…let’s stop and realize that, there exist, still, some men who think that way–fer real–and actually say things like that. And that every one of those “jokes” is, at its core, mean, insulting, and a lie. Many a cruel opinion is couched within the quotation marks of that which disguises itself as a joke.
Oh, yes. And every one of those supposed-jokes, when spoken by a dinosaur who means them–are intended to maintain the Status Quo. You know the Status Quo: it’s that unspoken rule, that females are allowed to participate in horse racing, as long as they know their place. Women like Penny Chenery, VK Payson, Marylou Whitney, Allaire du Pont and Elizabeth Arden: all, aberrations from the norm. Strong, smart, savvy–their lives and careers encouraged other women (like, me) to just forge ahead, and do our thing.
But women who aren’t Penny, VK and Mrs. Whitney still are given a hard time, in many ways, in many sectors of this sport. No one would dare insult Penny, VK and Mrs. Whitney–because those women were towers of power. But women like me, who are just making our way, or trying to–we’re not (yet) in the position of demanding authority.
If only Penny could have named a successor to her own position, as it is in actual royal descent.
So the Medieval notion that prevails in horse racing in America–in Thoroughbred racing, specifically (because no such idiotic misogyny exists in the world of Arabian racing)–is that women may sit in the Clubhouse. We may even own horses, or train them.
But God Forbid, that we should populate in equal numbers, the seats on a Board. Go ahead, name ONE horse racing authority or organization, the Board of which has an equal number of females. You can’t do it, because no such organization exists. (Professional organizations like NTWAB–which is very egalitarian–don’t count on this list, as they don’t make actual decisions about legal matters, such as doping. Or control racetracks, etc.)
And why, do you suppose, it is that women–who, statistically, are 51% of the population in general, and also in the international horse racing fanbase–why are we not fully represented on Boards?
Things that make you go, “Hmmmmm…”
That which inspired me to think about–and write–this is that I read recently something, that Frank Stronach is moving out of Florida, into Pennsylvania and California. Before that, I’d read that he MAY have been considering buying Suffolk Downs, and doing something with it.
That was when I said, “Whoa, Nelly,” because I grew up going to the races at Suffolk Downs. From my childhood, the track in Boston was part of my Life, of my Love, of my joy of horse racing. And I wondered how someone–an interloper, as it were–someone who didn’t grow up watching the races at Suffolk, should be handed the keys to that sweet kingdom.
“What does Frank Stronach know or care about Boston?” I wondered to myself. About our very distinct culture there? About all my Italian relatives and friends, for whom attending the horse races was practically a Holy Day of Obligation? No, no, I thought to myself: if anyone’s going to run Suffolk Downs, and revitalize it–it must be someone who loves the track, loves Boston–someone who gets it. Not just someone who comes in, and insists that our city, our track, conform to whatever is the current “cool” thing to do.
Boston would not tolerate a bikini contest in the infield.
One size does not fit all, Frank.
So, that got me to thinking about how well women would do, re-creating Suffolk Downs. And, I laughed to myself–we wouldn’t paint everything in baby colors. (Pastels make me gag just a little.)
And that, of course, led me to the question, What if Women Ran Horse Racing?
And immediately, a list of things that really would happen, almost immediately, came into my mind:
— Right out of the box, we’d condemn that aforementioned, misogynistic bikini contest on Preakness Day, that’s tainted the hallowed space: the Pimlico infield. For God’s Sake.
— We’d make decisions by consensus, rather than by fiat: women are all about cooperation, not domination.
— Our Board meetings would involve transparancy, and the opportunity for all Board members to speak. Every person would be respected for what s/he knows, and brings to the table.
— Horses would breathe a collective sigh of relief, because they’d know that the majority of women in horse racing are vehemently against slaughter, abuse and doping. Ergo, Thoroughbred racing would become more nurturing for the equine athletes, themselves.
— Boys and girls would be courted and encouraged to pursue their own dreams in the sport, whether those dreams are of ownership, breeding, training, writing, publishing, health care. Programs could be established via schools and community groups, to ferret out those who could fall in love with horses, and horse racing…and dreams, born and nurtured.
Nurturing is our thing–women’s, that is–and we know that yes, it may be many years between the introduction of a horse to a child, ’til that day when said child’s heart leads her/him to become a fan of horse racing, and to wagering. But we nurturers know that the wait is worth it. Women know that courting college kids with beer has no chance of creating a rabid fan base–but introducing a six-year-old, wide-eyed child to a horsie, will ignite a flame so strong that never could it be extinguished. Now, multiply that one child-one horse, times (x) 100,000 children and horses…and you have the next generation of real horse racing fans and professionals.
And that generation won’t stick around solely because there’s beer.
See? There’s that word again: “nurtured.” Women are natural nurturers: we excel at encouraging others, and giving a leg up where it’s needed. So, yeah, women sitting in the CEO/President/COO/Vice President/Board members’ chairs in horse racing, everywhere, would benefit everyone.
And anyone who thinks otherwise is stuck in a century in which there were no cars, Androids or electricity with which to see The Light. Women are good for horse racing–and not just as hatracks. Show us the way to the Boardroom, and to the CEOs’ offices–and we’ll show you how it’s supposed to be done. With equality, dignity and grace–all fueled first-and-foremost, by our absolute, all-encompassing, spiritual LOVE for The Horse, and all that that most-magnificent of God’s creatures has to offer.
Let women take the lead. Give us five years in the seats of power, and we’ll turn this sport around–for the better, and for The Good of All.
Penny Chenery and Secretariat, (C) courtesy of http://Secretariat.com
Mrs. Marylou Whitney, (C) courtesy of John Carl D’Annibale / Times Union
Gold Crown, (C) courtesy of Getty Images