More than ever, it seems, it’s dangerous to generalize along gender lines, so let me be specific about my feelings on the subject: Viva La Difference!
Am I the only non-evangelical-nutlog left who feels this way? Is it wrong for me to quicken stride so that I can be first to open a door for a female companion? Or is it because I think they’re too weak to do it for themselves?
Conversely, is it reasonable to expect that Tara Nott Cunningham would out-bench-press fellow Olympian Oscar Chaplin III? More to the point, is it unreasonable to conclude that the five-pound sex allowance Rags to Riches got from the boys in last year’s Belmont Stakes wasn’t the head difference between the filly and eventual Horse of the Year Curlin?
And so what if women generally are not as big or strong as men? So what if they tend to be more emotional? Does it make them inferior? You could look at it another way. You could conjure up the image of men giving birth. Or males reacting to social subtext in the same fashion women do? Does that somehow make males less than?
Just like American voters who now appear ready to embrace their social and cultural differences, wouldn’t it be better if all of us engaged in racing either as a business or a sporting and cultural pastime hold our differences closer?
I bring this up because of a simmering undercurrent created almost instantly by Breeders’ Cup’s decision to create an all female racing program on Day 1 of its World Championships this fall at Santa Anita.
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that women are the first thing that leaps to mind whenever I consider the possibility of a Southern California sojourn. Is that sexist? By strict definition, yes. Misogynistic? Now that might be a little strong.
To those who took offense to changing the name of the Distaff to Ladies’ Classic, I offer this challenge: What kind of response do you think you’d get from the average person under age 40 if you went Jaywalking like Leno and asked them to define the word distaff? Whatever the guess, I’ll take under. In Breeders’ Cup terms, the marriage of Classic to Ladies’, or Filly & Mare Classic, elevates the race in the eyes of casual fans.
Depending on who you ask, the Friday program of the inaugural two-day Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park was either moderately successful or a complete disaster. Personally, I think the unbelievably foul weather rendered all opinions moot.
The benefit of hindsight has not changed that opinion: When compared to Saturday, Friday, in terms of the anticipation for, and coverage of, was pre-climactic. The races were non-graded, non-defining and off message. What they were were great betting races, and that seems to be the focus now: generating revenue, like any other business.
With their Ladies’ Day concept, Breeders’ Cup has gone back to the future as a marketing tool for the sport. In doing so it has put the spotlight on a vastly underappreciated segment of the racing business: women.
To that end, the organization promises to develop a series of festivities promoting cause-related women’s health programs, on-site initiatives, and consumer promotions, all good ideas.
But there better be a story featuring the achievements of trainer Helen Pitts, the extraordinary success of female exercise riders, and the countless hot-walking, horse-grooming moms that raise families despite a 365-day work schedule. And maybe a tribute to executive Stella Thayer, breeder Penny Tweedy, or late racing exemplar Martha Gerry.
One area where women are appreciated is as handicappers and analysts is broadcasting. At least they have benefited from the media notion that sex sells. It might be the only racetrack instance where they have an edge.
On the racetrack, gender and excellence are not mutually exclusive. But for equines it’s a little different between the fences. Fillies don’t excite most players the same way colts do. Only in Kentucky is an Oaks day celebrated, and maybe that’s what the Breeders’ Cup people eventually hope to accomplish here.
But unless it’s a Winning Colors or Personal Ensign, an Azeri or Lady’s Secret, fillies just don‘t create buzz. It becomes different only when they prove to be equal to, or better than, males. Would the early days of Breeders’ Cup been as special without Pebbles winning the Turf, without Miesque going back to back in the Mile?
The Breeders’ Cup people have had a shaky year. They missed an opportunity to bring European races into the “Win and You’re In” mix. They acted hastily in awarding Santa Anita a second consecutive series in 2009 when less than a week later the NYRA franchise issue was resolved.
The Santa Anita scenario runs the real risk of discouraging European participation because of climate and turf course circumference considerations. The only foreseeable upsides are great Southern California fall weather and a gorgeous backdrop for television. That, and the chance that Friday’s races could be presented in prime time, free of World Series competition.
So let the women have their day on a national stage that all can celebrate. And the best of the equines, the Grade 1 types, can give Breeders’ Cup Friday the buzz it lacked last fall at Monmouth Park. Can we all agree it’s better to have loved and lost?