A week or so ago a friend/reader wrote praising NYRA for its attention to women race fans; on the heels of the announcement of tomorrow’s Diva Day at Belmont, he had noticed the following in the Saratoga brochure on the NYRA website:
WOMEN’S DAY Wednesday, August 13
The ladies will dominate the day as Saratoga Race Course hosts its 3rd annual Women’s Day Expo. Women will have the opportunity to peruse products related to ladies’ health and lifestyle while the femme-friendly fest carries over from the backyard to the race card with the day’s feature race, the Adirondack for the nation’s top juvenile fillies.
He asserted that the New York tracks are the only ones in the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast that regularly target the female fan base with promotions, and that NYRA should be commended for its efforts.
I don’t know whether other tracks do this sort of thing, and I suppose that in my irritation at the ridiculous characterizations of women that also frequently accompany these sorts of promotions, I do lose sight of the fact that at least NYRA is trying.
That said, tomorrow’s event differs significantly from what is being planned at Saratoga. Diva Day features two well-known women who are both involved in racing: trainer Linda Rice and owner/breeder Elisabeth Jerkens. The $50 admission price includes not only these two guest speakers, who will talk about racing, but box seats for the races on the day of the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks; a program; a handicapping seminar; and trips to the paddock and the winner’s circle. Every element of the event (excluding lunch) focuses directly on horses and on engaging the racing fan (female or male) in various elements of the sport. It’s an excellent opportunity for the existing fan base and to bring new fans to the game.
Women’s Day, on the other hand, shares only one characteristic with Diva Day: it takes place on the same day as a stakes race, this one for two-year-old fillies, the Grade II Adirondack. It doesn’t offer women any information about racing; it doesn’t introduce them to women (or men) involved in the sport; it doesn’t even encourage anyone to pay attention to the races. I happened to be at the track the last two years on this day, and the tent was set up way at the end of the backyard, about as far from the track as one could possibly get. None of the participants had anything to do with racing: I could talk to people about women’s health issues; I could buy jewelry or hats; I could meet a local anchorwoman. The tent could have as easily been set up in downtown Saratoga as at the track. I can’t imagine that anyone who passed by thought, “Hey, this is great—I’m coming back here!” On Women’s Day (whose name is blander but an improvement on Diva Day), women are targeted as consumers, not as race fans. We come to the races not to watch horses or bet or handicap, but to shop.
Its name aside, Diva Day is a great idea. For a reasonable price, we are invited to learn from women in racing and to participate fully in a day at the track. I might have headed out to Belmont this weekend anyway to watch the CCA Oaks; sandwiched as it is between my traditional last day of work (yippee!) trip to twilight racing on Friday and my departure for Saratoga on Sunday, it’s equally likely that I’d have given it a pass. The Diva Day event is what’s drawing me to the races on Saturday. On Wednesday, August 13th, I will bypass the Women’s Day promotion much as I do the myriad other commercial set-ups at the track, because I’ll be too busy hanging out at the paddock, handicapping, and talking with friends about racing. I go to the track to experience the sport, not to shop.