Updated: This post appears today on website of The Blood-Horse, in the new Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance “stall” in the Blood-Horse blog stable, and I intended to post a link to the Blood-Horse site, rather than put the piece in both places.
The article that I sent to be published was originally formatted in such a way that it completely misrepresented my point of view, and I thus put the post up here so that what I actually wrote would be available. The formatting has since been resolved.
The history of racing in this country reveals a curiously ambivalent attitude towards its female equine athletes. The Old Gray (trotting) Mare may have been racing’s first equine star, and from racing’s beginnings in this country, colts and fillies regularly raced against each other. Ruthless won the fourth running of the Travers in 1867, while a filly, Sarah B., won the first running of the Champagne.
Of course, the girls have their own races, too, though we sometimes have to wonder at their names: the Matron, oddly named for a race for two-year-olds, and particularly so given that for its first ten years (1892 – 1902), it was open to colts, too. And soon at Keeneland, we’ll have the Spinster, a most unfortunate and unattractive name for a race for two-year-olds fillies, one that does not augur well for their future careers as broodmares.
In September of 1914, the two-year-old Comely raced in the Fall Highweight at Belmont; she raced against older horses, she raced against colts, she gave them sixteen pounds…and she won, according to a contemporary account, in a hand ride by a length and a half.
Later in the century, Shuvee dominated her own sex at two and at three; at four, she became the first—and only—mare to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and she came back the next year to do it again.
1986 brought us the magnificent Personal Ensign, whose perfect race record is no less impressive than Cigar’s win streak, and she, too, took on the boys and won, in the 1988 Whitney.
Intersex racing is a rarity in this country though it thrives overseas, as this weekend’s Arc highlights, with the undefeated Zarkava taking on boys and older horses. It’s bad enough that the trend in this country keeps females and males from competing in the same race, but in this year’s Breeder’s Cup, they’re not even competing on the same day.
Three weeks from today, I’ll be doing pretty much what I’m doing now: working. And while I am, some of this year’s most exciting races, with many of this year’s most exciting horses, will be taking place. Working at a school does not particularly lend itself to catching a few races streaming live, so like the majority of race fans in this country, I’ll miss the Filly and Mare Sprint, the Filly and Mare Turf, and the Filly and Mare Classic (sorry, I just can’t bring myself to call it the Ladies’ Classic). I’ll miss Indian Blessing, Ginger Punch, Hystericalady, Backseat Rhythm, Wait A While.
Over the last century and a half, female horses have established over and over again that they are as exciting and as dominant as the males; they’ve demonstrated their mettle and their talent. I guess, though, they haven’t proved that they’re good enough to race on the biggest racing day of the year.