I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar

With the Breeders’ Cup over and the prospect of seeing a Monomoy Girl – Swiss Skydiver rivalry next year, it is time to take a look at the changing face of racing and the continuing popularity of females, whom we have come to know much more intimately than the males. ~ Steve Haskin

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar

By Steve Haskin


Henny Youngman, the king of the one-liners, once said, “Do you know what it means to come home at night to a woman who’ll give you a little love, a little affection, a little tenderness? It means you’re in the wrong house.”

Well, over the past decade in the sport they once called the Sport of Kings, the so-called kings have been in the wrong house because they ain’t gettin’ any love from the gals. The female of the species no longer are pushovers, just sitting around the house while their male counterparts get almost all the glory and accolades. Now, because Thoroughbred owners have preferred to whisk their colts off to stud at age 3 for instant financial gains, it has been the females who have risen in popularity and in fact have taken over the hearts of the racing fans.

As the title song, sung by Helen Reddy, continues, “In numbers too big to ignore.”

Yes, the numbers are increasing and you can clearly see that rise in female popularity. Over the past decade, males have come and gone so quickly it is difficult to embrace them. Like Glinda, the good witch in The Wizard of Oz, they appear briefly, perform their magic and sing the song, “Try to Touch as Star,” and then disappear as quickly as they came. During the past 10 years, the only two male horses who have truly captured the heart are American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, and California Chrome, who was an anomaly by racing at the highest level until the age of 6. Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, a miler on grass, also had a following, racing until the age of 6, but not on the scale of American Pharoah and California Chrome.

Sure we have had some other exciting colts over the past decade, but Triple Crown winner Justify was gone shortly after with only six career starts, Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Authentic was shipped off to stud after only eight career starts, and Arrogate’s lofty reputation was based solely on a spectacular five-race winning streak before he lost his form.

But, here in America, as well as abroad, it has been the fillies who have provided longevity and stability, and have often proven successful against the boys, while racing from ages 4 to 7.

The list in North America since 2009 is a Who’s Who of major stars, starting with Hall of Famers Zenyatta, who raced to the age of 6, and Rachel Alexandra, who raced through the age of 4, and continuing with the likes of Starship Jubilee (age 7), Beholder (age 6), Groupie Doll (age 6), Lady Eli, Tepin, Royal Delta, Havre de Grace and Midnight Bisou (age 5), Monomoy Girl (who is scheduled to race next year at age 6), Songbird and Blind Luck (age 4), and Swiss Skydiver (who is scheduled to race next year at age 4 after competing at nine different racetracks around the country in 2020 and outdueling Authentic in the Preakness).

Of these 14 fillies and mares, 10 raced against the boys, defeating them in the Preakness twice, Woodward twice, Woodbine Mile twice, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pacific Classic, Haskell Invitational, Breeders’ Cup Mile, and Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, with Groupie Doll beaten a nose in the Cigar Mile and Midnight Bisou finishing a close second to Maximum Security in the $20 million Saudi Cup. Three of the fillies (Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Havre de Grace) were named Horse of the Year. A mention must also be made of Rags to Riches, who beat Hall of Famer and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in the 2007 Belmont Stakes before an injury ended her career. Even a New Mexico-bred filly named Peppers Pride, racing exclusively in New Mexico, established a large fan base when she captured all 19 of her career starts.

In my 50-plus years in racing I have never heard such deafening noise as the roar that rocked the grandstands of Santa Anita and Saratoga following the victories of Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward. And that includes the resounding cheers following the Belmont Stakes victories of American Pharoah and Secretariat. Both were ear-piercing in their own right and shook the grandstand in much the same manner, but not for such a sustained period of time as the aftermath of Zenyatta’s and Rachel’s races, in which the cheers kept building to a thunderous crescendo.

As a member of the Hall of the Fame Nominating Committee, I can honestly say that if the criteria to get on the ballot remains as it’s been, specifically having a sufficient number of career starts, and if the voters continue to use longevity and accomplishments and popularity as their barometer, then it is safe to say there will be more fillies inducted than colts over the next several years.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Enable, Treve, Goldikova, and Magical raced against males a total of 54 times, winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe four times, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes three times, Breeders’ Cup Mile three times, Irish Champion Stakes twice, Tattersalls Gold Cup twice, Eclipse Stakes, Champion Stakes, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, Prix du Moulin, Prix Jacques le Marois, Prix de la Foret, and Queen Anne Stakes.

And, of course, in Australia you had two of the most remarkable fillies of all time in Winx, winner of 33 consecutive races and a four-time winner of the prestigious Cox Plate, and Black Caviar, undefeated winner of 25 races and a Group 1 winner at Royal Ascot. These two fillies alone won an amazing 21 championships, including seven Horse of the Year titles. Winx bridged the huge gap between racing in Australia and North America by winning the ever-growing Vox Populi Award, founded in the U.S. by Penny Chenery, which goes to the most popular horse who did the most for racing.

It is understandable why fillies as a whole have endeared themselves to the public over the past decade more than the colts have. The public gets to know them and can embrace them and depend on them much more than they can the colts who come and go so quickly they are but a brief memory as racehorses.

Through most of the 20th century, males were far more popular than females because they stayed in training until the ages of 4, 5, and 6, while you had the great geldings like Roseben, Exterminator, Kelso, Forego, and John Henry remain in training until the ages of 7, 8, and 9. Because of that, they overshadowed fillies from the early to mid 20th century like Pan Zareta, Princess Doreen, Gallorette, and Bewitch who raced anywhere from 75 to well over 100 times and made a living racing against the boys. Bewitch was the exception having raced “only” 55 times and “only” 24 times against males.

Because Spendthrift Farm, who wasted no time in retiring their Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Authentic after only eight career starts, was bold enough to run Beholder in the $1 million Pacific Classic, in which she blew away the boys with one of the most explosive moves seen in years, and had her pegged to take on American Pharoah and the other classy males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before a fever derailed their plans, it is assumed they are going to race the recently acquired Monomoy Girl against males next year. That, along with her inspiring comeback this year after an 18-month layoff, having already secured her place in history, will make Monomoy Girl one of the most popular females in years.

Was this an act of pure sportsmanship, as opposed to their early retirement of Authentic, or these days is it simply more financially beneficial to keep a female in training with the possibility of earning millions of dollars in rich races like the Breeders’ Cup, Pacific Classic, Dubai World Cup, Pegasus World Cup, and Saudi Cup? That is a question only Spendthrift owner, 87-year-old B. Wayne Hughes, can answer. It could very well be the former or a combination of both. Hughes has always come across as a sportsman. Either way, it is the filly who will develop a huge following and one day find her place in the Hall of Fame.

So welcome to horse racing in the 21st century, the era of the females. Or as a twist on the title of the cult film of the 1960s, Where the Girls Are.

The most popular sign during the reign of Rachel Alexandra was “Runs Like a Girl.” The key words there are “Girl” and “Run.” Thoroughbreds are born to run. They love to run. It just so happens that most of them who do the running now are girls.





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47 Responses to “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar”

  1. Gloria says:

    Hey Steve! Looks like I’ve got some catching up to do! And I’m starting with this story since I saw the title “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar”. I appreciate the nods to Helen Reddy, as she is my favorite female singer and I was saddened to hear of her passing in September. (I’m listening to her Christmas CD as I write this). And if seeing Helen Reddy mentioned wasn’t enough, I knew you would talk about my favorite racehorse of them all, Zenyatta! Your list of fillies brings back memories for me and I’m glad I got to see some of these girls on the track. Thank goodness their owners let them run for a few years before retirement. So frustrating to watch a horse go off to stud when they could continue to race. I’m making a copy of this story and it’s going in my Zenyatta scrapbook(s), which includes 10 volumes right now. Who’d have thought after her retiring there’d be enough out there for me to keep up on her goings-on, offspring, etc. a decade on? After reading this, I am going to catch up on your other stories. Merry Christmas, Steve. And thanks for all of these awesome stories you bring us. Oh, and by the way, I voted for Monomoy Girl for the Vox Populi. 😉

  2. I *always* root for the girls against the boys!

  3. Carolina Corl says:

    Love the article and all the comments. Was really hoping Authentic would participate in the Pegasus. As improvements are made to reduce fatalities even further, hopefully that will encourage all horses to run longer before going to the breeding shed and encourage breeding for soundness as well. It is a certainty that there won’t be any boys without the girls. May they all stay sound healthy regardless of age or gender.

  4. dance with fate says:

    Thank you for highlighting a hallmark of 21st century racing. The fillies & mares are magically shimmering, having taken center stage again globally ~ they’ve often excelled historically as well. Running with the colts/geldings is growing more accepted here. Besides longevity & knowing their stories, charisma &/or tragedy/overcoming injury/illness also inspire more love of a racehorse. Heartbroken & sad only for those who don’t make it home safe & sound. Bittersweetly, the thoroughbred lays her/his beautiful heart & spirit on the line every time.

  5. Kram Remlap says:

    Great and deserving essay honoring the contribution of female horses to Thoroughbred Racing.

  6. Matthew Wohlken says:

    I remember when Zenyatta was tired after the loss, and suggested they race her as a 7yo….because she transcended the sport, she was favored in two CLASSICS, and would have romped in the Drossylmire Classic….they could have brought her to Belmont—once the winning streak was over there was no more pressure—but she was exhausted, and they retired her—fillies have no where near the value of a male champion, male horses are just getting good—Authentic could have been great, Vino Rossi had just run a terrific race and….gone! So we root for the fillies….Gamine coming back next year, in fact she’s pointed for the Dec 26th La Brea….I also heard there will probably be a Nashville vs Charlatan battle in the Malibu on opening day–the present you open AFTER Christmas!

  7. Laura Lanham says:

    Darn shame what is happening today. They just march the boys off to stud today when they need that other year to race. You could almost see Bob asking for another year to work with Authentic after he won.

    The Spanish Riding School in Austria nevr uses the mares in the performances. They still go through the basic training though. Then based on that and pedigree bred. Lucky enough years ago to go to DC and watch a 20 year old stallion perform. Granted not our sport but lessons to be learnd from it

  8. Davids says:

    Steve, funnily, I actually watched the movie version of “I Am Women” last night. Screenwriting, unfortunately, is an art form that has vanished over the years. Chronological order was also misrepresented here as well. One, definitely to skip off the bucket list.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article though. As you know, European racing is very different than US dirt racing and it does take a certain type of filly/mare to tackle the boys on dirt in the US. Whereas, in Europe, the style of racing there allows the fillies/mares more scope to tackle the boys on regular occasions. The French stewards, in particular, wouldn’t tolerate some of the roughhouse tactics that you sometimes see in US racing.

    Just in passing, there appears to be a ‘perceived wisdom’ that all the champion 3 year colts go to stud at the end of their 3 year old campaign. Untrue. Of the past ten 3 year old champions: Maximum Security, West Coast, Arrogate, California Chrome, Will Take Charge, and Animal Kingdom all raced at four. Only, Justify, American Pharoah, and Lookin At Lucky were retired to stud at the end of their 3 year old campaign. I’ll Have Another was injured and forced into early retirement.

    Interesting? I’m sure most people would have predicted that, in the past 10 years, the majority of champion 3 year old colts retired early. I know I did.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Hi David, I didnt even know there was a movie like that. As for your stats about 3-year-old champions retiring. It/s not really about champions, its about big-name horses in the Triple Crown that people fall in love with. Arrogate came along very late and still had a lot of racing to do, ,and Juddmonte has always been about racing (see Enable and lots of others). Of the others you mentioned, West Coast was not a really well-known horse and the others really had little stud appeal and their owners knew there wouldnt be a great demand for them from breeders and buyers. So there was no reason to whisk them off to stud. I’m talking about the big-name high profile Triple Crown horses with a great deal of stud appeal who you knew would be super 4 year olds. Those are the ones you hate to lose so early.

      • Davids says:

        Yes Steve, you seldom hear of half the cast that had becomes household names during the Derby preps once the Triple Crown races have been completed. It was more an exception to the rule that a majority of the champion 3 year olds, over the past decade, had not gone to stud early.

        In Europe, the National Hunt horses fill the void when the flat runners go to stud early. Moreover, becoming household favorites for years.

    • Matthew Wohlken says:

      Turf isn’t like dirt racing….fillies are equal to colts in speed and in stamina, but not strength—the shorter they run, the more equal they are…and the longer they run, too—but dirt racing isn’t like turf—turf kicks are much faster and shorter, around 3/16…..dirt kicks are more grinding, and longer, around 3/8….Euro turfers are superior because that is their game…American dirt runners dominate the Dubai World Cups….

  9. Kara says:

    ps, I mean, just LOOK at Swiss Skydiver and the example she is setting Today. She says: “Never give up”, “Find a Way through – even tho’ the opening is narrow”, “Keep ON…….”.

  10. Kara says:

    Hi Steve, Love your ability to state the truth of the present day moment. And you do bring the positives to light. It is Remembrance Day and we all have a purpose here to make the world better for others. Yesterday was the 245th Marine Corps Birthday; Marines are proud (and it hits home when one is lucky enough to hear the Marine Corps Hymn sung with passion and gusto – from he who “was there”). Horses in racing can teach us drive and determination, spiritedness and playfulness. Thank goodness they’re not carrying men into battle these days. They do deserve special attention for all that they have carried us through and all that they have been for us.
    Having read Sam Savitt’s ‘True Horse Stories’ and many a Red Smith article, you have a unique approach in addition to the awe and the fascination these earlier writers inspired. It’s amazing how much interest and curiosity can be generated when the history of a favorite subject is brought forth – and to all that it relates, be it culturally, geographically, medically, etc, etc,)
    Always looking forward to your next…!
    Thank you… your writings make me think, and I love the references you make – especially to Helen Reddy, this year. An opera singer friend would always say: “I am grateful, for I know upon whose shoulders I stand.” She put together a show about the first African American [opera] singer to perform at Carnegie Hall, in 1892, Sissieretta Jones.!
    On the subject of fillies and mares, my little story of one summer I spent hot walking at a barn or two in Saratoga (my first time with thoroughbreds), I found ‘the girls’ to be much more precocious and particular, and I believe the grooms were telling me not to offend them (the fillies, not the grooms) with perfume scents – but that could’ve been a joke on (unsuspecting) me.. Ha! — ‘‘twas the summer of John Mellencamp on radio, the Pointer Sisters and Phil Collins and Dan Fogelberg at SPAC …. Gets me wondering what genre of music might relax or comfort or inspire horses ?!!

  11. Delrene Sims says:

    The girls seem to have the grit and determination and the staying power for all the reasons you mentioned. It’s so hard to just see. Male horse run just a few times, win big and then whisked off to the breeding farm. I really felt sad hearing that Authentic wasn’t even going to the Pegasus….. obviously I’m. Not in charge.

    Seeing that we have Monomoy Girl next year gives me ❤️ and hope.
    And I cannot believe the foot injury photo. Ouch and she still put up a fight. Swiss Skydiver, you rock.
    I sure had to delete a lot of boys in my Equibase and some of the girls. Bye to starship jubilee and other lovely stars of the racecourse. We will miss you.
    Thanks for this edition of Always a great read.
    The phrase Run Like A Girl, sure has new meaning .

  12. Juliana Ochs says:

    I love the word racemare. I remember the females of the late sixties, with their epic battles in their own division and their victories over the males. Think Shuvee, who beat males twice in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and went on to be a goos broodmare, and Princess Pout who beat males in top company before foaling Alleged. The Amazon have been around forever but are more noticeable because of the scarcity of mature males. We roll our eyes when colts are rushed off to stud instead of rising to greatness, but smile when one of our beloved fillies return to the track. It makes me sad that so few great males have raced in recent years and even sadder when the word great is thrown at a horse who hasn’t proved anything on the track. If it weren’t for the mares and geldings we wouldn’t have anything left to root for.

  13. Mike Sekulic says:

    It always blows my mind when someone says that “the girls can’t beat the boys,” because there’s just an enormous amount of evidence and race-results to the contrary of that absurd statement. Female horses routinely defeat males, and I would say that they do so in stakes races every single weekend the world over. On Preakness day, for example, when SWISS SKYDIVER defeated colts, there were 5 other Grade 1 races in the world won by females racing against males.

    Horses win and lose races based on a lot of factors. Gender is not one of those factors.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      You will see fillies beating colts more often like in Europe. Have you seen a photo of of the foot that Swiss Sskydive ran with. Thank goodness she’ll be OK for next year.

    • Mike Sekulic says:

      I should have said that on Preakness weekend (not day) that females defeated males in 6 Grade 1 races around the world.

  14. Amy Spear says:

    Steve this is awesome and I agree with you the Girls are our heroes, we get to watch many of them for 2 or 3 years if not longer if we are lucky.
    I love it when their owners put enough faith in their abilities to put them in against the boys and they dominate!

  15. Sheila says:

    Reminds me of racing in 60s/70s when the girls like Shuvee, Amerigo Lady, etc., stayed in training a long time and were not afraid to take on the boys. And unless my eyesight is worse than I think I did not see mention of Lady’s Secret.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I mentioned on several occasions in the column that we’re talking about the past 10 years. I could have mentioned at least 50 fillies in addition to Lady’s Secret if I went back that far.

  16. Dale Hager says:

    Thanks Steve. You put to words how I feel. I’m watching the Keeneland sales now and you would think they breed to race but in reality it’s the other way around. It’s depressing and a little angering to see the list of 3 y.o.champions shipped off to the shed. Thank God for the fillies and mares.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Amen, Dale. you can spend $9 million on a filly at the sales, knowing there is a pretty good chance she will earn possibly $1 or $2 million of thatre back with a big year. And then even at age 5 or 6 you still have some 15 years of her producing to make a profit at the yearling sales or 2-year-old sales where the name alone will bring big prices.

  17. otterbird says:

    What a wonderful celebration of the wonderful fillies and mares we’ve been blessed with recently. I was there for Rags vs. Curlin and watching those two splendid chestnuts eyeball each other down the stretch is one of my best sports memories, ever. And I agree with you about the noise at Saratoga when RA won the Woodward. My riding buddy and I drove up from NYC that day just to see her run and reliving it on the way home was worth every minute we were stuck in traffic.

    I hope more trainers run their talented fillies against the colts. I really miss seeing a filly in the Kentucky Derby, but oh, this year’s Preakness was Rags vs. Curlin all over again, right down to the jockeys. Only with bays this time instead of chestnuts. 🙂

    It’s so easy to grouse all day about the current state of horse racing, but pieces like this remind me of how good we’ve had it with the Distaffers for over a decade now. May they keep coming. Run like a girl, indeed.

  18. Karen Estis says:

    Yes yes yes! I do think we are seeing filllies and mirrors race longer in the upper echelon because there isn’t the stud fee draw of males. Racing IS a business… But it would nice if the business were RACING….

  19. Erin says:

    How many starts are currently required to be eligible for the HOF?

    • Steve Haskin says:

      No requirement, but the committee members frown upon a horse with lest than 10 starts, and even those who have slightly over 10 better have done something so exceptional like Gostzapper and the track records he broke and his versatility. That is one reason why horses like Rags to Riches, Smarty Jones, and Afleet Alex have not gotten on the ballot. Justify probably will only because he won the Triple Crown.

  20. Rebekah Lane says:

    Spot on, Steve. I was in the stands for Zenyatta’s Classic win, and we cheered until we were hoarse. I was also at Churchill for her loss, when it seemed that the sound of sobs and murmurs of disbelief buried the cheers for Blame.

    Being of your generation, I remember some of the great turf fillies and mares of yesteryear who came from Europe to beat the boys here. Estrapade, the only female to win the Arlington Million, and April Run, All Along, and Dahlia in the DC International. Plus, of course, Allez France, the Arc winner who ran but couldn’t win here (or any other place outside France). And, although she stayed in Australia, the only three-time winner of the Melbourne Cup, Makybe Diva.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Allez France ran here only once on the dirt at the end of her career when she was over the top. It was a terrible decision to run her in California in a trumped up race.

    • Davids says:

      Allez France was the favorite in three runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Finishing second, first, and fifth in that order. In Europe, especially in the 1970s, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was/is THE race to win.

  21. Jo Yuhnke says:

    Steve, thanks for the memories. I’ve spent more time rooting for the “girls” this year and believe pulling the colts at 3 to head to the breeding shed is ridiculous. A money maker, sure, but if the sport wants to have a decent fan base they need to keep those horses on the track. I also follow the Standardbreds and was disappointed to see the same thing occur with this year’s top three year colt.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      That is a shame, Jo. I was weaned on harness racing and had the privilege to be at Roosevelt Raceway to see some of the all-time greats who ran for years — Bret Hanover, Cardigan Bay. Albatross, Niatross, Fresh Yankee, and the gerat French mares Roquepine and Une de Mai. Those were exciting nights.

      • Deacon says:

        I remember harness racing very well. They used to run at Santa Anita way back in the day.
        I remember Adios Butler, Widower Creed, Nevele Pride & Mack Lobell.
        I think I got Stanley Dancer’s autograph when I was young.
        Bret Hanover was a monster, many believe he was the standard.

  22. Lynda King says:

    You ROCK Steve! Thank you.

  23. Deb Q says:

    Why Monomoy Girl should be HOY

  24. Deacon says:

    Steve you are totally spot on with this brilliantly written blog. It seems that the Breeder’s Cup Classic, the Dirt Mile & 12 furlong Turf are swan songs for many of our colts. Maximum Security retired today as well. I am beginning to really dislike Baffert. As good a trainer as he is I am thinking he wheels these horses in & out each year like an automobile assembly line.
    Of those great fillies you mentioned, in addition to Monomoy Girl my favorite was Rags to Riches. Her Belmont Stakes win against Curlin is one of the greatest races I ever saw. She never seems to get much pub, except basically from you and a few followers. If you go back further we had Royal Delta, Ashado, Sightseek, Ouiga Board & Goldikova to name a few.
    Collectively I think the girls have out shinedAs long as racing fans are in love with the Triple Crown the boys will always have center stage, even if it is only for a couple months.
    Loved this read Steve.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks, Deacon. I think this trend is happening all over the world. Just look at th fillies in Europe and Australia and their domination over the boys. The trend here now is retire the colts young and run the fillies. They will be, if they arent already, the heroes of the sport.

  25. Amy Hurley says:

    Spot-on commentary, Steve. The great thing about the females sticking around for years is the rivalries that develop. One of my favorites was Blind Luck vs. Havre de Grace. Even their normally mild-mannered trainers grew quite heated at times during that one. It’s just a shame that Midnight Bisou had to be retired due to injury. I was really looking forward to at least one more match-up with Monomoy Girl. But it’s great that Monomoy Girl will be racing next season.