Secretariat

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.