As an educator, I am acutely aware of the pervasive lack of knowledge we Americans possess of history, and not just of the ancient past. Mention the Spanish Civil War—nay, the American Civil War—and students are hard-pressed to name the time period it occurred, let alone the issues surrounding it. They can’t differentiate between Frank Lloyd Wright, and Orville and Wilbur Wright (trust me on this—it’s happened). Undoubtedly this is attributable to our societal obsession with the present, living in the “now” without concern for how and why we got to the place we are. So when I hear comments about how female horses shouldn’t run against male horses, I cringe because rather than basing that belief on some statistical analysis—i.e. scientific methodology—it’s derived solely from our mere human predilection for anthropomorphizing everything around us and applying our socially-imprinted bias. In 1974, when Little League baseball was basically forced to allow girls to play on boys' teams, I was there—one of three girls to play for the Dry Tavern (PA) Reds that year. Thus my natural rebellion at hearing that old school idea that “girls can’t compete against boys.” Been there and done that.
I am not a scientist—my Ph.D. is in Art History, not biology, so I cannot address with authority the physiological or developmental issues regarding running fillies and mares against males. I can merely raise issues and present research done by others, and from the additional probing I have done, I gather that there is a profound lack of scientific study that can definitively answer many of the questions raised. However, as a historian, I can look back into the past for evidence that refutes the notion that some how female horses can’t compete against males, as well as the implication that these mares subsequently suffer when it comes to breeding more quality offspring. First, there are a number of suppositions to dispel or at least question. While critics can point to any number of highly-successful female runners who failed as broodmares (Regret, Genuine Risk, Winning Colors, Sky Beauty, Bayakoa, and Davona Dale immediately come to mind), how could we know that, biologically, they would be more successful if they had not run against males or been raced at the high level they were? What is the overall percentage of winning or black-type offspring among all thoroughbred mares? For every Genuine Risk or Winning Colors, I can present the following examples of females who raced effectively against male horses and have been successful broodmares:
Imp (Wagner-Fondling, by Fonso; b. 1874). The famous “Coal Black Lady” ran 171 times from age 2 to 7, defeating all the most important colts of her era (according to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame website); at 5 she became the first mare to win the Suburban Handicap. She produced the stakes winner Faust and another winning colt Devilkin.
Black Helen (Black Toney-La Troienne, by Teddy; b. 1932). At 3, she defeated males in winning both the Florida and American derbies. One of her daughters, Be Like Mom (Sickle) produced the champion filly But Why Not (Blue Larkspur) who placed against the boys in the Dwyer, Suburban and Metropolitan; her gelding son How Now was multiple-stakes placed, including wins in the Del Mar, Bing Crosby, and San Francisco handicaps—twice each.
Busher (War Admiral-Baby League, by Bubbling Over; b. 1942). Winner of 10 of 13 races at three (and placed in the other 3), she beat colts in the San Vicente and Hollywood Derby, finished third in the Santa Anita Derby, and then defeated older males in both the Arlington and Washington Park handicaps. Her son Jet Action (Jet Pilot) was a multiple-stakes winner at ages 3-6, while her daughters produced multiple stakes winners.
Two Lea (Bull Lea-Two Bob, by The Porter; b. 1946). At 4, she finished third to Calumet stablemates Citation and Ponder in the Santa Anita Handicap; after 22 months off, she came back at 6 to defeat males in winning the Hollywood Gold Cup. Two Lea produced three stakes winners: Pied d’Or (Nasrullah), On-And-On (Nasrullah)—who not only won multiple stakes (Brooklyn Handicap, Ohio Derby, et al), but was the broodmare sire of Alydar—and the great Tim Tam, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who lost the Triple Crown when he finished second in the Belmont Stakes—with a cracked bone. Interestingly, Tim Tam was the broodmare sire of Royal Entrance, dam of Davona Dale.
Silver Spoon (Citation-Silver Fog, by Mahmoud; b. 1956). First filly to sweep the Santa Anita Oaks and Santa Anita Derby (also accomplished by Winning Colors), she finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby, although she defeated the winner Tomy Lee and other colts later that year in the Cinema Handicap. Among her seven foals was the multiple stakes winner Inca Queen (Top Flight, Sheepshead Bay, Demoiselle), who produced 11 winners including stakes-winners Hail Bold King, Exile King and Metfield.
Affectionately (Swaps-Searching, by War Admiral; b. 1960). At 4, she won the Vosburgh and Sports Page handicaps against the boys; at 5 she beat them again carrying 124lbs in the Toboggan Handicap—by five lengths. Her son Personality (Hail to Reason) won the Wood Memorial, Preakness and Jim Dandy in 1970. Affectionately’s dam, Searching (War Admiral-Big Hurry, by Black Toney) made 89 lifetime starts, finishing in the money 55 times, including 25 wins. Among her other offspring were the fillies Priceless Gem (Hail to Reason) who won the G1 Futurity at two—defeating Buckpasser—and Admiring (Hail to Reason) whose daughter Glowing Tribute (Graustark) produced, among many others, G1 United Nations winner Hero’s Honor (Northern Dancer) and Sea Hero, who won the Champagne, Travers and Kentucky Derby.
Dahlia (Vaguely Noble-Charming Alibi, by Honey’s Alibi; b. 1970). Mostly raced in Europe, she defeated males multiple times from age 3 to 6, including winning the G1 Washington DC International at 3. Other G1 races she won against males include Canadian International, Man O’War Stakes, Benson & Hedges Gold Cup (twice), Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, and, while based in the US at 6, she won the G1 Hollywood Invitational Handicap. She produced over a dozen foals, four of which were G1 winners: Dahar (Prix Lupin, Century Handicap, San Juan Capistrano and San Luis Rey), Rivlia (Hollywood Invitational), Delegant (San Juan Capistrano), and the filly Dahlia’s Dreamer (Flower Bowl Invitational).
All Along (Targowice-Agujita, by Vieux Manoir; b. 1979). At 4, she won four major races in 41 days, starting with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, then five days later the Rothmans International at Woodbine; two weeks later she was in New York to win the Turf Classic, and finally the Washington DC International at Laurel—all against male competitors. The following year—ridden by Angel Cordero Jr.—she was upset by longshot Lashkari in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Turf. Her son Along All finished second at two in the G1 Grand Criterium, and then won the G1 Prix Greffulhe at three.
Personal Ensign (Private Account-Grecian Banner, by Hoist the Flag; b. 1984). At 4, she defeated males in the Whitney before defeating Derby winning filly Winning Colors in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. As a broodmare, she produced G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Miner’s Mark, multiple-graded stakes placed Our Emblem (sire of Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem), and G1 Oaklawn Handicap winner Traditionally, as well as the fillies Salute (runner-up in the G2 Demoiselle) and My Flag, winner not only of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Ashland, Coaching Club American Oaks and Gazelle, but third place finisher in the Belmont Stakes.
Dance Smartly (Danzig-Classy’n Smart, by Smarten; b. 1988). At 3, she was the first filly to win Canada’s Triple Crown—the Queen’s Plate, Prince of Wales Stakes, and Breeders’ Stakes. She also defeated males in the Molson Export Million. Among her progeny are back-to-back Queen’s Plate winners, Scatter the Gold (also won Prince of Wales) and the filly Dancethruthedawn (winner of the G1 Go for Wand at 4). Another son Dance With Ravens won the G2 Grey Breeders’ Cup at 2, and the Plate Trial Stakes at 3.
Serena’s Song (Rahy-Imagining, by Northfields; b. 1992) At 3, she won G1 Haskell and G2 Jim Beam and raced successfully at 4, winning four G1 races. Her first offspring Serena’s Tune (Mr. Prospector) was a multi-stakes winner; her second filly Sophisticat (Storm Cat) won the G1 Coronation Stakes in England, and was G1-placed in France and Ireland. Among her sons are Grand Reward (multi-graded stakes placed in Europe, G2 Oaklawn Handicap winner), Harlington (G2 Gulfstream Park Handicap winner), stakes-placed Arbitrate (Dr. Fager S.) and Spark Candle, who runs this Saturday in the Peter Pan.
These are but a few examples. Statistically, do they prove anything? Well, no. No more than anecdotal observations about how dangerous it is that fillies race against males establish themselves as fact. Examine the history of racing—explore the careers of the great American fillies and mares: Fashion (who in 68 heats over 2 to 4 miles each, lost only 13 times, and regularly defeated males); Miss Woodford (from 1882 to 1886, she made 48 starts, winning 37 and finishing out of the money only twice—at distances up to 2-1/2 miles—regularly defeating males); Beldame (won Carter, Suburban, Saratoga Cup); Gamely (won Inglewood Handicap); Lady’s Secret (won Whitney, second in Woodward and third in Metropolitan); Shuvee (New York Filly Triple Crown winner who twice won the Jockey Club Gold Cup against males); and Tosmah (champion 3-year-old filly of 1964, at age 5 she defeated Kentucky Derby winner Debonair in the John B. Campbell Handicap).
How about Bewitch (won the Washington Park Futurity, handing subsequent Triple Crown winner Citation his only loss at 2); Black Helen (at 3, defeated males in winning both the Florida Derby and American Derby); Bowl of Flowers (at 2, won National Stallion Stakes against males, and at 3 won 2/3’s of Filly Triple Crown—the Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks; she finished two noses back in third against males in the Roamer Handicap later that year); Chris Evert (at 3, finished third in the G1 Travers); Cicada (at 2, won National Stallion Stakes); Gallorette (at 3, finished second in the Wood Memorial and Dwyer; in subsequent years she went on to regular defeat male competitors, winning the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, Carter and Whitney among many others); Maskette (at 2, won Futurity; at 3 she won the Pierpont Handicap over four-year-old colt Firestone, but finished second to him in Aqueduct Handicap, and at 4 second in Sheepshead Bay Handicap); and Top Flight (at 2, she defeated colts three times—in the Saratoga Special, Pimlico Futurity and Belmont Futurity; at 3 she raced only against her own sex, but won the Acorn, Arlington Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama)?
These are the Hall of Fame thoroughbreds for whom today's stakes races are named. We honor their memory and their achievements every year, and we don't even understand why. If, for the past 160 years—since Fashion defeated not only her male nemesis Boston, but also that stallion’s daughter Bostona—female horses have successfully raced on American turf and dirt against male rivals, maybe we better look a little deeper than just gender. There is a very real crisis in the sport of horse racing today—and plenty of blame to go around as to who is responsible for the deterioration of the breed. What we need now is someone—a commissioner per chance—to straightforwardly articulate the real issues, and have everyone—from breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, backstretch workers, track officials and even fans—work together to formulate real solutions to insure American horse racing is around for the 22nd century.