Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Confessions of a Young Female Horse Racing Fan

When I first meet someone, I almost always get the same reaction. “You love horse racing, but you’re in your twenties and….you're a woman.” While I want to respond by patting that person on the head and handing him a cookie, I restrain myself and admit that I am one of the select few women who was lucky enough to realize the sheer awesomeness that is horse racing at an early age. Typically, I still get a dazed and confused look as I attempt to explain why horses racing from gate to wire is in fact a sport and why the heck I watch it every day, because of course, as a woman I should only pay any attention to gymnastics, figure skating, or football (....but not for the actual game, just the attractive men).

But I digress. Whilst most of you reading this already know I’m passionate about this SPORT. There’s more to me and horse racing than what I post on Twitter, so I thought this was as good a time as any to get a few racing-related admissions off of my chest.

Confession #1: Yes, I LOVE the horses
Plenty of people who watch racing are emotionally invested in the sport. It’s awfully tough not to be when you track your horse from one race to another, hoping that he or she will finally make it big. I screamed at the top of my lungs and jumped around the house like a maniac when Silver Charm, the first horse who stole my heart, won the Preakness Stakes after holding off longtime rival Free House and Captain Bodgit in a scintillating duel to the wire. It was in the very next race, however, I was brought back to reality when Touch Gold gamely fought tooth and nail down the stretch at Belmont to take the third leg of the Triple Crown. Just three-quarters of a length stood between Silver Charm and immortality, and yet as tears rolled down my cheeks, I had never been more proud of “my boy.” At the tender age of seven, I had realized the meaning of unconditional love.

Confession #2:  Speaking of Crying After Races….
I’ll be the first to admit that I teared up after Zenyatta lost in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I sat at a bar surrounded by middle-aged men, most of whom had drank far too many beers by that point, and I watched her come up just short behind Blame. As my eyes welled up with tears, a man behind me immediately yelled “See, I told y’all that she ain’t good enough. Goldikova is the real star.” I was not in the proper emotional state to combat a drunken man in that moment, but I have heard similar sentiments expressed since. No disrespect to Goldikova, who was phenomenal, but why do self-proclaimed “real fans” feel the need to diss the more popular horses as overrated and proclaim any of their fans as “bandwagoners” who “don’t understand racing.” Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe we have seen better fillies than Zenyatta, but there’s no doubt she was special, not only on the track, but in the hearts of the public. The fact of the matter is we could use another Zenyatta, Seabiscuit, or Smarty Jones. All three of them perfectly exemplified the beauty of horse racing and the meaning of a true champion, whilst capturing the nation’s attention. And although the new fans they attracted might not be scouring over past performances before each and every race, they’re still worthwhile, and are in fact an integral part of our sports’ survival, thus they deserve our respect.

Confession #3: I Go to the Track to (gasp!) Watch Racing
I’m sure I’m not the only woman (or young person, for that matter) who has not been taken seriously at the track before and I sure as heck won’t be the last, but why men assume I drove 2+ hours to be some sort of groupie looking for free drinks or a wealthy new boyfriend is beyond me. Trust me, I would not be there if it was not to watch the horses and (hopefully) pick a few winners. Sorry guys, but I don’t want five free beers or an invitation to your hotel room. I just want to watch the races...nothing more, nothing less.

Never has this situation rung truer than when I was in attendance at Santa Anita with a friend for Breeders’ Cup Saturday last month. A group of guys happened to sit next to us and proceeded to not only give us every opinion they had about every single horse, jockey, and trainer before EVERY race, but they deemed any opinion I had as “nice.” They even tried to teach us how to properly handicap a race while making sure that we “knew” they knew exactly what they were doing.

Put it this way, after listening to one of them spend nearly ten minutes explaining why Planteur was going to win the Classic, I had enough and made the bold statement that “Planteur would finish last,” before letting them know I was alive to Palace Malice, Declaration of War, & Mucho Macho Man in the Distaff-Classic double. They scoffed at the time because, of course, they “knew the Euros better than I did”, but how did that work out, boys?

Confession #4: Trackside Fashion is Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be
I could never, ever in a million years see myself being all dolled-up at the racetrack. A dress, heels, and a hat that’s larger than my cat….no thank you! That being said, I have never shown up to the track in jeans and a t-shirt either (and that includes during my beloved trips to Hollywood Park during my college years). Perhaps it’s because I have only ever been to a track during the fall or winter months, but a nice pea coat and boots seem to be the staple of any outfit I have worn while attending the races and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Kudos to those of you who wear three-inch stilettos to the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders Cup, but I like to be able to physically walk out to my car after a long day of standing.

Confession #5: It’s About SO MUCH MORE Than The Money To Me
I’m completely aware there’s a faction of racing fans who are all about the money and believe the race (or horse, jockey, trainer, etc) was horrible if they did not win their bets. I have nothing against these people. In fact, the occasional “BOOOOOM!” followed by “what the f---” a mere thirty minutes later can be entertaining, but, I don’t at all fit into that group.


Sure, I spend far more time than I’d ever like to admit watching and handicapping races, but I rarely bet, myself. Handicapping, for me, is a hobby and one that effectively satisfies my mind’s need for critical thinking and analysis (which is, sadly, probably the same reason why I have a mathematics degree).


Saying I love the horses more than the money is too vague though. Instead, I’ll say I love not only how beautiful these horses are physically (Will Take Charge, anyone?), but how incredible they are mentally, and how much heart the great ones have shown under the most pressure-packed circumstances. I love the journeys to stardom I have witnessed and watching the sons and daughters of my favorites hit the track for the very first time. And while I hate seeing beautiful souls taken away from us far too soon, comeback stories like that of Paynter give me hope for the future.


And like any other sport, I thrive on the rivalries, the titles, the blowout wins, the narrow defeats, the horses that are dominant and the ones who are always close, but can never quite find a way.

It’s those horses and their stories that feed my love of racing much more than the money I have won or lost along the way.

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