Saratoga Horse Racing

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So much has been written about me in the last week, and will be written about my tribe of equines in the near future.  Concerned about my welfare and that of members of my society, humans are all up in arms today, worried--ranting and reporting--bout our welfare.

And we appreciate that--really, we do.  

But it strikes us that the problem really is more complicated than the media would have us believe:

*  Everyone's acting like this is a revelation, that allegedly, a horse trainer did bad things to members of my tribe.  

*  Everyone's acting like allegations such as these happen only in Thoroughbred racing. 

*  Every time something like this happens, humans get all fuss-and-feathers, and start squawking that this is a "wake-up call," as if it's the first time anyone has heard of anything like it.

*  Horse racing is not the only sport that uses members of my equine tribe, and yet it's been singled out as being satan, incarnate.  YES, the sport IS in dire need of fixing.  You humans have GOT to get your act together, and put us--noting but us--first and foremost.  Otherwise, all this ridiculous, political infighting will keep men in blue suits rich and us, unprotected.

*  We haven't heard about an expose in any major newspaper "busting wide open" the disgusting, evil practice of soring.  

*  And the "New York  Times" has printed several articles that side with the New York City horse carriage trade.   

From our perspective--this is wildly inconsistent.  Either you care about the welfare of ALL we horses--or you don't.   Either the "Times" is a real newspaper--or it has an agenda far-deeper than exposing horse abuse.  And that agenda, itself, should be investigated.  Is the "Times" receiving money from some politician who hates horse racing?  Does the paper need simply to sell more rags?

And I'm thinking  that horse carriage drivers don't dine in five-star restaurants, so the perks of investigating them aren't as cool as hanging with Thoroughbred trainers.   (The "Times" does a lot of citing of veterinarians and quotes by carriage drivers who  lament the possible loss of their careers and their lifestyles.  Hmmmm...)

It's obvious to us that you humans can't decide which horse welfare causes are worthy of your time, and which can be swept under the rug.  Your priorities are as messed up as your human society, itself.

So I have decided that the time had come for me to tell you about myself, and about members of my tribe.  Clearly, you people need some education.  And you need to realize that the American attitude about horse welfare for ALL horses must be changed, or nothing will change, at all...
Advertising in the western world focuses (way too often)--less on the product and more on catering to the puerile cravings of 15-year-old boys.  I'm embarrassed by the American advertising community:  I believe that, of all the nations of the world, American advertising is more likely to exploit women than ads from anywhere else.  It's a sad statement, but the empirical evidence indicates that it's true.

Case in point:  check out the adverts during the Super Bowl, every year.  Same old, same old:  beer.  Boys.  Chicklets, scantily clad.  All geared toward carving teen-age boys into men whose brains and hormones are stuck in a very sleazy, undesirable place.

One of the few exceptions to this is the Budweiser ad that features their magnificent Clydesdales.  Every year, Budweiser produces an ad that makes us choke up, and love those horses all-the-more.  No one would dare drape a half-naked woman across the back of a Budweiser Clydesdale.  Even though Budweiser has other ads during the Super Bowl and thereafter that feature the aforementioned chicklets--they leave the Clydesdales out of the smarmy mess.

Horse racing seems to be the one sport that's promoted, by-and-large, without pandering to the lowest element.  The Bessemer Trust and Longines come to mind when I think of beautiful, horse-centric ads.  For this I am grateful:  

it's absolutely unnecessary to diminish women in order to sell ANYthing, don't you think?

Bessemer Trust and Longines create ads that rise far above the concept of mere advertising. Their ads are Art..



For a few years now, a thought has swirled around in my head.  I believe that the thought had its birth in the fact that I'm not yet a member of the National Turf Writers' and Broadcasters' Association.  Not that they wouldn't have me--God knows,I'm pretty sure that I've got enough chops and stuff on my resume that qualify me for active membership.

But I--yes, I, Empress of All My Eye Surveys--am a bit intimidated by the process.  At this moment,I'm pulling my stuff together to initiate The Process...but still, in love with myself that I am--am a bit cowed by the idea.   Do I pray that Someone Big notices me,and says, "By God, THAT woman should join our club!"?

So, I'm not a member.  Hopefully by this Kentucky Derby weekend, I will be.   

Anyway, all that got me to thinking...if I'M confused...and God knows, I have NO lack of self esteem or confidence...might other women in racing media be hiding in the shadows?  

And what if We Women joined forces, and created a horse racing media organization that would nurture, inspire, bless us--and help us to connect?

And that led me, after several years' pondering...to January 25th, 2014.

That was the day day that the organization, Women in Horse Racing Media, was created... 

No pretty pictures in this one, dear readers.  Pictures would be too distracting--and today, it's the words that I hope you'll embrace.

This is what I wrote on Facebook:

..and people wonder why I'm nuts. I just found out that once again, the Stronach Group is sponsoring the Ms. Racing Queen contest. Ye Gads. (It's hard to write this, with one index finger down my throat.) Ring-ring-ring! Hello, Frank? It's the 19th Century: they want their misogyny back. Horse racing will move forward by leaps and bounds the minute that ALL women in the industry are valued, and not ranked by cup size. 

The things that DO matter: love for The Horse. Knowledge of The Horse, and commitment to the industry. Passion, intelligence, unrelenting drive. Here are some REAL contenders for the title, Ms. Racing Queen: Penny Chenery. Virginia Kraft Payson. Maggi Moss. Meg Levy. Suzi Shoemaker. Suzie O'Cain. Pat Rich Turner. Patti Reeves. Mandy Pope. Josephine Abercrombie. Helen Alexander. Dr. Lisa Fortier. That's a start. 

I WILL be discussing this on Monday's f!lly Racing Radio show, and writing about it in the next 20 hours for Saratoga.com. Agree with me or not, I'm convinced that the outlandishness of a "beauty" contest--like a bikini contest in the Preakness infield--has no place in horse racing. This is a sport, not a brothel.


Horse Racing in Georgia? 

It's legal, you know.  To race horses in Georgia, that is.

Pari-mutuel betting in Georgia?

Not so much.  In fact, not at all.

Yes, it IS a situation that makes no sense.  At least, not in a way that American horse racing fans understand.  In the U.S., horse racing without wagering is a sport that cannot grow, because the bucks from wagering are needed to pay the bills.  (That is the VERY simple way of stating a very complicated system.)
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I acknowledge that the conversation about horse racing and wagering is SO long and complicated--and I know that I'm not the ideal person to argue the economic benefits of bringing the sport in its full form to the great State of Georgia.  I'm not an economist.  Not a politician. I'm not in Georgia.

What I am...is an opinionated Upstate New Yorker, and a woman whose heart is torn to shreds by horses every day, for one reason or another.  We'll get to the shredding part in a minute...because, like a great pulled-pork sandwich (and Georgia knows about barbecue, for sure)...horses and human hearts are the real, best argument for horse racing in Georgia, or anywhere...
Feedlot Horse PhoenixRidingHorseRescue.JPGI've been thinking about this for several weeks now.  Like many of you who are involved with horse racing--I spend part of every day of my Life feeling guilty, and thinking that I should just pack it up and take a job as secretary to some corporate moron.  

You know--a 9-to-5 gig, in which I never take work home with me, not even mentally. Mindless, spineless--no emotional connection to the job, the work or my co-workers.  Get a (slim) paycheck for basically putting up with the control issues of a corporate wonk with low self-esteem.

I know that I can't go back to that--but also I can't justify being in horse racing, unless I DO Something.  Horse racing has its detractors--and some of the criticism is justified.

But racing also has its fine, amazing points:  chief among those are The Horses...



Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for NYRA - Logo - XL.jpgLast night I attended the NYRA Public Forum in Saratoga.  The Forum was held at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, in the gorgeous Hall of Fame, itself.   (A space that's easy to take for granted--sitting among the names of the greatest horses, jockeys and trainers in a comfy chair--it's easy to forget that you're in an actual shrine--THE shrine--to our sport.)

So.  Race fans and locals to Saratoga, alike, have whined for years, that they want to ask questions of NYRA officials, and get answers.  (If I hear one more person say that there should be a forum that's open to the public--I'll scream.) And yet, only approximately 60 people showed up, of 125 who could be accommodated.  (I shudder to think that there may be more race fans who can't figure out how to do an RSVP, than know how to place a bet...?)

Moving on:  NYRA hosted the Public Forum--and five of the highest-up-the-food-chain were there:

Christopher K. Kay, CEO and President
David O'Roure, Vice President of Corporate Development
Glen Kozak, Vice President of Facilities & Racing Surfaces
P.J. Campo, Vice President & Director of Racing and 
Patric Mahony, Senior Vice President of Pari-Mutuel Operations

Ergo, every aspect of NYRA's operations was covered by the presence of these five people. No one with a question could gripe that, 

"Well, the right guy wasn't there..."


Ahhhh, race fans...another big weekend at in horse racing is upon us.  Not just A big weekend, THE Big Weekend.  This weekend, for those of you who don't travel to Saratoga for the races--or have yet to experience the majesty--or who may be in a full bodycast:

This is the weekend that will see SIX--count 'em, six--stakes races with purses over $100,000.

The million-dollar Travers Stakes--which dates back to 1864--will be run on Saturday, August 24th.  The purse, $1,000,000, indeed is a tasty prize:  only the country's best three-year-old males are expected to race.  Orb, Verrazano and Palace Malice will go up against each other, and those who dare face that wholly unholy trinity.   ;)

I really, really, really need to point out here that the Travers is NOT restricted to males, only--it just happens that there are no females in the race this year.  Can we ever just make a statement like that, regarding female race horses, and let it just sit as a single statement?  Not go into a whole discussion about female horses vs. male horses?  As the late, great Jess Jackson said, let's just take our best horses.  Put them on the track, and let them run against each other...
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Saratoga merchandise logo 2013.jpgThe New York Racing Association (NYRA) has an annual ritual that I love.  Everyone who's local loves it, because for five hours once a year, the magnificent Saratoga Race Course is wide-open to the public.  No admission fee (and hey, the charge to get in during racing season is CHEAP, anyway)--but on this day, the public is invited to charge, cruise, meander, mosey, job, slide, shuffle through the storied gates free-of-charge.

And once you're in the gates, you get to experience all kinds of fun, both horse-themed and family-oriented.

(This year, NYRA gives a special gift to the community because this year Open House is being billed as the Opening Ceremonies for the 150th anniversary season of Saratoga Race Course.  In case you live under a rock or on Mars, or for some other reason aren't-yet aware, Saratoga Race Course is the oldest race course in America--and the oldest sporting venue of ANY kind in the entire United States.  Pretty cool.)

Cooler-still is the fact that this very special day presents an opportunity for you--yes, YOU--to help grow the sport of horse racing.  How?  I'm glad you asked...
On Kentucky Derby Day, I arrived at Lenny and Patti's house, ready to rock.

I plopped down onto their comfy sofa, sipped from my Coke, and jumped into the lively pre-Derby conversation.  OTB tickets distributed, we three launched ourselves into the fray.  Ah, the camaraderie of Derby Day, whether you're on Millionaires' Row or Lenny's couch.  We could feel the vibe in Louisville, all the way up here.

The joy of anticipation quickly dissipated as the advertisements took stage on NBC Sports Network's pre-Derby show.  

The first ad I saw was for Stella Artois.  Nice ad. Stella's a beer, and their ads are stylish.  Respectful of women.  I love their marketing genius, to suggest strongly that imbibers consume their beer from a chalice--as opposed to a glass.  Brilliant.  Their ads always feature a woman and a man, drinking Stella Artois from chalices in a graceful environment.

Nice.

I smiled during this ad, thinking about the brilliance of the person who conceived of this marketing strategy--and of the intelligence of the honchos who gave it the nod.

My pre-Derby reverie immediately went downhill after Stella.  

The next ad was crammed into my eyeballs--in 53," high-def, full-color, violent, full-assault mode--and utterly freaked me out.  From my retinae, horribly enough, it burned forever into my memory.  

You see, the next ad was for a razor. But not just any razor:  it seems that some men are overly concerned about body hair.  And this electronic, hand-held lawn mower has one job in its miserable existence:  to rid men of unwanted body hair.  Of course, the only bits shown by the ad were of men scraping hair off their chests and backs--but OH, GOOD GOD.  

I don't want to see that--no one does.  (A show of hands, please, for those who think that watching a man groom himself is entertainment.)

No one wants to see that--except the "hot," barely-clad, young babes in the ad.  You recognize those young women who thank God every day, that they're not smart.  (Because when a woman is smart it causes trouble, for everyone.)   Apparently these single-digit-IQ'd chicklets want their men to be smooth as glass, and fake.  

Isn't this device the sort of thing that should be marketed by Word-of-Mouth, via BzzAgent.com, or some other man-to-man medium?  How about magazines directed at men?  Surely, they'd love to host ads for a product that will mow down even the most-hirsute of male bodies.

But the Kentucky Derby? Who--why--how--did anyone think that this ad was appropriate?

Shortly after the 60-second horror show, I realized something even more obscene and inappropriate:  

Whoever made the decisions about advertising...thinks that women don't watch the Kentucky Derby.  Or know, love or participate in horse racing.

This is a problem...

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M.E. Altieri

THE ALPHA MARE, commonly known as M.E. Altieri, is a writer/editor/activist who lives and breathes the art and sport of horse racing—both Arabian and Thoroughbred.
At the tender age of six months, her Grandmother plopped her on the back of a pony. (See photo.) Three years later, Mare first rode a horse—an American Quarter Horse—on her cousin's farm in Stephentown, New York. That same year her Mother and Grandma took her to Green Mountain Park, a now- (sadly) defunct Thoroughbred track in Pownal, Vermont. Next stop, Saratoga Race Course. The seed was planted, and a passion, born.
While she does have other interests (Medieval languages and theology, cats, tigers, etc.) none hold a candle to her passion for horses. She finds that horses are far-more intelligent, compassionate and kind than 99% of the people she meets. Mare's career is fascinating, if nothing else: in 2011, she served as Editor of a beautiful history book, The Purebred Arabian Horses of Iraq: Myths and Realities by Dr. Mohammad bin 'Abdul-'Aziz Al Nujaifi. She's contributed to several international horse racing publications, including Al Badia, Arabian Finish Line, Desert Mirage and Galopp Magasinet.
She's the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of f!lly Magazine-- the magazine by, for and about women in horse racing. f!lly will debut in 2013. Both Thoroughbred and Arabian racing--and women, f!llies and mare from all around the world--will be featured in the full-color, beautiful, historic publication. Magazines are the first of the media M.E. wishes to tackle: she's also writing a screenplay, and seeks the perfect venue and producer for her horse racing radio show. She's got the voice; God knows, she has opinions--she feels led to put them together and broadcast to the 51% of the racing fan base that's too-often been overlooked. (Hint: 51%...could it be, women?)
An Alumna of Mount Holyoke College, Mare hopes to use these media, including her blog here at Saratoga.com, to encourage women and girls to find their vocations in horse racing and to help make the world a more loving and nurturing place for all equines. When asked to identify her Mentor, the woman who encouraged her to follow her bliss, Mare names the great Penny Chenery. Through these various media projects, Mare hopes to do for other females what Ms. Chenery did for her--open doors, encourage and bless.


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Thoroughbred Racing in Saratoga

The Thoroughbred is a distinct, created breed of horse. Saratoga Springs, New York is a unique, pristine city in Upstate New York.

Put the two together, Thoroughbreds and Saratoga, and you have America's most prestigious, lushly beautiful and important racing meet. For six weeks every summer, the world's best horses, jockeys and trainers come together to compete for trophies, cash and fame.

In this blog, we'll discover All Things Thoroughbred and the lovely international community of horsepeople, both professionals and fans, alike who set up camp in this city. Some come for six weeks, only. Others are here from April through November every year, when the Oklahoma's open. Yet others trek to town to race their mighty steeds—then fall in love with the place; buy a home and move here.

The Saratoga racing family of humans and horses is a year-round endeavour. You think that all the horses all go elsewhere after Labor Day? Then this blog is for you, too.

(Is the reference, "the Oklahoma" lost on you? Stay tuned, you'll feel like a pro in no time.)

Welcome to the only experience on Earth that can boast of such otherworldly beauty and heart-stopping thrills, all in the same breath: Thoroughbred racing in Saratoga.