Today it was announced that Thoroughbred, Ria Antonia, will race in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. The first thought that went through my head was, “Aw, jeez. Here it comes…”
“It,” of course, is the lingering misogyny that pervades American Thoroughbred horse racing.
I specify that the historic sexism in the sport of horse racing exists in the sport of Thoroughbred racing, because in the world of Arabian horse racing–no such prejudice against f!llies and mares exists. Interesting, eh?
I’ll be honest with you: I have no idea if Ria Antonia belongs in the Preakness. I don’t know if half the horses in any given race belong there, ever. Yes, she’s lightly-raced:
at two, she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies when She’s a Tiger was DQd. This year she came in second in the Santa Anita Oaks. And in the Kentucky Oaks on May 2, she did a dismal sixth.
My only concern then was that she wasn’t injured, of course. I never want a horse to win a race at the risk of their life.
Ria Antonia came out of the Oaks unscathed, apparently. Neither injured nor sick. Perhaps she just got a bad trip. Her majority owner, Ron Paolucci took her out of Baffert’s barn and gave her to trainer, Tom Amoss.
Yesterday at Churchill Downs, she had a darned nice workout: according to Amoss in today’s Blood-Horse:
“She had a nice work (May 11 in 47:60 for a half-mile) and looks good today…we have a healthy, sound horse and are ready to roll the dice.”
So Ria will race in the Preakness, ridden by Calvin Borel. How will she fare? No idea. She may do well–she may come in last.
But however she does, even if she loses miserably–she will not lose because she’s a f!lly.
If she loses, she’ll lose because
— she wasn’t ready
— the race didn’t suit her
— she didn’t have enough races under her belt before the big day
— she got stuck in traffic
There could be many reasons why she loses, IF she loses.
But it will NOT be because she’s a f!lly.
Today I’ve seen at least two headlines (including ABC News) that announced that Ria Antonia would “…take on the boys” in the Preakness.
Hey, now. For years I’ve heard people–fans, turf writers–knowledgeable folks, all–state without hesitation that f!llies aren’t as physically large as colts. Not as strong or fast. That they spook more easily.
Their absolute belief in this concept is based on empirical evidence–that which they’ve observed with their eyes.
But unfortunately that “wisdom” is not Science. Science proves otherwise. You may not like it–you may pronounce that I don’t know what I’m talking about–but Science begs to differ.
Let’s dice this out, again:
* Horses–including Thoroughbreds–are prey animals. They ALL spook when they sense the presence of a predator. And to horses, everything but the barn cat is a predator. One-hundred-thousand screaming fans: predators. The horse stalking you in the race predator, regardless of gender.
* In 2008, Dr. Pauline Entin, a physiologist at Northern Arizona University, conducted a study and produced a white paper. Her methods and results are too long to go into here, but I keep re-reading her paper because it’s fascinating. And her conclusions are indisputable:
To quote and paraphrase myself in a previous entry here on Saratoga.com:
“…You see, the problem with this unscientific conclusion of inferiority is that it’s just not based on reality. The lie has been shattered by an actual scientist who intentionally studied male and female horses, precisely to determine IF there’s a physical difference between the two genders–a difference that would account for differences in racing speed, etc.
Dr. Entin conducted an extensive scientific study of both racing Greyhounds and Thoroughbreds, to define the physiological differences between dogs (predators) and horses (prey)–and the prevailing human attitudes toward the males and females of the species being studied.
Her paper was presented in 2008. One of her conclusions in the fascinating document was that there is a negligible 1.2% difference in lung capacity and muscle mass–physiological measurements–between female horses and male horses.
(In humans, the accepted physiological difference is 10%.)
Another conclusion was that negative human attitudes carry more weight in determining a female horse’s racing destiny than her physiology. A long-held tradition of negative human attitudes creates a human culture of oppression…”
Citation: Entin, P.L. Do racehorses and Greyhound dogs exhibit a gender difference in running speed? Equine and Comparative Exercise Physiology. 4(3/4): 135-140, 2008 Dr. Pauline Entin, Northern Arizona University
So the observations that f!lies aren’t physically capable of succeeding when racing against males is simply pseudo-science, reinforced on the firm foundation of cultural bias. And this is predominently an American bias, for other countries around the world which race Thoroughbreds, race f!llies and mares against colts and older male horses as a matter of routine.
And we know that I’m all about language: as we speak, as we write, so we think. If headlines keep announcing that a f!lly will “take on” colts–as if it’s either a Major Big Deal, or that the trainer and owner somehow are abusing her by forcing her to go against those big, strong, tough boys–we continue to perpetuate a system that’s not only backward, but completely out of step with the rest of racing on Planet Earth.
I ask you one thing tonight: Look at the photo, above. That’s Ria Antonia. See those chest and leg muscles? See that thick neck? See that determined face, and flaring nostrils?
Look at her,and ask yourself: if you didn’t know that she’s a female–could you tell by the photo?
The answer is a resounding, NO.
If the language that will describe Ria Antonia’s bid on Saturday is peppered with “…against the boys” language–please stop and realize that those words, read over-and-over, are very much a tool of the system of sexism that pervades American horse racing.
American media makes money by finding news…and not all are discerning enough to stop and actually THINK about the implications and the power of their WORDS.
Star f!llies and mares in the United States will continue to be treated as exceptions to the rule–as freaks–as long as racing media and general media continue to report news like Ria Antonia’s bid for the Preakness as if it’s newsworthy.
She’s a horse who’s going to race in the Preakness. Period.
It just happens that, under those rippling muscles and gritty determination, she’s packin’ lady parts. And those lady parts aren’t heavy enough to slow her down.
Photo of Ria Antonia courtesy of Daily Racing Form.