05/28/2014 4:52PM

Gisser: Breaking through the Glass Ceiling

Derick Giwner
Owner Richard Young and his top pacing mare I Luv The Nitelife.

In the business world, the glass ceiling refers to the highest a female (or minority) executive can rise as compared to her male counterparts. That those women, regardless of how talented, experienced or capable, will not get the chance to work the most prestgious jobs and make the best salaries. Based on that definition, it is pretty clear we have a glass ceiling when it comes to veteran pacing mares in harness racing. The stakes races for that division are widely spread on the calendar and the girls go for less money than the boys.

Female pacers and trotters have nearly always gone for less money than the boys at all ages. Look at the purse discrepancies in the Little Brown Jug and the Jugette, or the Hambletonian and the Hambletonian Oaks. It is true on the Thoroughbred side, as well.

The discrepancy even shows up in the Breeders Crown and that is directly attributable to the number of nominations, according to Moira Fanning of the Hambletonian Society.

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“The Breeders Crown purses are made up solely of nomination, eligibility and sustaining payments, with added money coming from the stallion fund to keep the older purses at least $200,000. They are traditionally the ones needing the most “added” or support money because they have the fewest eligible and only two payments (though a third payment was added to the two opens events this year).  Over the past 30 years we have often had fewer than 20 mares eligible to the Crown after the final payment.”

Richard Young campaigned top distaff pacers Put On A Show and currently has I Luv The Nitelife back in training, hoping to come back from an injury. She has been training in 2:15 and is on schedule to return, but there is an issue.

“It’s a real problem,” said Young. “We hope to be back for the two Meadowlands Stakes in July (The Golden Girls July 12 and the Lady Liberty July 26). The first one is iffy; the later one is looking good. But if she isn’t ready, there is not an open stake for the girls until September. She’ll certainly be ready by then. There are only seven or eight stakes races for pacing mares all year, and the Yonkers series is so early that most of the top mares aren’t ready for it. The Meadowlands cancelled two other mare stakes this year. And the Betsy Ross is an Invitational, so you can’t even count that.

“I realize the boys are the glamour division and that tracks want them there. But I almost feel that tracks are not trying to write races for the mares. Several tracks have added stakes for older pacing horses, but not for the mares,” he added.

Jeff Bamond, who campaigns multiple veteran pacing mares, including divisional champ Anndrovette, agrees. “I went back and looked at Eternal Camnation’s 4-year-old year. She raced for almost a million more (in 2001) than we did last year. You know there will be a drop-off from 3 to 4, but Richard’s mare made more money at 3 than she would race for in total purses this year, if she raced the whole year. The boys, the big stakes, they get 50 nominations at $5,000; we get 20. That’s $150,000.

“The boys are so spread out. You don’t have to race against a Foiled Again every week, since there are plenty of weeks with multiple stakes. But we have three long breaks this season. It’s hard. Some people look at the stakes calendar and realize that racing in the open at Pocono or Chester, wherever, cheapens them, since they don’t want to face a Shebestingin and Anndrovette, and that same group every time. They figure they are better off breeding them than racing them.”

The Meadowlands’ Darin Zoccali agrees that there is a shortage of opportunities for mares. “I took a look. The boys race for about $6.5 million, the mares for $2.5 or $2.6 million, so you can’t deny it. The horses have about 25 big stakes, the girls have about 10.”

But the lack of supply may be caused by a lack of demand, according to Zoccali. “This year we had to cancel the Cape and Cutter. We had just 11 nominations – not declarations (entries) but nominations. There is no way you can run a series that way. The Overbid we had 11, including a four-horse stable entry. With our schedule, there is just no way for us to move those races.”

So why does the problem exist? Are there so few stakes because so few mares are racing, or are so few mares racing because there are so few stakes. And either way, why?

The Hambletonian Society’s Fanning says, “Lets’ face it, fillies are the low rung on the totem pole all the way around in yearling prices, etc., and pacing fillies even more so. The only way to increase opportunities for them is to have the business of racing change, which it is doing. There is good overnight purse money out there now for mares. No one wants to create a stake and have 25 eligible and six show up. So the more mares racing, the more viable making a race for them is.”

Bamond points out an issue that the average person is unaware of, “For some reason, mares often don’t come back as well from being turned out. A horse, it seems, often comes back the way you left him, but the mares don’t always. So you lose some there.”

And, then there is the calendar, as Bamond pointed out, especially with the Breeders Crown races being late into November this year. Richard Young agrees, “Look, the Yonkers series (The Blue Chip Matchmaker) is a good opportunity, but it’s just way too early in the season. Why not move it to fill one of the holes?”

Regardless of what caused the problem, the sport needs a solution to bring the mares at least on level with the number of opportunities available five, 10, even 15 years ago.

Perhaps including mares under the so-called Gural Rule would help. While that rule requires horses to race through their 4-year-old year, it does not put the same onus on a mare.  While this has not hurt the mares directly, it has increased the disparity in purses and opportunity. Would a similar rule help the mare divisions? Perhaps, says Zoccali.

“We are just starting to see the effects with the horses,” he explains. “It might work with the mares, but the money would have to be there. You can’t just say ‘you have to race at 4’ and not have the purses and opportunities there to back it up.”

But Young has another idea. “The mares Opens are going for $25, 30k. Why not add a series at each of the tracks hosting major stakes. It could be like the trotting series (Miss Versatility) but maybe not with the different distances. Make each leg $40,000 and race it the week before the elims of each track’s stake,” Young suggested. “This would give the mares three consecutive starts over a track at one location. Then race for a $250,000 final in the fall.”

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Lexington could be a perfect place for such a final, since most of the top mares are already there for the Allerage Farms Pace. Or perhaps another track could step up and fill the long stakes hole prior to the Breeders Crown.

“The old Classic Series was great,” said Bamond, mentioning the now defunct series for older horses. “And now, with slots purses at so many tracks, bumping those legs to $40 or $50,000 won’t cost the tracks much more than the opens they write now. Start in May and use it to fill those holes in the calendar.”

And there has been some movement. Tom Charters, President and CEO of the Hambletonian Society, volunteered the following, “Mare races for the very top rung are the one real opportunity with the stakes calendar, especially at the beginning of the year and in the Fall. That was why, when asked by Greg Kiedel about new races for Miami Valley and Dayton Raceway, we suggested that division. What’s the old baseball saying, ‘hit ‘em where they ain’t.’” 

Regardless of why it occurs, it’s important to find a way to fix it, as Zoccali sums up, “Bringing the pacing mares to a comparable level with the horses is important . . . for racing, for the breeding industry and for the foundation of harness racing as a whole.”

Now go cash. Hopefully on a major open mare stake. See you next month.