11/06/2015 4:31PM

Hovdey: Even racing can’t keep a good woman down


Eddie Gregson could have waited until the morning after the 1982 Kentucky Derby to announce that the victorious Gato Del Sol would not be running in the Preakness. Instead, he dropped the bomb on ABC and Jim McKay in the midst of the winner’s-stand celebration, which went over about as happily as a certain noise in church.

Gregson’s point, of course, was valid. No matter what the pressures of tradition, Gato Del Sol was not the kind of horse who should run right back in two weeks after a grueling race, especially after having competed in the Blue Grass Stakes just nine days before the Derby.

Alas, the point was lost in the furor over Gregson’s timing. He was pilloried in the press and mocked at Pimlico, where general manager Chick Lang threatened to put a mule or a goat in the stall usually reserved for the Derby winner. Gato Del Sol ran once more for Gregson, and then he was fired.

This is a long way of telling Maria Borell, who was fired as Runhappy’s trainer the day after they won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, that she is in good company. Ian Jory had California 2-year-old champ Best Pal yanked from his care by John Mabee midway through a 3-year-old season in which he finished a close second in Kentucky Derby. Jimmy Jerkens lost Fountain of Youth winner Quality Road, among others, when he was dumped by Ned Evans. Bobby Frankel, who tended to speak his mind, once lost the talented horses of Jerry and Ann Moss, including Ruhlmann, who went on to win the Santa Anita Handicap for Charlie Whittingham.

Even Whittingham was not immune. In the fall of 1964, his primary patron was C.C. Moseley, the aviation pioneer who fancied himself quite the horseman. One afternoon, Whittingham arrived at his Bay Meadows stable to find a row of empty stalls where the Moseley horses had lived. Whittingham’s friend, Dr. Jack Robbins, asked what happened.

“The man wanted me to blister all his horses,” Whittingham said. “I told him it wasn’t such a good idea. He told me to do it anyway, so I told him where to put the peaches.”

A few days later, oil magnate Howard B. Keck called, and Charlie was back in business. Granted, he was a little further along than Borell, with a reputation firmly in place. But that’s not the point. The point is that trainers sometimes can’t win for losing, and that they labor at the pleasure of their patrons while treading a tightrope strung between job security and good conscience.

This in no way explains away the actions of Jim McIngvale and Laura Wohlers, who have dragged the racing game through a muck pile of bad vibes. Those who choose to participate in Thoroughbred racing are not necessarily required to behave well in public, but they do have an obligation to conduct their business in a manner that reflects admirably on the sport. McIngvale conceded in an interview with The Paulick Report that the timing of the Borell firing was poor. At least he got that right.

Barely a day later and half a world away, the Melbourne Cup provided horse racing with a palate cleanser that helped dilute the Runhappy mess. Michelle Payne, 29, became the first woman to ride a Cup winner in the 155-year history of “the race that stops a nation” aboard the 100-1 shot Prince of Penzance. For context, Frankie Dettori finished second, and Ryan Moore was far back.

Upon pulling up from the two-mile ordeal, Payne let loose a cascade of joy and praise – which was expected – then added that she was especially grateful to have retained the mount in the face of the sport’s rampant male chauvinism and the less-than-100-percent support of the winner’s ownership group.

Her timing was perfect.

There was the predictable reactionary push-back that Payne’s remarks were inappropriate at such a celebratory moment or just plain inaccurate, given the statistical evidence of women holding licenses to train and ride in several of the world’s top racing nations.

Such a shallow interpretation of numbers, however, confuses the difference between simply having a job and being given a fair chance to advance in that job. Payne was merely loosening the gag required for most women in racing to go along just to get along in the face of paternal condescension, physical intimidation, and sexual harassment. To those who criticized her refreshing honesty, Payne had a simple message: “Get stuffed.”

There is a movie making the rounds right now called “Suffragette.” It’s about the women’s suffrage movement in England, circa 1912, and how the male establishment played hardball to keep the other 50 percent of the citizenry in its place.

A minor role in the film goes to a suffragette named Emily Davison, who on June 4, 1913, stepped into the running of the Epsom Derby in an attempt to attach a scarf of protest to the bridle of Anmer, the horse owned by King George V. Four days later, Davison died of injuries sustained in the protest.

One hundred years is hardly enough time to dispel the deeply ingrained residue of gender prejudice in any corner of the culture, horse racing included. Just as Davison sacrificed herself to the cause, Payne said what needed to be said at just the right moment. I suppose it is progress that she got to do it from on top of the horse.

Cliff Amyotte More than 1 year ago
but we will forget the name of the store and owner quickly....because don't like them anymore!
Cliff Amyotte More than 1 year ago
The owner's who are marketing people themselves missed a hell of an opportunity to elevate themselves in the spotlight ............Too bad...will remember Maria Borell's name, Runhappy
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
This McIngale thing IS a debacle but it too will go away. One fact has emerged that will stand and I don't care if it's read from the muckpit or the witness chair, The Official Chart of the 2015 Breeders Cup Sprint lists Maria Borell as the Trainer of the winner, Runhappy. It always will. Good article, Hovdey. These are bits of history and few will like them all.
Tim Shugrue More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the article. Mr. Reach, I really do not know what to say about yours. Most Trainers do own horses and take tremendous financial risks training for others. I do not know of a single trainer who has not been stiffed by an owner. Having said that, A majority of the owners I have seen are wonderful, generous people from all walks of life that are a pleasure to be around. But you sir are an idiot. Be happy you have a job you say taking care of your horse you say to the groom that is living with your property 7 days a week, on call 24 hours a day. No you sir are a special kind of idiot. That is what makes this sport so wonderful, diversity. again Jay I loved the article. Ranger Tim
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
I love it when individuals who truly have no clue or whom have never been an owner calls another individual an "idiot" just because you have a differing opinion. I can tell you this Tim, you are a coward, as only that type of person would stoop to such vocabulary. I have no problem with your opinion on the subject, as we all have a right to our opinions. As for you call me an "idiot", I'm far from it, and you better pray we never get face to face. One thing I know, anyone who name calls is both wrong and a coward.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Horrible article. To suggest that any of these decisions were gender based is horrible. Horse racing is an expensive venture. The racehorse owner takes on all the financial risk involved in each horse investment. Each owner is going to make what he/she deems the best decision for the financial and wellness of the horse. It is clearly on based on performance and what they think will work out the best. Trainers and riders should be thankful that owners are willing to pay for the game they get to play and make 10% each off the performance of an owner's property. To suggest that any of these decisions are based on gender is a joke. It's flat out not true....period. The fact is most trainers and riders are men. So, based on that most owners will have a male trainer or rider. If an individual, no matter what their gender, can perform to the level the owner thinks they will benefit their investment, they will use that person. Do I think that Maria Borell got a raw deal on being fired? Yes, I do. But, I have no idea what factors were considered in the decision. But, I can tell you this....it had NOTHING to do with her gender. That is just irresponsible to even come to that conclusion. Truth is there are more successful trainers or maybe they have different plans later on down the road for breeding purposes, or bad communications or whatever. But, to claim the gender card in an insult. Whoever you are out there, be it a jockey, groom, trainer or any other horse worker. Be happy for a paying job playing with these great animals that OTHER people foot the bill for. Be happy when you are riding that winning horse. Stop whining and perform. As Julie Krone and Rosie N. found out, the World will embrace you when you show you can outperform the others. I don't like that Ms. Borell got fired. I'm a huge Runhappy fan and I thought she did an amazing job. But, guess what, I don't pay the bills on that horse. It's their call. This I know....the decision had nothing to do with her gender. And I'm insulted that this article even makes that a possible assumption. Horrible article.
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
Great Piece, Sir!!
Bruce Battaglia More than 1 year ago
I totally agree with your opinion of the runhappy travesty.The owner is a total idiot .This is a 100% different opinion then Andy Beyer penned. He knocked the trainer,put a picture of a horse that the lady had tatooed on her back.He said good horses in major races should only be entrusted to big named trainers with the best of staff .I think andy is also an idiot. This man fired Bob Baffert and I would bet mr. Baffert (best in the world) would say the lady did a great job with Run Happy.I would take Bafferts opinion over beyer any day...
Robert Clayton More than 1 year ago
The horse is the innocent victim here.....I would guess almost everyone will be rooting against him from here on out.....Its not Runhappy's fault he has a freak show for an owner
Dominic Rivera More than 1 year ago
What a great article!!!! #Hovdeysavvy
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
I think equating Charlie Whitinghams situation to Maria Borells is a little ingenious Borell was hired because she was a total unknown and agreed to be a private trainer who did exactly as told. She had not won a single race in 2 years when she called the shots. The owners have said she thought the horse was lame before the Kings bishop and wanted him scratched .so if she had her way the horse would not have won that race and would not have gone to the breeders cup. Now I understand the owners of the horse want things done differently and have fired many trainers but after spending millions and listening to top trainers they had nothing to show for their investment .so they picked some one to micromanage and pulled the strings .until the puppet rebelled. From what I've read she was a paid employee the owners paid for everything ,feed stables, employees etc. all she had to do was follow the programme. Regardless she could have gone out a winner .instead she's suing not only for the 10% which I think they should pay her regardless of her being a private trainer but she's also suing for breeding seasons to the horse.something that is the prerogative of the owner as to whether or not he gives the trainer or not. I don't think this incident has anything to do with women's rights .as for Miss Payne in Australia she won on a 100/1 long shot who being a New Zealand bred could probably stay all day. She should thank the owners of the horse for the opportunity instead of embarrassing them publicly for having doubts about using her .im sure other male jocks were dropped for various reasons as happens in the Kentucky derby or any other big race. And they graciously accept it and try to prove they were worthy. She not only got the ride but the win .just be happy.