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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Does Harness Racing Need the Equivalent of Title IX?

This week, Monticello Raceway had their Lady Godiva Pace for women drivers.  The race had to be rescheduled from earlier in the year because it was hard to get eight women drivers together.  Even this time it took some last minute effort to get some lady drivers from afar to complete the field.

If there was a thoroughbred version of the Lady Godiva, there would have been no problem getting enough women jockeys together to compete; you probably could have gotten enough women jocks to fill more than one race without much effort or travel.  For some reason, thoroughbred trainers and owners seem to be more willing to give women jockeys a chance, at least with overnight horses. 

Unfortunately, for some reason, harness racing has never really embraced women drivers.  Yes, at some of the smaller tracks you will see women drivers, especially when they train and own their own horses.  But when it comes to your larger tracks, women seldom get the opportunity to be in the sulky during a race.  This attitude needs to change in order to attract a more gender-diverse customer base.

I am convinced the only way to get more women in the sulky is to give them more opportunities to compete against their own.  What if tracks scheduled one race each day for women drivers?  It would certainly increase the demand for women drivers as you would need at least eight to ten of them daily for at least one race.   Granted, it isn't the same as driving eight or ten races each day but after a bunch of races a women driver may get enough 'face time' for trainers and owners to be willing to give a woman driver a chance against the men. 

True, by carding races exclusive to women drivers you can argue you are giving them special treatment, but let's not kid ourselves, if a woman is not any good as a driver, trainers will stop naming them even in women only events.  The opportunity may be given to them, but it will be up to them to take advantage of it and prove themselves.

For the sport to attract more women to the betting windows, we have to get to a point where a Lady Godiva Pace is not be a novelty, but just part of a day at the track.


Marv S. said...

Women aren't the only disadvantaged group in harness racing. Not a lot of African-American drivers, Hispanic, Asian drivers either. Perhaps a different approach is in order to attract a diverse group of drivers as well as trainers and owners. Especially given we are considered the most grassroots branch of horse racing.

Anonymous said...

Pacingguy: It's doubtful holding races just for women drivers is legal. NY and many other states prohibit public places from treating people differently based on gender. I know tracks have held races restricted to women drivers and Monticello, as part of an annual series, restricts other races to drivers of certain ethnic origins. While interesting as a promotional tool, they seem to violate the law.

Remember "ladies days" at baseball stadiums and "ladies nights" at bars? Charging women less for baseball tickets and alcohol didn't fly. While I agree racing should look for ways to involve more women as drivers, the sport needs to operate within the law.

If more people paid attention to what goes on in racing, attorneys probably would have long ago convinced judges to stop all races that aren't open to all drivers.

Pacingguy said...

Some good points raised here. Yes, it would be good to get other groups more active in the sport. I will be the first one to say I am not aware of the number of individual minority groups that are having a hard time to break into the sport as driving though out at Cal Expo, it seems Hispanic drivers are readily accepted. I will try to get more information regarding minority participation and write about it in another column.

As to the legality of races for women drivers, I am no lawyer but I suspect having one race for women each day would not be a problem as you are not really discriminating against men when you have in reality all the other races being driven solely by men. If you had a day of races restricted to women drivers, then I could see there possibly being a problem.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the NFL should also mandate that 2 games a year are played by teams consisting only of women. Seriously guys, do you have so much free time on your hands that you find a need to INVENT "problems" and then find ways to fix them?

Pacingguy said...

I don't believe I am inventing a problem. Is it the number one problem? No. But sports like the NFL and NASCAR took steps to increase interest of women so why not harness racing?

Anonymous said...

Your argument that more women would be interested in wagering on harness racing IF there were more races for women drivers has no basis in fact. What IS factual is that existing gamblers will bet LESS money on races where the skills of the drivers are "lacking", and therefore increase the chances of a "bizarre" result.

Pacingguy said...

How many women do you see wagering on harness racing? My contention is if women can better relate to the sport, they will wager (more) on harness racing. What better way to develop a relation to racing than having someone you can relate to in the sulky. This goes for trying to get women interested, or individuals from other minority groups. You need to be able to identify with the sport to be interested.

Do you think women are discriminated when it comes to driving in races? If so, is it correct?

I would agree, having a race here and there would not encourage wagering and damper it due to the lack of a record for these drivers. However, if women were given more opportunities to race and develop a proven driving record, I think people would wager at least as much as they do now.

Pacingguy said...

For the record, the Lady Godiva Pace, the 6th race on Monday handled a total of $59,700. On a typical Monday card, the 6th race handle is between $57,000-$62,000 though on a really good day it could go as high as $70,000. But if you look at typical wagering, the handle on the Lady Godiva was $200 over the median pool.

Anonymous said...


I'd like to know what an attorney with experience in civil rights and discrimination issues thinks of races restricted to women, even if it's just one race a day. Most states don't allow bars to give women free or discounted alcohol unless the same offer is made to men. Doesn't matter if it's one day a month or one hour a month. Other women only events have been successfully challenged. The legal concept is treat everyone the same. Perhaps you could get some opinions from lawyers for another thread, especially those involved in racing. Howard Taylor comes to mind.

As to women jockeys outnumbering women harness drivers, the most logical explanation is thoroughbred's reliance on weight. Even though people over the years have grown taller and weigh more, women are still generally smaller and lighter than men, thus making them good candidates. A man with outstanding ability who weighs 140 pounds won't make it.

Pacingguy said...

I may be able to get an opinion from an attorney. If so, I will put the response here.