The New York Racing Association is holding its annual exercise in lip-service to women with its “Fabulous Fillies Day” at Saratoga on Thursday. You know the drill: pink is the couleur du jour, and attention is supposedly paid to heightening awareness of the dangers of breast cancer.
Increasing cancer awareness among the general populace is a worthy goal. If New York’s agencies governing racing wished to make a real contribution, however, they might take a close look at how they value the contributions of women when it comes to positions of responsibility in horse racing.
The New York Racing Association that is holding the “Fabulous Fillies” event has a 17-member Board of Directors — one is a woman. There has never been more than one woman on the Board since NYRA was taken over by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2012. While there was some publicity about NYRA being returned to private control this year, the reality is that the “private” board is the same as the prior Board controlled by the state government. Not a single new person was named, and the appointment process was controlled by the Governor.
NYRA’s reliance on white men is not confined to the Board. Of the 12 “Senior Executives” at NYRA, only two are women: the “Chief Experience Officer” and the Controller.
The government agencies with oversight responsibility for NYRA continue the pattern. The State Gaming Commission’s five members, as well as the Executive Director, are all men. The five-member Franchise Oversight Board has one woman. The members of both agencies consist solely of government appointments.
For those keeping score at home, that means of the 40 top-level positions controlling racing in New York, only four are occupied by women.
It’s not as if women are not prominent figures in thoroughbred racing. They muck out stalls, ride horses during morning training hours, and are assistant trainers, trainers, jockeys, veterinarians, owners and breeders. Women have prominent positions nationally in racing organizations.
In New York, the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association has a woman as Executive Director and three members of its 11-member Board are women. The 11-member New York Thoroughbred Breeders Board includes five women. Both groups elect their boards, so it is clear that their members recognize that women are more than “fillies” who can be ignored when it comes to decision-making.
Of course, even referring to women as “fillies” is dismissive and demeaning. If NYRA were to promote prostate cancer screening, it is hard to believe they would come up with a “Stunning Stallions” promotion.