VIENNA, Va., May 1, 2013 – As the days dwindle down to Derby Day on May 4, so do the chances for one group of equine beauties to have a shot in the big race. Which group? Fillies. Yes, the fillies of the world that have run in the big race for years and won three of them are neither welcome nor allowed in the race. And it’s all due to the good old boys who run Churchill Downs.
For years there has been a winnowing process to establish which horses (and fillies) were allowed to run in the big race. It was based on the total sum of money that a horse earned during a series of pre-Derby races held throughout the country, and a horse had to win a certain number of those races to be eligible to run for the roses.
And that’s why a bunch of fillies were able to run heretofore, and for three to win: Winning Colors (1988), Genuine Risk (1980) and Regret (1915) out of a total of 39 that have run in the race.
Thus, the 20 top money winners in the high echelon races, called graded stakes, were qualified to run. And it was a cross-section of racing, since it mattered not if it were a short sprint race, a longer one, or whether it was a turf (grass) race or a dirt one.
The top 20 were in and the rationale was just that simple — make enough money and the Churchill Downs door was open whether you were a filly or a colt.
The change in rules now restricts Derby contestants to points assessed for how they perform in a specific set of races. The fly in the ointment is that NO fillies races are included in that group of races, thereby precluding any filly, even one named Dreaming Of Julia, (by A.P. Indy out of Dream Rush) from being entered.
And her story is classic and to the point. Dreaming of Julia’s field of honor was the Gulfstream Park Oaks race in Hallandale Beach, Fla. She ran a fantastic race and took watchers’ breaths away. Not taking any pot shots at the other horses, she literally ran away from the others and crossed the wire ahead by 21 and ¾ lengths ahead of the nearest contender.
She is a good horse, trained by Todd Pletcher, which says it all. But she won’t be in the Derby, since the Gulfstream Park Oaks is a fillies race. So it doesn’t matter how many races she ran or won and where they were held. She’s out.
Of course, the good old boys had the last word: their response was that if a filly was that good, she should have run against the boys instead of the girls and won there. Falling on rather normal ears, it sounds ridiculous. Why even have filly races then?
Now please understand, to my knowledge Todd Pletcher never said he’d run her in the Derby, but that option has been taken away from him and that seems grossly unfair. His Forty Tales just won the Derby Trial by a neck and his stables are always represented.
There have been fantastic fillies, and the Horse of the Year for the last three out of four years, that highest ranked award, has been a female horse, beating probably the best of the males in the business. It makes no sense to exclude a topnotch equine athlete simply based on gender. Where is the EEOC for horses? Looks like we racing lovers are going to need one.
Of course, we will still have the Kentucky Oaks on Friday before Derby, the premier race for fillies, and the hats will be gaudier in a genteel way, the flowers as lovely, and the fillies their normal grand selves. But it takes something away from the Derby to make it an old boys’ club latter-day run for the rose-less.
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