Horse racing is one of the few sports in existence where males and females are allowed to compete against each other. Throughout its history, there have been female horses who have defeated males in racing's highest levels of competition. The ultimate recognition in racing is to be named Horse of the Year, and ten females have been bestowed with this honor. In Eclipse Press' latest book, Women of the Year, editor Jacqueline Duke and ten different writers pay tribute to these very special horses, who in the eyes of the voters were considered better than the male horses, the group which traditionally have held a grip on the title. As Ed Bowen wrote in the preface, "Any female who is regarded as the best racehorse of a particular year is a very special lady. These Women of the Year brought to the racetrack a compelling combination of speed, strength, class, and sass."
Each of the ten fillies or mares has her own chapter, complete with black and white photos. Reading their stories spans 120 years of American racing history, starting with Miss Woodford who was Horse of the Year in both 1883 and 1884, and ending with Azeri who earned her title in 2002 after a dominating win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park. Each chapter gives a very complete narrative of the horse's life, explaining how her breeder decided on the magical mating combination and then describing her success on the track. The role of her connections - owner, trainer, and jockey - are explored. Finally, the subject horse's career as a broodmare is discussed. The editors included a small historical trivia box in each chapter listing women's successes during the subject horse's championship year.
In particular, the story of 1899 winner Imp, written by Eliza McGraw, is one that will truly amaze contemporary racing fans. "The Coal Black Lady", as she was referred to, raced a now-unheard-of 171 times, winning 62 races, 16 in stakes company, including a win against males in the Suburban Handicap. That win contributed to her Horse of the Year award, and ultimately to her induction into racing's Hall of Fame over sixty years later. Fans of turf racing will enjoy Steve Haskin's chapter on All Along. The French filly shipped over to North America immediately after winning the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe to sweep the year-end championship turf races in 1983, all against males. The sweep of the Rothmans International, Turf Classic, and Washington D.C. International earned her a $1 million bonus and clinched not only the champion turf mare title, but Horse of the Year as well. Interestingly, she was trained by Patrick Biancone and ridden by Walter Swinburn, well-known today but still young up-and-coming talents at the time.
Among the other horses featured are Regret, the popular Kentucky Derby winner who helped put the Run for the Roses permanently into the national consciousness, and Moccasin, the pride of Claiborne Farm, who is the only juvenile filly to be named Horse of the Year, something not even the great Ruffian was able to accomplish. The chapter on Azeri is incomplete given that at the time of writing she was still in training.
This is clearly a book for racing history fans, especially fans of the distaff side. By defeating males at the awards ballot box if not on the track, these fillies and mares have earned their place in history and this is an excellent tribute to their successes.
Women of the Year has a list price of $24.96 and is available from Amazon.com for only $16.97.
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