THE AMERICAN BIAS AGAINST FILLIES & MARES

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp Racecourse is arguably the most prestigious horse race in Europe.  The 2018 renewal on October 7th saw Enable, a 4-year-old filly, win the race, by a short neck, for the second consecutive year.  The 3-year-old filly Sea of Class was a fast-closing second.  Thus in a field of 19 horses that were overwhelmingly of the male gender, the two females prevailed.

European-based fillies and mares have often come to North America and competed successfully in Grade 1 turf races against male horses.  Goldikova, for example, won the Breeders’ Cup Mile three years in a row and Found and Peebles both won the grueling 1 ½ mile Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Why is it that European-trained fillies and mares are routinely entered in the biggest open stakes races, whereas North American-trained fillies and mares normally run against their own gender?  Opinions may diverge on this question, but here is my take…it is cultural:  American trainers are inculcated by their mentors and tradition with the idea that fillies and mares should almost always run against their own gender.

Unlike their European counterparts, North American trainers mostly adhere to conventional thinking when it comes to entering fillies and mares in open races.  Wins by Winning Colors in the Kentucky Derby, Rags to Riches in the Belmont, Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward, and Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic are exceptions that prove the rule.

In addition to cultural predilections, the present-day point system for qualifying for the Kentucky Derby is not conducive to fillies obtaining enough points.  A filly that dominates in gender-restricted races earns no points.  Prior to the point system, a trainer of a late-developing filly could take a shot at the Kentucky Derby instead of the Kentucky Oaks.  That is no longer possible unless the filly has won one or more 3-year-old stakes races against open company.

In the upcoming Breeders’ Cup races at Churchill Downs, it is all but certain that fillies and mares will run in the Breeders’ Cup (turf) Mile and the Breeders’ Cup Turf.  Most or all of them will hail from Europe, and Enable, the 2017 and 2018 Arc winner, will likely be among them.

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