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Are Standout Female Racehorses a Passing Fluke or New Trend?

Zenyatta, left, with Mike Smith aboard, defeats Gio Ponti (green silks), along with 10 other of the country's best racehorses, in the 2009 Breeder's Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park. Female horses seem to be defeating males more regularly in major races. Is this a growing trend?
Zenyatta, left, with Mike Smith aboard, defeats Gio Ponti (green silks), along with 10 other of the country's best racehorses, in the 2009 Breeder's Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park. Female horses seem to be defeating males more regularly in major races. Is this a growing trend?Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Tasha LangleyContributor IJuly 31, 2011

For as long as horse racing has been around, the idea has always been strong that female horses are inferior to their male counterparts. The vast majority of races are sex divided, composed either entirely of fillies and mares, or male horses.

There have been exceptions to this rule, of course. Winning Colors stole the Kentucky Derby, horse racing’s greatest prize, over Forty Niner in 1988. Genuine Risk also won the roses in 1980, as did Regret back in 1915.

There was also Miesque, who conquered the Breeder’s Cup Mile over males not once, but twice in the 1980s, and Safely Kept, who defeated Dayjur by a head in the 1990 Breeder’s Cup Sprint (although it could be argued that Dayjur’s antics in the stretch cost him the race).

Despite this prestigious list, victories for mares over males have been few and far between. However, in recent years, fillies and mares seem to be making their mark in a major way in the world’s biggest races.

The question which arises is if female horses have been this equal to their male counterparts all along, and their owners and trainers too timid to run them in the biggest races, or if for some reason fillies and mares are just starting to take things to the next level.

Since 2007, North America has seen the Breeder’s Cup Classic, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, Breeder’s Cup Mile, Woodward Stakes, Queen’s Plate and Haskell Invitational (among others) taken by female horses, as well as having a filly finish second in the Kentucky Derby, and those are all Grade One races. Since 2002, three female horses have been crowned Horse of the Year, including the last two years.




Of course, the first name which comes to mind is Zenyatta, the super-mare who lost only once in her entire 20-race career, and that being by a mere head. She became the first filly or mare to win the Breeder’s Cup Classic when she dominated in 2009 after defeating every mare thrown in her path.

She won more than $7 million in purses, making her the most successful female racehorse in North American history, by earnings. She earned Horse of the Year last year after nearly taking the Breeder’s Cup Classic for the second year in a row.

Also on the list is Rachel Alexandra, who took the middle jewel of the North American Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, in 2009. However, not only did she defeat males in the Preakness, she again showed them who was boss in the Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes.

Rachel Alexandra was named Horse of the Year in 2009 in a battle with Zenyatta, although the two never met on the track, much to the dismay of racing fans around the world.

It’s a shame to only now mention Irish-bred Goldikova, who would likely be widely known as the best racemare of the last several years if not for the aforementioned two. Goldikova is currently on a streak of winning an unprecedented three straight Breeder’s Cup Mile.



Not only is this an amazing statistic in itself, but in a world where racehorses are usually retired at age three or four, this mare is aiming to win the race for the fourth time in November.


In her home continent of Europe, Goldikova repeatedly defeated horses of both sexes in the most prestigious mile races, and today she scored her astounding 14th Group or Grade One race in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville in France.

Other mares who made history in the last several years include Rags to Riches, who defeated Curlin in the 2007 Belmont Stakes, becoming the first filly to do so in a century. Ontario-bred Inglorious won the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s premier race, this year. There is the undefeated Australian sprinter Black Caviar, who has been nothing short of perfection in her career and has been rated one of the top horses in the world.

Some fillies have yet to face males but have still made it an exciting year for racing enthusiasts. Havre de Grace was proclaimed to be a potential Horse of the Year candidate by trainer Larry Jones after dominating most of her races this season. The races she has lost, she fell just short of Blind Luck, and the two have formed a very entertaining rivalry.

Although I have done my best, this list is likely far from being complete. In the end, it does appear fillies and mares are beginning to show that they are, indeed, nearly if not equal to male racehorses. More of them are being entered against males, in the biggest races, and more of them are leaving a mark.

Perhaps the idea that fillies and mares are inferior will soon be put to rest, forever.

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