Women showing horse sense, too

October 09, 1995|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,SUN STAFF

In order to make a living, Robin Graham once had to give up working with thoroughbreds for a job in an electronics assembly plant.

Linda Albert was lucky to get more than $5,000 to claim a horse.

Kim Godwin was advised to train under the name -- the male name -- of her partner.

But those are old stories about women trainers in Maryland. Times have changed.

On Saturday, Graham and Joanne Hughes will saddle starters in the Maryland Million Classic. The two are among a dozen Maryland women trainers who have had stakes winners at state tracks this year.

It is an unprecedented feat in a sport in which women once filed lawsuits just to be allowed to compete.

Josephine Owens remembers that when she first came to the track in 1958 as an assistant to her husband, Bill, "there probably weren't 10 women, in any capacity, working at the track."

Pat Rich, assistant to Billy Turner, briefly rode at the New England tracks in the early 1970s and remembers people "saying the most awful things -- like 'Why don't you stay in the kitchen and wash dishes' or 'Go back to your vacuum cleaner.' You got fined if you talked back. I got fined a lot."

Now, women probably make up almost half of the more than 1,000 personnel working with horses at Maryland's thoroughbred tracks, racetrack people say.

(The Maryland Racing Commission count doesn't classify workers by gender.)

"And why not? Working with horses isn't more physically demanding for women than men," Graham said. "And women are a lot more mentally attuned to horses. The women I know like horses. They want to be at the racetrack. Guys, I think, look at it more as a way to pick up a paycheck."

That's the point Hughes also makes when she says women make better trainers than men.

"Horses to men are more of a cash crop," she said. "Developing a racehorse for women is more like an artistic achievement. We're more patient and have that maternal instinct."

There have been several pioneering women trainers in Maryland over the years, starting with Babe Saportas, who several times led training standings at the half-mile tracks in the 1940s and '50s.

The late Judy Johnson became one of the first women to saddle a horse in the Preakness.

Then there was an era when certain outstanding horses defined success for a handful of local women trainers, such as Leslie Glazier, who raced Mt. Airy Queen; Katy Voss, who developed Maryland champion Twixt; Dean Gaudet, who won the Laurel Futurity with Mighty Appealing and the De Francis Dash with Montbrook; and Nancy Heil, who trained Laurel record holder Fighting Notion.

Although women have had a steady presence in Maryland training circles, Hughes said it's significant that so many of them have won stakes this year.

"It means we're getting better horses and owners have more confidence in us," she said.

Albert, whom Hughes said "sticks out and shines" for developing several $100,000 earners from modestly bred stock, said it used to be that owners gave her $5,000 to claim a horse.

"Now that I've proven myself, I might get $10,000," she said. "But breaking into this game is hard for anybody new -- men or women."

Godwin, trainer of Maryland Million Turf starter Earn My Keep, said despite these advances, "you still sometimes get that 'Oh, that's nice, honey' attitude if you win."

Hughes said that when she recently won a race with her Classic starter, Mary's Buckaroo, a man yelled down the shed row, "The broad got lucky."

Albert said that despite winning a number of races, "The odds on my horses are still high. I have this little group of $2 bettors that seeks me out and asks me about my horses. I'm always glad when the horses win, because the payoffs are usually pretty good."

Godwin said a male trainer once told her that she would get more business if she trained under the name of her partner, former jockey J. K. "Johnny" Adams.

"It's still mostly men that buy the horses, and they want to deal with men," Godwin said.

Graham, however, maintains women are easier for owners to deal with. "We are more flexible and especially now, when owners seem to want to be more interactive with their trainers, women are more receptive to listening to them," she said.

Savvy gamblers at Laurel and Pimlico recently have noted the work that women have done with horses this year:

Ann Merryman developed Goldminer's Dream into the state's leading sprinter; Frances Merryman has maintained stakes-winning form with the 10 year-old Rebuff; Mary Eppler won the first time out in a 1 1/16-mile race a couple of weeks ago with her Maryland Million Nursery starter, Way Out Front.

Ted Mudge, an owner who has had horses with men and women trainers, said, as a rule, "Women care more about the horses. They are out to prove that they can train a good horse. And they are probably smarter, better communicators and more honest.

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