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William F. Reed
September 24, 1990
For women racehorse trainers, the barriers are as high as ever
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September 24, 1990

Stalled At The Starting Gate

For women racehorse trainers, the barriers are as high as ever

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Bailie grew up around horses, steeplechasers mostly, in England before coming to the U.S. in 1966. When she took out her New York trainer's license in 1972, the only women on the backstretch locally were exercise girls and hotwalkers, and there weren't a lot of them. After slowly building up her stable and her reputation, Bailie broke through, or so she thought, in 1984, when a horse she trained, the aptly named Win, emerged as one of the nation's best handicap racers.

Win won some of the major New York stakes and closed with such a rush in the 1984 Turf Classic at Belmont that he missed catching the fabled John Henry by only a neck. Bailie expected all sorts of doors to swing open for her. But nothing changed. Instead, she drifted back into the shadows and became tired and bitter. She now trains 12 horses, none of them stars, for four owners.

"I was so tied up with the business that I just never made time for a family," she says. "It was always, 'Gotta get back to the barn.... Gotta get back to the barn.' That's not too satisfying now, especially after what happened with Win. If I had been a man, it would have been different. You know that old dodge about all you need is one good horse and you've got it made? Well, I've proved that wrong many times. It's just a lot of bull."

There is no logical reason why equal opportunity remains so elusive on the backstretch. A woman may need a lot of money to be an owner or special physical skills to be a jockey, but there's nothing to keep her from being a good trainer. Indeed, women have a well-accepted reputation for handling animals better—being kinder, gentler, more patient with them—than men. Prejudice is the obvious explanation. Men have almost exclusive control of the tracks, the breeding farms, the major stables and the racing secretary's offices. A woman trainer has to know, going in, what she's up against.

"Women are not taken seriously," says Carpenter. "This is still a man's world, and a man wants to give his $50,000 yearling to another man—somebody he can slap on the back and take to lunch at his club. Men want to deal with men. I don't hold that against them, either, except it does make it almost impossible for a woman to get a good horse to train."

So far, Carpenter is the only woman who has ever had a horse that hit the board in the Belmont Stakes. She trained Kingpost to a runner-up finish to Risen Star in 1988, but that modest breakthrough didn't exactly change her life.

Like Bailie, Carpenter had no background in racing—no father or husband or boyfriend to help prepare her for the crude living conditions and the chronic heartache. At Southern Mississippi University she triple-majored in psychology, English and sociology. She became a teacher, mainly because it was an acceptable career for a woman, and started working in New Jersey, where she also got hooked on the horse business. She bought a racehorse for $500, named him Sundance Kid and trained him to be a jumper.

In 1973 she and Sundance Kid were out early one morning when the horse missed a jump. She fell to the ground and the horse rolled onto her, his back broken. It was an hour before help arrived. While she was waiting for the 1,000-pound horse to be moved off her, Carpenter made a promise to herself. "I decided that if I got out in one piece, I was going to do something more exciting with my life than teaching," she says. She had a broken collarbone and the horse was put down, but she kept her vow. She started her own stable, named Sundance, in 1974 and got her trainer's license in 1976. In short order she claimed some good horses, was successful enough in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Ohio to move on to Kentucky, and began pointing for the Kentucky Derby.

Now she's the only woman to have trained two Derby starters, Biloxi Indian (finished 12th in the field of 19 in 1984) and Kingpost (14th of 17 in '88), but she also wonders about her future. Like Bailie, she has been married to her career and feels burned out.

"I still want to get a good horse, but I'm just not driven right now," she says. "I've already proved I know how to train a good horse. I don't know what I want to do now, exactly, but I know our only limitation as women trainers is that we don't know what we can do. We didn't have any role models when I began, and there were no precedents set for us. I came in a loner, and I guess I'll go out a loner."

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