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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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As loners and outsiders, Carpenter and Bailie have done it the hard way, though having a male partner or mate does not guarantee success. Still, if a woman has an association with a man on the track, that can sometimes persuade a skeptical owner to take a chance, or sway a racing secretary to come up with a few extra stalls.

Sally Lundy, 36, for example, isn't hurt by the fact that she's married to Dick Lundy, a respected trainer who handles the horses of Allen Paulson, a big spender at the most prestigious horse auctions. Sally usually has between 15 and 20 horses that she trains for several owners. Nevertheless, she has distanced herself from her husband, literally as well as figuratively. In their thoroughly modern marriage, he works in California and she in New York. The Lundys' long-distance phone bills average around $400 a month, and they see each other when their schedules permit.

While Dick has trained such premier horses as Blushing John and Carr de Naskra, Sally's main claim to fame is that in 1984 she became the first woman to saddle a horse in the Belmont Stakes. Her colt, Minstrel Star, was near the early pace before fading to last in the 11-horse field.

Perhaps the most fortunate woman trainer is Sandy Bruno, 38, who since 1978 has worked for Stephens, the Hall of Fame trainer and winner of a record five consecutive Belmont Stakes, from 1982 through '86. Last May, when Stephens had open-heart surgery, Bruno, together with David Donk, took over the Stephens stable, and the two of them have kept it running smoothly.

"Right now I'm happy being where I am," Bruno says. "Eventually I'd like to go out on my own, but the people with the real good horses are going to go to the top trainers, so I'm probably better off sticking with Woody. I'm sure it would be a lot different being around lesser horses, but I think I would still be happy."

Well, maybe. When Nicola Deegan decided to go into training, her father, Liam Ward, a distinguished Irish jockey whose mounts included Nijinsky and Sir Ivor, told her she was crazy. But Nicola came to the U.S., learned the game under Elliott Burch and married jockey Joe Deegan, also a native of Ireland. Today, she and Joe live in Louisville and offer a package deal: An owner who wants Nicola to train his or her horses also has to agree to use Joe as the jockey. Fortunately, Joe is a decent rider, as he has proved with 24 victories, including three stakes, at the Churchill Downs spring meeting.

Nicola, 24, depends on a a nanny to help with the couple's two children, John, 3, and Pamela, eight months, especially when she has to travel. "It's hard sometimes," says Nicola, "but I always think that everything has a way of sorting itself out. When you do horses and have a family, you don't have much time for anything else, but Joe is a big help. We'd like to go back home someday and have an Irish Derby winner that I trained and Joe rode. We have a team, and if somebody doesn't want to be a part of it, well, that's too bad. Of course, if somebody offered me Sunday Silence, I'd say yes and we'd work the Joe part out later."

Vickie Foley, another Kentucky trainer, has a different approach. She has focused her attention on claiming horses, owned by syndicates of small investors, and her success has brought her notice. In 1988 Foley made a sensational move. Red and White, a sprinter she claimed for $22,500, earned $125,000. That helped make up for the time, earlier in her career, when an owner took a promising colt away from her and gave it to a man.

Now Foley, 33, says that she doesn't sense any discrimination—"I'm treated just like everybody else," she insists—and she flatly predicts that women will be among the national leaders "within the next 20 years," a burst of optimism that calloused veterans would no doubt find touching, albeit unrealistic.

Nobody knows more about sex discrimination among trainers than Bailie, and yet she smiles wistfully when asked why she has stayed for so long in a profession that seems to be such a hopeless cause for women.

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