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When did 'lady' become offensive?

...And other notes on the recent announcement of 'Filly Friday'

by Seth Merrow

The most instructive thing about the response to the recent Breeders' Cup announcement of Filly Friday isn't necessarily the content of the outrage itself, but rather that there was outrage at all over such a benign revamping.

It's hard to get your message out there when it gets stomped on immediately. So the Breeders' Cup organization might want to ask why that happened to Filly Friday.

Things like the trial balloon sent up last year suggesting a Breeders' Cup on foreign soil [outside of N America], and the recent, rather ill-timed announcement of repeat runnings at Santa Anita might be contributing factors. Again, the Breeders' Cup higher-ups might want to reflect.

That said, the critics of Filly Friday might also need to reflect, and ask themselves if the newly announced Day One changes are really ire-inspiring, or is the reaction simply a knee-jerk, conditioned by some prior BC announcements?

Let's look at some of the criticisms, one-by-one.

First up, the name change of the Breeders' Cup Distaff to the Ladies Classic.

That change has been labeled everything from "patently offensive" to "a tin-eared choice of a moldy, loaded word", while one columnist suggested that "lady" be equated with "chicks, skirts, and dames." Those were three written opinions, but there were other columnists, commentators, and bloggers who offered similar thoughts. And while I respect the three writers cited, I have to disagree in this instance.

Where have I been? When did "lady" become pejorative?

If your spouse, or child, or parent came home and stated, "Sorry, I'm late, I helped a lady with a flat tire," would your ears burn with embarrassment at the gaffe of your loved one? Or would you not take notice?

Now, instead of "lady", substitute in one of the racial or ethnic epithets we know are truly offensive. Would you react differently? Hopefully you answer in the affirmative because if we make words like "lady" offensive or loaded then we minimize the transgression of truly offensive words.

More questions for the critics of the word "lady":

And for those that long for a return to "Distaff" because "Ladies" is somehow insulting, I would suggest some research: From 17th-century England, the word distaff became a synonym for maternal as most spinning was done by women in their homes.

Second, the notion that moving the Ladies Classic to Friday somehow diminishes the stature of the race.

Frankly, I think quite the opposite. The new set-up gives fans a clear highlight -- a "Classic" -- on both Friday and Saturday. I would simply point to the Kentucky Oaks, which has a favored position on the racing calendar. The Friday before the Kentucky Derby has become one of the biggest days in American racing and moving the Oaks to the Derby undercard would certainly diminish it.

Steven Crist suggests that the Oaks is unique, benefitting from a regional enthusiasm not to be found elsewhere, while citing lesser crowds at the Black-Eyed Susan and Acorn. Perhaps he's correct, but it seems reasonable to assert that there are other factors at work that prevent the Friday crowds before the Preakness and Belmont Stakes from reaching Oaks proportions.

Without definitive proof there is no reason to believe that Filly Friday might not be relatively closer in popularity to the Oaks than to those other pre-big event events. I suspect it will be a lot easier for fans to justify an extra day off from work to see Day One of the Breeders' Cup than it would be to see the Black-Eyed Susan. We'll know more about that in two or three years.

Third, the entire concept of a gender-focused day on Friday is insulting to women.

Jay Hovdey writes in DRF, "The concept of an all-female cultural celebration is time-honored and proven. From burning Salem witches at the stake to jailing loud-mouthed suffragettes... Ladies play on Friday. Saturday is for guys. Learn it, know it, live it. Ladies play on Friday because they don't have jobs. Not real jobs, anyway. Ladies play on Friday because on Saturday they have to take care of the kids."

Yikes. Both Keeneland and the Maryland tracks have had Diva Day's, aimed at introducing women to the sport -- albeit on the weekend. But was Friday really chosen for this Breeders' Cup event as a subtle put-down of the female-sex, or was it simply because, with Friday and Saturday as the only two options, Friday clearly made the most sense as a day better served by a PR-driven event?

And don't forget that Ladies Day at Royal Ascot and the Melbourne Cup are held on weekdays -- seemingly without insult to the women who attend [The growth of the Crown Oaks Day attendance is staggering -- from an average 50,000 ten years ago to more than 100,000 in recent years and that despite it being a work day.]

Fourth, a great performance in the Ladies Classic is destined to be overlooked by fans and history because of a Friday running.

This notion simply ignores the reality of the 21st century. First, even the Saturday races aren't pulling in smashing TV ratings. But more importantly, today there's simply no reason for any fan to miss seeing a race. Twenty years ago if you didn't see a race in person or during the live telecast you were out of luck. But now a race replay is just a mouse-click away. Don't fret, a great race on a Friday will not be lost.

Will Filly Friday be a success? I don't know. But I think it's worth a try and the negative reaction seems overwrought.

I have my own problems with the recent expansion of the Breeders' Cup. Regular readers of this space know we've charted the >20-1 bombs that have been liberally sprinkled into the BC results going back to 1984. We've always contended that the reason for this is that a 20-1 shot in the Breeders' Cup is vastly different than a 20-1 on a Thursday in February at Turfway Park.

Breeders' Cup longshots can be solid, graded-stakes level performers. But will the expansion of the BC diminish the number of those mouth-watering bombs either in the win-slot, or completing the gimmicks? For instance, isn't it easy to imagine Honest Lady heading to the BC F/M Sprint rather than completing the exacta in the 2000 BC Sprint at 31-1? It will take a few more years to see how this plays out -- but the 2007 results were not especially encouraging.

So yeah, there are some problems with the Breeders' Cup [let's not forget the stubborn-headedness in sticking with those purple saddleclothes, either] but the outrage generated by Filly Friday really seems like much ado about nothing.

A group of racing bloggers have started a petition asking "the Breeders' Cup to reconsider these changes" and threatening a boycott.

Frankly, with venues grabbing 30% takeout rates on some wagers and the recent exclusivity problems that are gripping the telephone/internet/TV wagering side of the game, it's kind of disappointing that fans have picked as their topic of defiance the fairly benign Filly Friday concept.


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