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On Exhibit: 'Women in Racing' to open in Saratoga Springs

On Exhibit: 'Women in Racing' to open in Saratoga Springs

More than 100 women to be highlighted at National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
On Exhibit: 'Women in Racing' to open in Saratoga Springs
A painting of new inductee Gladys Mills Phipps with Bold Ruler by Robert Oliver Skemp.
Photographer: photo provided

Women have had to fight for plenty of rights over the years, including the right to vote, the right to open a credit card in their own name and to obtain a jockey license. 

In 1968, Kathy Kusner won the right to ride, becoming the first woman to receive a jockey license. 

“She fought to receive that license in court,” said Victoria Reisman, curator at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. 

"They assumed that women weren't strong enough. One of the main excuses that racing officials gave was that they didn't have separate locker room facilities for women. That was the reasoning behind not allowing them to compete or why it wasn't safe to award them a license to compete on the track,” Reisman said. 

Starting on Saturday, the museum is highlighting over 100 women like Kusner with the opening of “Women in Racing.” 

"The idea for a 'Women in Racing' exhibition has been in the works for close to two decades here at the Racing Museum," Reisman said. 2019 seemed like the perfect time because it marks a few important milestone dates and in August, the Hall of Fame will be inducting three more women as Pillars of the Turf, including Gladys Mills Phipps, Helen Hay Whitney and Marylou Whitney. 

The exhibition explores the varying roles women have had in the racing world, from owners and breeders, to jockeys and trainers to farm and track managers. 

"We tried to trace it back as early as we [could] but women have been involved in the sport of thoroughbred racing for more than 100 years. As part of the exhibition, we have a historical timeline of firsts," Reisman said. 

That timeline includes Ann Clare, the first woman to serve as track superintendent in New York State. 

"In 1940 her husband who was the track superintendent for Saratoga passed away and she was his assistant. The racing board determined that she would be the best one for the job. It was the year that pari-mutuel betting was installed at the track so kind of a big deal. She was a beloved figure in the sport and not a lot of people know who she is. She was running a prestigious racing meet for a number of years," Reisman said. 

There are also stories of women who raced despite not having a jockey license, like Wantha Davis. 

“While she couldn't receive a license to ride, she competed in the bush tracks and also competed in Mexico. One of her claims to fame is defeating Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Longden in a match race," Reisman said. 

“Women in Racing” tells the stories of these women through programs, original artwork, photographs, trophies and tack from jockeys like Julie Krone and Blythe Miller. 

The toughest part of curating this exhibition was simply editing all the research down to fit into the finite exhibit space, according to Reisman. While it’s impossible to include all of the women who have been involved in racing within their exhibition space, the curator hopes that “Women in Racing” brings even more stories to the museum’s attention. 

“We have a section in the exhibition that's a message board so people can leave their own stories or if there's somebody that we've forgotten or if there's a hidden story that we haven't uncovered, we encourage people to share those stories,” Reisman said. 
“Women in Racing” will be up through December of 2020. 

"Women have been involved in every single aspect of the sport and there are so many little known stories that we hope we can shine a light on," Reisman said. 

The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is located at 191 Union Ave. Saratoga Springs. For more info visit racingmuseum.org.  

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