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Racing Lady Is No Champ

Gloria Steinem’s not going to like this. Betty Friedan will be beside herself. I don’t think Hillary Clinton’s going to be too pleased. Maybe not even the Queen Mother.

Annie Oakley would want to shoot somebody. Annie, you will remember, was one of our first feminists. Her message to the men in her life was, “Anything you can do, I can do better--I can do anything better than you.”

Well, maybe she could. But a lady race horse named Paseana has a slightly different motto. Hers would be “Where’d everybody go?”

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Everybody knows we are in an era of feminism. I mean, people aren’t always women anymore. They’re “persons” as in “chairperson.” Unisex is all the rage in fashion, but sports pretty much separates the sexes. There are separate tours in golf and tennis and separate events in the Olympics. Martina Navratilova doesn’t have to beat Boris Becker or Pete Sampras to ensure her place in sports legend. Nancy Lopez doesn’t have to play Fred Couples or Greg Norman. Babe Didrikson didn’t have to race Jesse Owens.

In horse racing, the stakes are different. You have, so to speak, a different tour. But it’s usually dismissed as the “distaff” side of the game. If you want to become horse of the year, racing’s greatest honor--and a boon to stud fees--you have to take it to another dimension. You have to beat the boys.

How tough is that? Well, there have been 112 Kentucky Derbies. Females have won three. To win one is like Pat Bradley winning the Masters.

The 5-year-old mare, Paseana, was, so to speak, the Queen of the Hill. She had won seven consecutive races and 12 of 16 overall. She had won five times in her native Argentina and had one second and seven firsts since arriving in the United States.

But they had been victories in races such as the Milady Handicap, the Vanity, the Apple Blossom and, in the Santa Anita races they name after feminine saints, the Santa Margarita and the Santa Maria.

They finally began to put 127 pounds on her back to even the competition.

Only four female horses in history have managed to be voted horse of the year. And all of them have had to go out and beat the males to establish their credentials.

Paseana is owned by Sid and Jenny Craig, the California couple who, so to speak, live off the fat of the land. Their 700 weight-loss salons gross in the millions worldwide.

The Craigs had reason to feel this was their year to push all the chips out. Earlier, Jenny had decided to buy her husband something he had always wanted--a Kentucky Derby. Together with the trainer, Ron McAnally, she purchased the Irish horse, Dr Devious, for $2.5 million.

When Dr Devious ran a dull seventh in the Kentucky Derby, the wags began to call him Dr Dubious and to picture him in a barn dining on an oat bag full of dollar bills.

Then he won the English Derby at Epsom and the Brits were beside themselves. They suggested, gleefully, this was the first horse in history to use the Kentucky Derby as a tightener for a more important race, and figured this was perfectly proper because the English horse race was 100 years old before they even ran the one in Kentucky.

They called Dr Devious “the gift horse you could look in the mouth” and the Queen of England, no less, and the Queen Mother congratulated the Craigs, who if they had been lucky in Kentucky would have gotten a handshake from Dan Quayle or some reigning rap star.

The Craigs were inclined to keep betting the ace. So, they put their precocious female in the $1-million Pacific Classic at Del Mar. They had to put up $30,000 to enter her, but the pot was $550,000--and a horse-of-the-year title to put alongside the Epsom Cup.

Their luck ran out. Racing is a man’s world. Paseana finished behind four males. It was no way to treat a lady. Male chauvinist pigs of the worst sort. When the race started, the horse who was widely considered to be Paseana’s principal competition, Jolie’s Halo, unseated his rider on the way out of the gate.

The race was Paseana’s for the taking.

Except that, in the view of most veteran horsemen, Jolie’s Halo’s defection changed the character of the race. A big old lazy dude named Missionary Ridge, whose trainer only hoped he would hold on for third or fourth, went loafing along on the front end, unchallenged by Jolie’s Halo. He was the dealer. As usual, the house won.

When the race hit the stretch, the ribbon clerks hadn’t been run out of the game, the high rollers had--Jolie’s Halo and Paseana.

Paseana tossed in her hand in the stretch.

When Martina Navratilova plays Jimmy Connors next month, she will get a handicap--a second serve and a slightly wider court to hit into. If Nancy Lopez played Tom Watson, she would get to start from the red tees, 20-30 yards ahead of him.

Paseana got five pounds from the boys. It wasn’t enough. The horse of the year will be a baritone, as usual.

* PACIFIC CLASSIC

Missionary Ridge, a 24-1 longshot, wins the $1-million race at Del Mar. C13


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