Let's face it -- the world of horse racing is probably one of the last bastions of the good ol' boys club.
Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin in sight to put cracks in this particular glass ceiling just yet. So this story of three debutantes going to this Friday's ball at Assiniboia Downs will bring a smile to all of you romantics out there.
Although Assiniboia Downs has more female trainers than most with the likes of Lorna Gray, Tanya Lindsey, Lise Pruitt and others, the barn area of the racetrack still has a lot of testosterone flowing throughout. And it is refreshing to see a new female face on the scene getting some much deserved recognition for all of the hard work involved in getting a horse to any race, let alone a two-year-old stakes race.
First-year trainer Shelley Brown will send No Maddy to the $30,000 Debutante Stakes this evening. A self-proclaimed track rat from Saskatchewan, Brown comes to the Downs by way of Alberta.
It was in Alberta that Brown first met up with Mandy McDonald, owner of No Maddy. Both were involved in placing retired thoroughbreds into second careers away from the track. So when the two women happened to meet up again here in Winnipeg, it was only natural that they work together again, this time as owner and trainer.
Mandy McDonald, in just her third year of owning racehorses, has amassed a pretty accomplished stable. Not only does she have No Maddy, but she is also part owner of Theglow, trained by Chad Torevell.
Theglow is the winner of this year's Golden Boy Stakes and one of the local favourites in the $75,000 Manitoba Lotteries Derby, to be run Monday, Aug. 3.
But the Cinderella to this story is No Maddy, a two-year-old filly by Prime Timber, born in New York state.
She is a deceptively sweet-looking filly with an extremely aggressive attitude just right for racing. "Don't let her fool you, I have some war wounds," says Brown, pointing to bruises on her back, "but on the track she pins her ears back, opens up her stride and hunts them down. She has a real racehorse mentality."
What are their chances of winning tonight's Debutante Stakes? No Maddy, who easily won her only start on July 4, is picked third by track handicapper Dustin Davis, behind Ruby's Big Band, an invader from Minneapolis, and the other local winner, Honorable Lady, trained by seven-time Assiniboia Downs leading trainer Clayton Gray.
Ruby's Big Band is one of three horses in the race trained by Charlie Smith. Smith has won the Debutante Stakes for the last two years and his team of three, including Rule of Twelfths and Party Treats, will be looking for number 3.
Miss Missile, a filly that has won four stakes races at Assiniboia Downs, won in 2007, and Lady Countdown was the easy winner of the 2008 running.
Will she be ready to fight for that glass slipper? "I like our chances," said McDonald. "I know this filly will run her heart out, and that's all that matters."
"So much can happen in a race, especially with two-year-olds," said Brown. "Everyone is green in there, so you hope for a clean break and a good trip."
Whether they win or lose, these women are having a ball. "Just having a horse in a stakes race my first year of training is a big opportunity for me," Brown said. "I'm very appreciative of the chance."
"She deserves this. She is very good with a horse and she works really hard," McDonald said, smiling.
It's a ladies'-night doubleheader at Assiniboia Downs tonight, with back-to-back stakes races. Following the Debutante, the R. C. Anderson Memorial will showcase the best Manitoba-born three-year-old fillies, including 2008 Buffalo Stakes winner Adventcia.
A winner in her first start of the year, Adventcia finished third behind last year's Debutante winner Lady Countdown in the Chantilly Stakes in early June.
Adventcia is trained by Carl Anderson, but fans might want to take note of another horse coming out of his barn. Bound To Thrill will be going for three wins in a row. Bound to Thrill is a fast-improving filly and could live up to her name.
Allan Gray is media and promotions co-ordinator at Assiniboia Downs