Look for more Ladies' Days in the future.
A group called Females Are Thoroughbred Enthusiasts got off the ground in 2009 through the work of racing fan Beth Condren and Jennie Rees of the Louisville Courier-Journal. It quickly took root and figures to grow in 2010.
F.A.T.E. is sort of a spin-off from Find A Thoroughbred Enthusiast, an effort by West Point Thoroughbreds president Terry Finley to encourage partners to introduce people to Thoroughbred racing. Condren and Rees, both of the Louisville, Ky., area, met last year during the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners' dinner and began to plan various events to bring women together at the racetrack.
There is a "friend of F.A.T.E." site on FaceBook with about 500 members and interest from women in other states in starting "chapters."
"With everything we've done for F.A.T.E., all the chips have fallen into place," Condren said. "We feel it really happened by fate."
"It was fate meeting a the (trainers' dinner)," Rees said. "We noticed people in the industry are doing more, and we asked Terry Finley if we could use the acronym. We took it seriously--there's networking involved--when we realized we really didn't have any friends who didn't go to the racetrack."
F.A.T.E. has held track-based events in conjunction with the "Horses and Hope" breast-cancer awareness program, and received support from Churchill Downs and Keeneland in hosting gatherings of 25-30 women. Informal handicapping seminars have been particularly popular, and there could be an outing to a Kentucky Thoroughbred auction.
"It's overwhelming to see how seriously people are taking us," Rees said. "There's a market for women who come to the races but really don't know how to handicap," Rees said."So if they want to know more, they can bring friends.
Condren said F.A.T.E. plans a pre-Derby party in April this year, and spouses or significant others may be invited. There could be another one in Maryland the week of the Preakness Stakes
Guys can befriend F.A.T.E. on FaceBook, but most events--Rees likes to note "adult beverages" are part of the package--are limited to women so they can be more at ease learning the game.
There are no dues, and a database of members is in the works. Condren said fundraising isn't out of the question "so we can provide events for ladies that are up to our standards." Gift bags have been given to participants at a few events.
Rees said the goal is to help women unravel some of the "mysteries" of the racetrack and handicapping so they can enjoy future visits even more. "After all, racing is a participatory sport," she said. "The more they know, the more fun they’ll have."
F.A.T.E. has three ground rules: You must want to learn more about racing and the track; no question is stupid; and you must want to have a good time.
Handicapping knowledge doesn't hurt. During an outing at Churchill last fall, someone selected an exacta that hit and returned $57, and the members cashed. That alone can go a long way toward encouraging future trips to the racetrack.