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Inaugural Horse Racing Women’s Summit a Resounding Success

Arcadia, CA – The inaugural Horse Racing Women’s Summit at Santa Anita Park wrapped up Friday morning after two and a half days of networking, education, and informative panel discussions. The very successful summit drew a sold-out attendance of nearly 200 participants from North America with 46% of attendees traveling to California from across the United States and Canada. Attendees include a range of representation from across industry sectors including owners, racetrack executives, attorneys, breeders, accountants, jockeys, veterinarians and consultants. 

“Based on conversations with and observations of attendee dynamics, my expectations were even surpassed,” said Stephanie Hronis, chair of the summit organizing committee. “When we first discussed the idea for the summit last summer at Del Mar, I knew there was a hunger for networking, education, and inclusion among women in horse racing and on the periphery of racing,” she continued, “but I never imagined how deep that desire was and how ready so many women are to be more involved, advance their careers in horse racing, and support the industry they love.”

Highlighting the summit was Thursday’s featured keynote speaker, Susan Packard, an accomplished author and speaker who oversaw the development and launch of HGTV and DIY networks and was also the first woman to join the Churchill Downs board of directors. Packard spoke of the power of hope and drew on her personal experiences with substance abuse and recovery and her work with college students in recovery to illustrate her belief that “belonging is our deepest longing.”

The summit opened Wednesday evening with a cocktail reception featuring a quintessential California menu of In N Out burgers and providing participants a first opportunity to meet and mingle.

Thursday’s agenda was kicked off with a welcome address by Belinda Stronach, Chairwoman, CEO, and President of The Stronach Group and 1/ST, one of the major sponsors of the event. Stronach called on women to make Thoroughbred racing “sustainable and more engaging for a whole new generation of fans,” and added, “When you get a group of women together, we are really good at being team players.”

The summit offered a series of panel discussions led by an impressive array of knowledgeable women racing executives, leaders, and innovators. Lively panel sessions included discussions on creating a positive work culture, the importance of trust in the workplace, the role of connections, mentors, and male advocates, making the industry more female friendly, innovation through diversity, intentional integrity in aftercare of horses, and the ramifications of how we present ourselves through social media.

Thursday’s luncheon featured an inspirational address by Amy Howe, CEO of FanDuel Group, a business that stepped up early on to become a title sponsor of the Horse Racing Women’s Summit. Howe shared her journey, expressing that  “careers are a long game, keep things in perspective.”  She reminded the audience that diversity is key and that organizations with 30% or more female representation are 50% more successful. 

Howe was preceded by a standing ovation for the summit’s honoree, Jane Goldstein, who was recognized for her role as a groundbreaking leader and inspirational example to women in racing during a time when women were not allowed in the press box beyond the morning hours. Goldstein paved the way for every woman who works to promote racing—whether in the press box, on camera, in marketing, or in management by being a trailblazing woman. 

Hronis concluded, “This ‘good idea’ could never have come to fruition without the tireless work over the past year by our highly talented and dedicated summit committee – Jordyn Egan, Kellie Hill, Jodie Vella-Gregory, Shona Rotondo, Kathryn Sharp, and intern Sophia Eggert. To them, to our wonderful sponsors, and to all of the women who attended and exemplified the Summit’s pillars and our goal to engage, innovate and invest, thank you.  We look forward to our next event, a pop-up in partnership with the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland this November!”

Quotable Quotes

Opening Remarks: 

“It was my honor to welcome attendees to Santa Anita for the inaugural Horse Racing Women’s Summit. This used to be called an old boys sport but today is proof that things are changing – more women and young people are getting into the game.” – Belinda Stronach, Chairwoman, CEO and President, Stronach Group and 1/ST 

“All the support and belief and trust in being a part of something that hasn’t happened before has helped this go from a moment to a movement” – Stephanie Hronis, Committee Chair  

“We must trust ourselves. I don’t think we do a great job of that. If we take care of ourselves we’ll begin to trust ourselves.” – Susan Packard, Keynote Speaker 

Panel 1: Thriving Through Challenges

“It’s not enough to say I support you. You also have to ask yourself how am I helping my team achieve their goals? This applies to men and women alike” – Dora Delgado, EVP & Chief Racing OFC, Breeders’ Cup

“There’s a perception that we are overly emotional. But that’s because we are passionate and outspoken. How can I represent anyone else’s interest if I can’t represent my own?” – Dr. Dionne Benson, Chief Veterinary Officer, 1/ST RACING

“I don’t try to “act like a man” in order to be successful. I try to be real and approachable. If I need to be firm I will be firm but if I need to be empathetic and sensitive that’s okay too. Everyone has to be comfortable in their leadership style. If that means being emotional then be emotional.” – Christa Marrillia, Vice President & CMO, Keeneland

“We do need male champions, men who will go out of their way to look for opportunities to elevate female colleagues, not just accept their presence in the organization.” – Rikki Tanenbaum, Chief Commercial Officer and President, Gaming, 1/ST GAMING & RACING

Luncheon Speaker: 

“Diverse organizations solve problems better. They are more innovative and more successful.” – Amy Howe, CEO FanDuel Group 

Panel 2: Looking Ahead – Opportunities for the Industry

“Leadership needs to revisit how they approach finding and hiring new talent. Embrace the challenge of onboarding a person into the industry who might not be familiar with horse racing but who is a genius when it comes to something like data and analytics that can drive innovation.” – Shona Rotondo, Head of Marketing, MyRacehorse US and Co-Founder of Grand Slam Social  

“There’s a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak. Great ideas can come from absolutely anywhere. Keep an open mind.” – Lindsay Schanzer, Senior Producer at NBC Sports Group

“We are on the verge of introducing the sport to a new era” – Lisa Kerney, FanDuel TV and Events Host 

“Where you are and whoever you are working for, there is an opportunity to learn. Ask questions. Look for what might be missing.” – Jodie Vella-Gregory, Director Office of Innovation, 1/ST RACING

Panel 3: Industry Integrity – A Brighter Future

“With no people on the backside, there are no horses. We need them.” – Marie Moretti, Board, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

“We had to bring in the big guns, put rules in place, and enforce the rules. From where I stand, I work with people who take care of our athletes and it is just as important to that take of the people as it is to take care of our horses.” – Shannon Kelley, Executive Director, Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation

“It shouldn’t be charity. Aftercare should be part of your sustainable business model.” – Jen Roytz, Co-owner/manager of Brownstead Farm & co-founder/partner of Topline Communications 

“You can’t enjoy the sport if you’re worried about what the grooms are going through, what’s happening to the rides, and what is happening to the horses. Fans need to know everyone is being taken care of and supported.” – Bo Derek, Board Member, DMTC & Animal Activist

Amy Zimmerman presents HRWS honoree Jane Goldstein with an award // photo credit: Katie Jones Photo

Crowd listens intently to opening remarks // photo credit: Asha Moné

Stephanie Hronis welcomes attendees // photo credit: Katie Jones Photo

Attendees mingle between panels // photo credit: Asha Moné

Panel 1 “Thriving Through Challenges” featuring Dora Delgado, Christa Marrillia, Britney Eurton (moderator), Rikki Tanenbaum, Dr. Dionne Benson // photo credit: Asha Moné

Amy Howe speaks at the lunceon // photo credit: Katie Jones Photo

Amy Howe speaks at the luncheon // photo credit: Katie Jones Photo

Susan Packard Keynote Speaker // photo credit: Katie Jones Photo

Planning Committee Kellie Hill, Stephanie Hronis, Jodie Vella-Gregory, Shona Rotondo, Amy Zimmerman, Jordyn Egan, Sophia Eggert, Ashlyn Moore // photo credit Cecilia Gustavsson Photography

Belinda Stronach welcomes attendees // photo credit: Asha Moné