Updated: Apr 20
Horse racing is so often associated with glamour. The fashion, beauty, and the riches are a huge part of what makes this sport so appealing. Photos of women in beautiful dresses and eye-catching hats and men in their best suits adorn horse racing museums and magazines alike. It is no wonder that beauty tycoon Elizabeth Arden got herself involved in horse racing.
Elizabeth Arden, born Florence Nightingale Graham, built a cosmetics empire in the early 1900s. She played a huge role in integrating complex skincare and makeup into the daily routine of women everywhere. Even while she was taking on the men in the cosmetics industry, Arden’s love for horses never waned.
Arden bought her first horse in 1931 under the guidance of Samuel Riddle. Over the next few decades, she became a Horse Racing Queen in a time where the sport was dominated by men. She quickly grew her stables and found great success. She first raced her horses with the stable name “Mr. Nightingale”, a confusing sight to see on a program when the stable was actually owned by a woman. Arden would later change her stable name to “Maine Chance Stables” and in the 1950s she would purchase more than 700 acres of land in Fayette County, Kentucky to bear that name.
The horses of Main Chance Stables enjoyed a life of great pamperment. This is no surprise though, as Arden’s whole career was based on the notion that women should pamper themselves. She had her barns screened off to keep the flys away and had music constantly playing. She would massage the horse’s legs herself and wrapped her horses in cashmere blankets when they came off the track. She also instructed her trainers and grooms to apply eight-hour face cream to her horse’s legs. Though an oddity, trainer Ivan Parke said it did help horses with cracked heels and he continued to apply it to his horses after he no longer worked for Arden.
Arden’s horses were her children, her “darlings”. She had endless amounts of love for her horses. Even if some of her concerns were a bit “crazy”, it was clear they were coming from the softest part of her soul. She once called Ivan Parke in the middle of the night, saying she had a dream where one of her horses had gotten up in a tree and she needed Parke to check on it for her. He did go check (avoiding being fired by Arden) and reported back that both the horse and the tree were fine.
More than 60 trainers were hired and fired by Arden during her involvement with racing. Jockeys were not safe either. Jockey Eddie Arcaro once reported that Arden had taken him off of a horse because she had a dream that he lost a race.
“One of the lady's problems was the fact that if she lost a race, she couldn't understand that her horse was not good enough,” Eddie Arcaro said. “Her horse, in her eyes, was always the best.” So protective of her horses was Arden that she would fire a jockey for using the whip. She would also fire a jockey if they didn’t urge her horses enough. Those who worked for her knew that one mess up meant an end to their employment.
Arden’s pampering must have worked as her horses were sensational on the racetrack. With the help of trainer Tom Smith, Arden got herself a Kentucky Derby winner in 1945 with Jet Pilot. Her horse Ace Admiral won the Travers Stakes in 1948 and she got a Kentucky Oaks victory in 1954 with Fascinator. She also campaigned great horses like Star Pilot, Beaugay, Rose Jet, Gun Bow, Myrtle Charm, and Jewel’s Reward.
[Video: Arden's horse Gun Bow faces the great Kelso in the 1964 Woodward]
From 1943 to 1945, Arden was the leading buyer of yearlings at sales. Her purchasing power brought her great prosperity and she was named Leading Owner in 1945.
Elizabeth Arden was a queen of cosmetics and of horse racing. Her great attention to detail and the care she put into her horses is admirable, even if her requests were sometimes quite odd. She loved her horses endlessly and wanted nothing but the best for them.
Paulick Report shared two great quotes said by Arden to the Daily Racing Form in 1958:
“Look at fillies: no filly should ever have a whip laid to her or hear a harsh word. They need constant love and the showing of it.”
“Every time I hear a stable boy speak roughly to one of my fillies I want to pitchfork him.”
Elizabeth Arden died on October 18th, 1966 at the age of 87. Her farm was purchased by the University of Kentucky the following year and is now used by their Equine program for teaching and research. She is forever listed as one of the top women the sport of horse racing has ever seen. And, her quirkiness makes her story so entertaining to tell.
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Sources: Equine Info Exchange