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Reading List: Horse Profiles

Legendary horses throughout history continue to thrill us when we read accounts of their greatness. This sampling of horse profiles spans eras, countries and even breeds!

Affirmed by Lou Sahadi

Ever since Sir Barton won the first Triple Crown almost one hundred years ago, it has been the dream of breeders, owners, and trainers alike to campaign a Crown winner. Since 1919 only ten other horses have matched Sir Barton’s achievement, though several have come close—which is a great achievement in itself. The last of the holders of the famed Triple Crown is Affirmed, who accomplished this magnificent feat in 1978, which was the culmination of his infamous rivalry with opponent Alydar of Calumet Farm fame. Lou Sahadi weaves together stories of Affirmed, his owner Wall Street financier Louis Wolfson of Harbor View Farm, trainer Laz Barrera, his regular rider Steve “Stevie Wonder” Cauthen, and jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr. (who rode Affirmed to Triple Crown victory). Affirmed brings the last Triple Crown winner’s story to life for those of us not lucky enough to have been there to witness it. It keeps hope alive until we can witness a new Triple Crown victor.
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Cigar: America’s Horse by Jay Hovdey

Bill Mott is said to train horses for a “career, not just a year.” And so it was with Cigar, who raced—setting records—into his 6-year-old season. Jay Hovdey tells the story of the champion horse, interweaving the lives of all those connected to this remarkable athlete. From trainer Bill Mott, regular jockey Jerry Bailey, and owners Allen and Madeleine Paulson, to Cigar’s groom Juan Campuzano and everyone who had a hand caring for him, Hovdey’s tale literally circles the globe: from Cigar’s first days as a foal in Maryland to his coast-to-coast U.S. racing career and his winning streak, all the way to the first Dubai World Cup and an earnings record broken only recently by Curlin. He is an American legend indeed and Hovdey’s account not only does him justice, it honors him.
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Crazy Good by Charles Leerhsen

Dan Patch was not a Thoroughbred. He was an Indiana-bred Standardbred horse who became one of the greatest harness horses of his time. His story is one of a true champion, a must-read rags-to-riches story. At his birth in 1896, he was unable to stand and was almost euthanized. He grew stronger and eventually worked pulling a grocer’s cart. When he was entered in a race at the county fair, he won, and he never stopped winning. He set a record for the fastest pace mile in 1906 that stood for 32 years; he won the adoration of his fans that applauded his talent and his heart. His success was their success, too. A veritable celebrity, he became the first celebrity endorser—a horse! His popularity never wavered, never waned. He retired an undefeated champion with nine world records to his name. Leerhsen’s tale is an inspiration to all that sometimes you don’t have to look very far to find greatness.
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Eclipse by Nicholas Clee

With 95 percent of all Thoroughbreds tracing their lineage back to Eclipse and the industry’s highest honors awarded in his name, it’s a wonder there aren’t more books dedicated to this great foundation stallion. Born in 1764, Eclipse had an undefeated career, easily establishing his greatness. Clee’s profile of this tremendous horse is part racing history and part cultural study of 18th century London and England. Exploring the origins of the sport of kings, Clee brings to life all of the colorful tales of the era. While accounts of the time are not always reliable, Clee manages to spin a riveting story of racing and of Eclipse and his connections with his significant research. Well worth the read for anyone—even non-racing fans—with an interest in history and sport.
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Funny Cide by The Funny Cide Team with Sally Jenkins

Fairy tales are not real. That’s what most people would tell you. But the owners of Funny Cide, collectively Sackatoga Stable, will tell you differently. They bought the New York–bred gelding for a mere $75,000 as a 2-year-old, in a private transaction brokered by longtime trainer Barclay Tagg. He didn’t know it at the time, but the son of Distorted Humor would be his big horse. Trained by Tagg, ridden by José Santos, and cheered on by his owners, Funny Cide changed all their lives. Racing through his 7-year-old season, he would win two legs of the Triple Crown, numerous graded stakes—including the Jockey Club Gold Cup—and amass earnings of over $3.5 million. His story has every ingredient necessary for the fairy tale; he was the true “everyman” who beat the odds and won the public’s heart.
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Goodness and Greatness by Alex Brown

Barbaro transfixed us all during his career. Undefeated going into his Triple Crown run Barbaro made it impossible not cheer for him. His 2006 Kentucky Derby victory was historic, as he won by the largest margin in sixty years. He was perfectly poised to be a true contender for the Crown when he suffered his tragic injury during the Preakness Stakes. The entire nation watched on expectantly as extraordinary efforts were made on the part of his owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson and Dr. Dean Richardson’s team at the famed New Bolton Center to save his life. Alex Brown has compiled his extensive research and interviews into a chronicle of Barbaro’s life, his career, and his courageous fight to survive injuries, which ultimately led to a case of fatal laminitis. Brown examines Barbaro’s record within the context of racing history and explores industry issues such as veterinary research, horse slaughter, and Thoroughbred retirement.
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Horse Racing Divas by Blood Horse Staff

Some say the girls can’t compete with the boys on the track. Well, Horse Racing Divas, written by the staff of The Blood-Horse, might just change their minds. Profiling twelve fillies and mares from the late 1800s to the present, the book sheds light on racehorses that have left an indelible mark on the racing industry despite being of the “weaker” sex. What do Miss Woodford, Imp, Beldame, Regret, Twilight Tear, Busher, Moccasin, All Along, Lady’s Secret, Azeri, Rachel Alexandra, and Zenyatta have in common? They’ve broken records, beat the boys, had remarkable winning streaks; some even foaled future champions. Some of their names are familiar today for the headlines we have read and for the way that they have inspired admiration beyond the racing community. Some might be familiar only for the stakes races named in their honor. All of them are national champions and all but a few are in the Racing Hall of Fame. This collection, written by a supremely knowledgeable pool of turf writers, will inform and delight lovers of the sport. It might even change your mind about the girls.
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Native Dancer, The Grey Ghost: Hero of a Golden Age by John Eisenberg

Undefeated in his nine starts as a 2-year-old, Native Dancer, the “Grey Ghost,” easily became Champion 2-Year-Old Colt in 1952. However, it was not beginner’s luck for owner and breeder Alfred Vanderbilt. The grey colt would race in his 3-year-old season under the great expectations the public and the racing community held for him. While this son of Polynesian would only lose one race in his career, that loss came in the 1953 Kentucky Derby, when he placed 2nd—by a nose–to Dark Star. It did nothing to diminish his greatness, though, and Native Dancer was named Champion 3-Year-Old Colt in 1953, as well as Co-Horse of the Year—a title he would have all to himself in 1954. His record is as impressive today as it was in the 1950s, and his fame was only heightened by the biggest invention of the time, television. In his retelling of Native Dancer’s life and career, John Eisenberg captures a time in America when we began to see the world through the eyes of the camera, which would forever change the sport of racing and the life of Americans.
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Seabiscuit, The Rest of the Story by William H. Nichols

There are few people left who have a personal connection to the legendary Seabiscuit. William H. Nichols is one of them, having worked at Ridgewood Ranch as a teenager in the 1940s, with 18 of the champion horse’s foals. Later in life he would be a co-breeder of Seabiscuit’s most successful progeny, Sea Orbit. In Seabiscuit: The Rest of the Story, Nichols continues where Laura Hillenbrand’s book (and movie adaptation) leaves off. He follows up on the lives of owners Charles and Marcela Howard, jockey Red Pollard, trainer Tom Smith, jockey George Woolf, famed racehorse War Admiral, and “The Biscuit” himself. Nichols explores their lives and careers, Seabiscuit’s stud career and offspring, and tells the tale as only someone who witnessed it could with plenty of history and research to back him up.
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Sham: In the Shadow of a Superhorse by Mary Walsh

In any other year, Sham might have been the Superhorse instead of the shadow. He was one of the fastest Thoroughbreds of his time. But the dark bay colt happened to be born in 1970, the same year as his half-cousin, Secretariat, with whom he shared a broodmare sire, Princequillo. Mary Walsh’s tribute to Sham tells the story and recounts the career of this great fighter. In his thirteen starts Sham was in the money eleven times—once even beating the Superhorse, in the Wood Memorial. The 1973 Triple Crown chase saw Sham finishing second to Secretariat in both the Derby (where he broke the record for the second-fastest time) and the Preakness. He might have been second, but he was undoubtedly also among the best.
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The Story of Mill Reef by John Oaksey

While unraced in the United States, Rokeby Stable’s Mill Reef took European racing by storm winning the Epsom Derby, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eclipse Stakes, and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, all in 1971. An injury cut his remarkable career short in 1972, but even more remarkable is that fact that after breaking a leg, he was healed and continued on to a career at stud. John Oaksey tells Mill Reef’s story from his eyes as a former racing correspondent and commentator who had the pleasure of watching the great horse run and who “adored [him] from the moment [he] saw him.” His is both an informed and entertaining read.
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