Three weeks ago, I featured Eliza McGraw’s book Here Comes Exterminator! here on the blog as part of my countdown to the publication of Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown. McGraw’s book on the iconic Exterminator is a valuable addition to our collective racing bookshelf, covering the parallel tracks of the Hall of Fame gelding and his Hall of Fame trainer. If you have not had a chance to read it, I highly recommend picking it up, especially if you are looking for an underdog (à la Seabiscuit) to root for.
In addition to her work with Exterminator, McGraw has contributed to a number of publications, including The Blood Horse, Equus, and the New York Times, as well as working as the researcher for the podcast The Memory Palace. And, this month, she is our featured author for Author Answers!
Thanks to an old library I found as a kid, I’ve known who Exterminator was for many years. What level of familiarity with Old Bones did you find in talking with current racing fans?
Unfortunately, not very much. People really don’t seem to know who Exterminator was. That was part of what encouraged me to write the book—I am biased, of course, but I feel like he deserves the same level of recognition as many other champions of the past. I am guessing you know what I mean. . .
What made you want to tackle this subject?
I love to write about horses, and I am particularly interested in this time period. But I would have to say that Exterminator came to me, in some ways. I was researching another topic entirely when I first realized how much there was to write about him, and I’ve said this before, but I felt in some ways like he was tugging on my jacket. Like he was ready for his story to be told.
What does reading about a horse like Exterminator add to the experience of the average racing fan who will know only 21st-century horses?
I really couldn’t answer that, but I’d imagine that any racing fan knows the unique physical sensation of seeing one of your favorite horses in the post parade. Racing is timeless in that way. Especially if you’re at Saratoga, or Laurel, or any of the tracks with history, even if you only know 21st-century horses, you will understand the feeling of seeing a horse that calls out to you.
What made you fall in love with horse racing?
I am going to have to admit that I think initially the Black Stallion when I was really young. I adored those books. I moved to Dick Francis next. Then, when I was older but still growing up in Alexandria, Virginia, our local paper, the Washington Post, had extraordinary racing writers. I read Andrew Beyer, Vinnie Perrone. People don’t remember this as much now, but Tony Kornheiser used to write about racing. The way they wrote about horses brought my two worlds—horses and writing—together in a way that influenced the way I read and write today. I’ve always been interested in horse racing in terms of turf writing, in one way or another.
If you wanted to introduce someone to the sport, what race would you show them?
Secretariat’s Belmont. But mainly, I’d just take them with me to Laurel on a regular day.
Thank you so much, Eliza, for answering my questions and sharing a little bit of your writing wisdom and racing memories! If you are interested in learning more about Eliza McGraw, visit her at her website or follow her on Twitter. If you would like to purchase any of McGraw’s books, you can find them at her page on Amazon.