John Perrotta has had a jack-of-all-trades career in racing: jockey’s agent, handicapper, sportswriter, breeder, and now Vice President, Operations at Santa Anita Park. This month, his Racetrackers was my Book of Note, a collection of stories from Perrotta’s years at the racetrack. Mr. Perrotta was kind enough to answer my questions for this week’s Author Answers.
You have written about your experiences in racing in your books and then parlayed that experience into the series Luck. What led you to write about the sport after years of experiencing it on a daily basis? Do you write thinking about how you might tell that story onscreen?
I began my career as a sports writer and met David Milch in 1984 when I was managing one of the largest horse breeding and racing entities in the US called Due Process Stable. We agreed to collaborate should he ever decide to do a series based on the race track. Miraculously he called me twenty-five years later and I began working on the HBO story, LUCK as his technical advisor, writer, and story editor. Working with great racing writers like Jay Hovdey and Bill Barich was the icing on the cake.
Horse racing is dependent on the visual: watching races, examining a horse’s physique and workouts, etc. What do you see as the biggest challenge writing about something this visual?
Horses are easily visualized by readers, but with racing there’s always more than meets the eye. It’s not enough to give a physical description and opinions only matter to bettors. The challenge is to impart the urgency of success that racetrackers meet every day, how they interact with their horses and grind out a life. Racing is a game at which one loses more than they win. That’s a tough scenario for many people to accept and frustration and disappointment bring most of them down.
What does reading about racing add to the experience of the average racing fan?
A true racing fan is fairly obsessed with the sport. But it’s obscure and cryptic to newcomers and they need a chance to get educated. When they read about behind the scenes drama that goes on they begin to feel like insiders.
How do you like to introduce horse racing to potential fans? What aspect of the sport do you see as the best way to draw new people in?
Nothing like a first time at anything. Most of the uninitiated just need an invitation and they jump at the chance. And the gods of racing always see to it that first-timers pick a winner and cash a ticket… then they’re hooked for life. As VP and GM of Santa Anita I like to find new fans and take them to the paddock or the winner’s circle for the unique experience at The Great Race Place.
In a lifetime spent with this sport, what is your favorite horse racing memory?
My father introduced me to racing when I was a young boy in New Jersey… Days with him at Monmouth Park, Garden State, and Atlantic City will always be my fondest memories.
Thank you, Mr. Perrotta, for being a part of the Sir Barton Project! As the holidays approach, if you’re interested in any of John Perrotta’s books, please visit his website to order one for everyone on your list!