If you’ve been following the blog for some time, you may already be familiar with my origin story. After discovering horse racing via Walter Farley and his Black Stallion series, I watched the Triple Crown races on television, dreaming of the day that I could go see horses run LIVE. Thanks to my aunt Betty, that dream came true the next year.
I have to start this story with a bit of geography. I grew up in the Birmingham, Alabama metropolitan area, where football is king, baseball and basketball might duke it out for second, and horse racing appears down the list of sports of import — way down. (Right now, if I wanted to go to the races, the closest track would be Keeneland — five hours away. ) Not since the first part of the 20th century has the Birmingham area seen horse racing, but, in early 1987, the Birmingham Turf Club (now the Birmingham Race Course) opened. The Turf Club has live horse racing, not just simulcasting, but, as a twelve-year-old kid who lived in the ‘burbs, walking there was out of the question. That’s where my dear aunt Betty comes in.
Good news, everyone! I will be appearing at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green, KY April 26-27. Milt Toby and I will join other University Press of Kentucky authors at the Knicely Convention Center for two days of panels, signings, and more. Come and see me as I count down toward the publication of Sir Barton & the Making of the Triple Crown! Follow SOKY Book Fest on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram for the latest info on the upcoming 2019 Book Fest.
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By early 1989, horse racing had dug itself deep into my heart, the sport destined to define my life in one way or another. At the tender age of twelve, I had been writing letters to institutions like the National Museum of Racing, seeking the information that my local libraries were woefully bereft of, and creating my own cast of characters that were pursuing the sport’s greatest heights in a handwritten novel housed in one of my old school notebooks. I was hooked and bereft of opportunities to share the enthusiasm for the upcoming Triple Crown campaign, but I didn’t let that stop me from being parked in front of the television each Saturday.
If you ask any horse racing fan, they can tell you the moment that solidified their love of the sport. Perhaps it’s Secretariat “moving like a tremendous machine” in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Maybe it’s catching a day of racing with a relative when they were kids. It could even be a book or a movie that captured their imagination. For me, that moment was the 1988 Kentucky Derby and the beautiful roan filly that brought home the roses that day.
It all started with a book. This book, to be precise.
I suppose that’s how stories like mine often start, with a seminal event: a book, an image, something small. Something that might not mean anything to anyone else at that moment, but, to you, changes everything.
My teacher, Ms. Scott, read The Black Stallion out loud to my fifth-grade class that fall. The clouds of time obscure the specifics, but I remember it had to be the fall because another seminal moment happened about the same time. I had our television to myself on a Saturday, a rare treat indeed, and, as I flipped channels, I saw horses congregating on a dirt oval, entering the gate, and flying like lightning down the track. Entranced, I watched what had to have been an afternoon’s worth of racing, unable to catch names, but nevertheless addicted. (Later, I figured out it was the 1987 Breeder’s Cup.)