August 8, 2013

Review: Tales from the Triple Crown

Tales from the Triple Crown
Tales from the Triple Crown by Steve Haskin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Horse racing is not as popular as it used to be. You have a flurry of publicity around the Triple Crown, and a lesser blip from the Breeders' Cup in the fall, and that's pretty much it. The last horse people outside the industry really rallied around was Zenyatta, the great mare of a few years back. (She was even the subject of a profile on 60 Minutes.) Of course, there's always the hard-core fans who like to throw away their money, but I don't do that; I follow the sport for the horses and the people behind them.

This book, therefore, seems like it would be right up my alley. Steve Haskin is one of my favorite writers for The Blood-Horse, and his column, Hangin' With Haskin, is a must-read. So why, though I enjoyed parts of this book, did it ultimately come off as unsatisfying? It isn't because of Haskin's skills as a writer; I've read plenty of wonderful pieces by him. The very first article in this book, "The One and Only Spectacular Bid," is one such. Most of the book's other chapters concentrate on more recent horses from the nineties and oughts.

Thinking about this, though, made me realize why this book ultimately didn't do it for me: its subjects. With a few exceptions, such as Zenyatta, today's Thoroughbreds don't hold a candle to the ones in the past. Spectacular Bid on his worst day could beat any Kentucky Derby winner of recent vintage. My two favorite horse racing books are Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Bill Nack's Secretariat. These are two wonderfully written books that you should definitely read, but their subjects made them so; their stories are ones you just don't find nowadays.

Unfortunately, the horse racing industry is in a slump. Inferior horses with too-short careers won't bring in the new fans the sport badly needs. Steve Haskin, in writing books like this, tries his best to help out, and the book is certainly readable. Its stories just won't stick with you, like the unforgettable horses and people of the past.

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