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Book Review: 'Horse Sense: An Inside Look at the Sport"

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Horse Sense

Horse Sense: An Inside Look at the Sport of Kings

John Wiley & Sons
In his 55th book, Horse Sense, legendary sportswriter and advertising executive Bert Sugar diverges from his familiar territory of the boxing ring and baseball diamond to tackle the colorful world of Thoroughbred racing. Aided by television writer and long time New York racing fan Cornell Richardson, Sugar takes the reader through a compact yet surprisingly thorough tour of the Sport of Kings.
Going behind the scenes, the reader learns many interesting facts about the characters both equine and human that make the sport what it is. In his chapter on trainers, you get a better understanding of how difficult a job it is to train racehorses. It is a job that involves working almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He writes that the trainer's world is one of "chicken today, feathers tomorrow". He also shows that most trainers don't like it when owners try to do their job for them, but on a few occasions the owner is right. Genuine Risk's owner insisted the filly be entered in the Derby, which she won, and Prince Ahmed bin Salman told Bob Baffert to send Point Given to the lead after his loss in the Derby, leading to gate-to-wire wins at the Preakness and Belmont. Speaking of the Derby, if it wasn't for a coin toss won by Lord Derby over Sir Charles Bunbury at Epsom back in 1780, Funny Cide might well have been this year's Kentucky Bunbury winner.

Using many anecdotes and a writing style reminiscent of legendary writer Damon Runyon, Sugar keeps the reader engaged and entertained the whole way through.

Rather than use a long, drawn out chronological story of the history of racing, a style repeated in many recently released books about racing, he sorts the vast amount of information into six convenient chapters, "The Tracks", "The Owners", "The Trainers", "The Jockeys", "The Bettors", and "The Future". Despite the chapter titles, he never forgets what the sport is about as on every page the horses themselves always take center stage since it is they that give tracks, owners, trainers, jockeys, and bettors their respective roles in this great sport. Each chapter begins with a very brief history, and then spends the bulk of the time discussing more recent events.

In his chapter, "The Future", Sugar discusses racing's big mistake of turning its back on television until it was too late and its lack of promotions until finally famed baseball promoter Bill Veeck was brought into lowly Suffolk Downs in 1969 to boost attendance. Sugar writes, "Perhaps Veeck's greatest promotion was his non-acceptance of an almost universal prohibition of children at the track." Veeck saw that to get new players into the game, young people needed to be introduced to the sport early, an idea totally lost to track managers at the time.

He closes out the book with comments on the rise of OTB's and the New York situation, the continuing success of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, and the recent formation of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Sugar sounds confident that racing is back. "With everything now seemingly in place," he writes, "racing is poised to regain its proper position as one of the premier sports in America, a position it held at the turn of he previous century. [...] There's life in the old gal yet. Full of enough breath to becloud a mirror." A convenient appendix with tables to supplement the text, and a glossary to help new fans understand racing's terminology, are also included.

The only fault we could find is in some of the charts and tables in the text and in the appendix, where some minor errors were found. But these did not at all detract from the excellent, entertaining piece Sugar has come up with. Horse Sense is strongly recommended for all fans of racing, especially those who would like to learn about racing's rich history and be entertained at the same time. Newer fans of racing will quickly understand what makes the sport unique.

Bert Sugar's sense of humor shines through on every page, and will put a smile on any reader's face. His book, written from the point of view of a non-insider of the sport, is a refreshing, brilliant take on a topic that has been repeated many times before.
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