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Book Review

The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing
by Steve Davidowitz
DRF Press, December 2006, 324 pages hardcover

In every sport, one of the most common discussion topics among its fans is "Top 10 Lists". Heated debates often ensue over who were the best and worst in various categories. In his latest book, The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing, longtime professional handicapper, reporter, editor, consultant, author and DRF columnist Steve Davidowitz covers racing's greats and not-so-greats, ranking the horses, jockeys, trainers, horseplayers, and races of modern times.

A frequent problem in sports discussions is when different eras are compared, such as Mike Tyson vs. Jack Dempsey in boxing, or Secretariat vs. Man o'War in racing. Davidowitz solves this problem in a very simple way. With few exceptions, he only considered the current era, including races and horses he either saw personally or watched live on television. He attempts to settle arguments about the sport's equine and human talent, and even creates new debates. He ranks a wide range of categories within racing, including upsets, jockeys, trainers, owners, champions, consistency, versatility, popularity, rivalries, sires, broodmares, innovations, scandals, racetracks, race callers, and horseplayers. Davidowitz backs up his rankings with statistical information and comments about what he witnessed in person. The lists are interspersed with entertaining anecdotes and probing essays that shed light on the sports' most brilliant and controversial characters, from Native Dancer to Barbaro, Arcaro to Bailey, and Whittingham to Lukas. He uses this soapbox to not only celebrate what makes the sport great, but to point out the rascals and reprobates in an industry that too often fails to address and resolve its most troubling issues.

Modern racing fans will thoroughly enjoy Davidowitz's lists, comparing their personal opinions and observations to his. In this age of simulcasting and specialty racing channels on TV such as TVG and HRTV, racing fans will enjoy his ranking list of the top 20 race callers in North America, a list that should be the source for debates for years to come given that race callers tend to stay in the business for years, in contrast to the 2-4 year careers of the typical racehorse. Readers will often find the worst lists to be more entertaining than the best lists, and in many cases Davidowitz doesn't merely pick on easy targets, such as not choosing the sterile Cigar as the "biggest dud at stud". This book also makes for a useful history lesson and a "trip down memory lane" for the racing fan, as Davidowitz has covered racing for over three decades, a period which includes the last three Triple Crown winners and the entire history of the Breeders' Cup World Championships. Davidowitz will bring back memories of horses the reader probably saw in person or on TV but had forgotten about until now.

This is by far one of the most interesting books on Thoroughbred racing this reviewer has seen in recent memory. In this work, Davidowitz salutes the human and equine stars that do the sport proud, points out some of the failures, gives a useful history lesson on North American racing of the last 30 years, and explains what needs to be done to preserve this great sport in this ever-changing competitive environment.

Just an addition to let you know there is an error in Chapter One about the training of J.O. Tobin in his 1977 upset over Seattle Slew which Steve has admitted publicly that he made. While Laz Barrera trained J.O. Tobin later in the year, during the time of that race he was trained by John Adams. This error is only one small flaw in an otherwise excellent book and should not diminish your enjoyment.

The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing has a list price of $24.95 and is available for $16.47 from Amazon.com.

Rating:     5/5

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