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Book Review

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Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy
By Alex Brown
Glen View Media, March 2011, 235 pages hardcover

In the past quarter century, no other racehorse has captured the imagination of both the racing and non-racing public more than 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Winning the Roses by a record margin to extend his career unbeaten streak to six, many had already assumed him to be the next Triple Crown winner. However, the dream came to a tragic end when he broke down soon after the start of the Preakness. After surgeries and months of care under Dr. Dean Richardson, he eventually contracted laminitis and had to be euthanized. In his first book, longtime horseman and New York Times contributor Alex Brown covers not only the life and times of this great racehorse, but also his legacy, which may have exceeded what he might have accomplished as a Triple Crown winner.

Brown spent two years traveling around North America to do additional research, working at seven different racetracks for seven different trainers. He interviewed over 100 people involved in the Barbaro saga, two of which contributed text: ESPN reporter Jeannine Edwards who spent many hours at New Bolton and wrote the foreword, and Gretchen Jackson who bred and owned Barbaro with her husband Roy and wrote the afterword. The book is set up in chronological order, starting with when the Jacksons purchased La Ville Rouge and then decided on Dynaformer for her first mating, which led to Barbaro. Brown discusses how he was raised on the farm and how he was one of the largest foals in his group. Each of his starts is described in detail, from how he was trained up to the race by Michael Matz and assistant Peter Brette to how the race was run and won. He mentions that Barbaro may be the only Kentucky Derby winner to never feel the whip during the race. Most people already know the story, but Brown's writing style brings the reader back to 2006, allowing you to recall the television footage and remember where you were that fateful moment on the third Saturday in May.

At this point the story increases in pace, as the reader is following three simultaneous events, which had to be coordinated in order for the horse to be saved: Barbaro being transported from Pimlico to the New Bolton Center, Dr. Dean Richardson quickly returning from Florida, and his on-call staff at New Bolton jumping into action to prepare the clinic for surgery. Brown includes a convenient "timeline" across the bottom of several pages, to describe week-by-week how Barbaro first improved, then suddenly declined and ultimately was euthanized. A chapter titled "Was Barbaro Great?" seeks to answer the question from various angles, through the opinions of several respected writers. The consensus was that he may not be Hall of Fame material due to his very short racing career (he failed to win an Eclipse Award for the same reason) but his Kentucky Derby was one of the most dominating performances ever seen, which makes him great in most people's eyes.

Rather than have the main text interspersed with photographs, illustrator Lynden Godsoe reproduced many of the images in a series of sketches, while 164 color photographs are shown in a separate "photo essay" section. Fans will enjoy seeing Barbaro rolling in his round pen, galloping in the mornings with Peter Brette aboard, and grazing after a job well done, and then feel the roller coaster of emotions during his time at New Bolton. The photo essay served as an excellent break in the text, separating the biography from the legacy.

During his time at the New Bolton Center, many people rallied to support him, sending him flowers and gifts. After his death due to laminitis, the NTRA began the Barbaro Fund for laminitis research. A group of fans banded together online as the Friends of Barbaro, or the FOB's, during his recovery, and after he died, stayed together to continue to support not only laminitis research but also horse welfare. It was their efforts that inspired Brown to travel, not only to research for his book but also to investigate horse slaughter, how racehorses are sold off to kill buyers who ship them to Mexico or Canada where slaughter of horses for meat is still legal. Brown wrote an entire chapter on laminitis, to explain to the public about this painful disease, and to show how little is still known about it at this point.

Alex Brown left no stone unturned when researching and writing this book. Fans of horse racing will enjoy this look back at a tremendous racehorse on the track, who almost beat the odds to survive an injury which usually results in immediate euthanasia. The story and the photo essay will truly bring everything back into focus as if it happened yesterday, as 2006 is a racing year that few will ever forget. Although Barbaro ultimately did not survive, he left a legacy that no Triple Crown winner could have matched. This is a most fitting tribute to Barbaro but also to his owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, trainer Michael Matz, assistant Peter Brette, jockey Edgar Prado, surgeon Dr. Dean Richardson, and everybody else who played a role in this great horse's life. Brown's work belongs in every horse fan's personal library, as Barbaro's reach goes beyond the world of racing.

Beyond the Homestretch has a list price of $29.99 and can be purchased through Amazon.com.

Rating:     5/5

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