Well-known turf writer Steve Haskin's latest effort, Horse Racing's Holy Grail: The Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derby, is a collection of articles on various aspects of the Derby and how difficult it is to win as an owner, trainer, jockey, or bettor. The book attempts to appeal to too broad an audience and so, unfortunately, it falls short for many people. It focuses too much on recent Derby history, despite the fact that this "epic quest" has been going on for some 128 years and surely the horses and horsemen of the past deserved more recognition of their efforts than they get here. Because it focuses on such a narrow timeframe, for the most part the 1980's through to the present, the book will unfortunately become obsolete sooner. Racing history buffs probably already know the history described and would gain little from this volume, although it would help new fans come up to speed on recent Derby lore. Perhaps a different title would have been more appropriate, rather than suggesting a history book which it is not trying to be.
For the bettor looking for angles on picking the Derby winner, Haskin did an admirable job. You learn to recognize a winning owner or trainer by his words and actions, you get his "Ten Commandments of the Derby" which quickly weed out the pretenders, and you get a short yet useful lesson on dosage. Chapter 9, "Exposing the Myths", and Chapter 10, "Etched in Stone", are recommended reading for anybody intending to bet on the Derby. However, you can probably find the same angles and much more in other publications and websites catering to the Derby bettor.
Fans of big-name trainers will enjoy "The Derby Dynamo", a chapter dedicated to the three winningest Derby trainers in recent history: D. Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert, and Nick Zito. All three are successful at Churchill Downs, but their methods are worlds apart. The chapter immediately preceding it, "The Men From The Boys", describes their less-successful competition. It makes for a very interesting contrast, giving the reader a lesson in what works and what doesn't.
The chapters on journalists and trainer quotes during Derby week appeared to be nothing but filler. It read like one lengthy humor piece where the joke got old after the first few paragraphs, and his attack of younger, inexperienced journalists from smaller media outlets was embarrassing. To add insult to injury, not only did the book need this filler near the end but the print is large, the text is double-spaced, and the margins are large relative to the size of the pages. Add several full and half page photographs (sadly, all black and white, the book could have used a color section) and the result is that its 256 actual pages can be read easily within two hours. This optical illusion serves little purpose other than to make the book look thicker and thus the price seem more reasonable.
The book is recommended reading for new fans who want to learn some recent Derby history or want to place a bet on the big race at Churchill Downs. Long time fans and history buffs would likely be disappointed with the main focus being on recent events.
Horse Racing's Holy Grail has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $17.47.
Rating: 3 / 5
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