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Book Review

American Classic Pedigrees (1914-2002)
by Avalyn Hunter
from Eclipse Press, 780 pages hardcover

Impressive in both size and the quality of information presented, American Classic Pedigrees is a masterpiece of research. The majority of the book presents an analysis of the pedigrees and careers of the winners of the American Classic races (the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes plus the Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks) from 1914 to 2002. Prior to delving into the pedigrees, the reader is given plenty of background information to set the stage. This book explains exactly how the Thoroughbred breed arrived at the state it is in today.

The first chapter is "The Evolution of the American Classic Winner", but it really is more about the evolution of the Thoroughbred breed. Starting with the three orginal foundation sires and tracing through the years to the present, major sires and dams are identified along with their contributions to the breed. Toward the end of the chapter we find out the political and other reasons for the trends that changed the American Thoroughbred from a sturdy horse with lots of stamina to the present day early-maturing speedballs who are babied past defects that would have prevented their ancestors from racing. This section will be especially interesting to those worried about the perceived "decline of the breed" we see today.

The second chapter is "The Evolution of the American Classics" and details how the three races currently considered Classics came into being. Of the original three races once considered the equivalent of the English Classics, only one, the Belmont, is still a Classic while the other two have slid into obscurity. The now celebrated Kentucky Derby was once just an also-ran in the racing world until Col. Matt Winn's syndicate bought Churchill Downs. Winn was a canny promoter and built the race into the internationally known spectacle it is today.

The third chapter is "Theories of Breeding" and gives you the basics to help with understand the analysis of the winners to come in the rest of the chapters. Topics such as nicking, inbreeding, line breeding, dosage, and female families are all covered. These are all used in presenting what has worked to produce an American Classic winner.

The rest of the book is divided into chapters covering a decade of Classic winners each. At the start of each chapter is a discussion of the major events and trends in racing during that decade including purses, breeding, politics, etc. Every Classic winner is presented with a career summary, discussion of his/her ancestry and descendants (if any) while black and white photos are used occasionally as illustrations. The information for each horse can get quite detailed and gives a good understanding of the horse's career and what factors in his breeding led to him being good. It is easy to see the change in pedigree fashions over the years as you browse through the winners.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of where the Thoroughbred breed came from, how it has developed over the years, and what the future possibly holds. While the size and information detail may overwhelm some readers, everyone can appreciate this work at least from a reference standpoint.

American Classic Pedigrees has a list price of $50.00 and is available from for $35.00.

Rating:     4.5/5

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