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Book Review

Racing My Father: Growing Up With A Riding Legend
by Patrick Smithwick
Eclipse Press, May 2006, 376 pages hardcover

Alfred P. Smithwick is a legend in American steeplechase racing. The Hall of Famer dominated the sport in the 1950's and 60's and then, after an injury ended his riding career, A.P. or "Paddy" switched to training and excelled in that as well. Meanwhile, his son Patrick was starting his own career as a steeplechase jockey. In his autobiography, Racing My Father, Patrick, now an award-winning author, writes about his father's accomplishments and his influence on many people in the steeplechasing community, but more importantly, demonstrates the impact his father had on his life. The reader learns a lot about the Smithwick family, where horses are a tradition. Patrick's uncle D. Michael Smithwick was a trainer, while his mother was a show-jumping rider.

Like most riders, even a legend like A.P. Smithwick had to battle to make weight. Patrick writes about how his father would dress warmly and then drive to the track with the car windows rolled up and the heat turned on, during the middle of summer, essentially turning the car into a sauna. Even if he didn't make the weight, the trainers would still let him ride because his superior skill more than made up for any weight advantage the competition might have had.

As you would expect, Smithwick lived under the shadow of a legend while he was growing up. As part of the racing community, he learned first-hand about the business, both at the track while watching his father ride, and on the family farm taking care of the horses. He got to meet many famous owners, trainers, and jockeys, colleagues and clients of his famous father. Clearly, Paddy was planning on having his son take over from him, gradually easing him into the steeplechase jockey's craft. Eventually the junior Smithwick was riding races and winning in Maryland and Virginia as an amateur, and later as a professional at Pimlico and Saratoga. Observers began to take notice that perhaps the torch would soon be passed from father to son. Patrick continued to attend school, including college, but always made himself available to gallop horses for his father in the mornings before rushing off to class.

Leading this double life, Smithwick was at a crossroads. He had to decide whether to continue in the family tradition as a horseman, or make a name for himself elsewhere. He chose the latter. The last third of the book deals with the elder Smithwick's battle with lung cancer, while the junior embarks on a career as a writer. Because A.P. was too sick to attend, Smithwick stood in for his father at his 1973 Racing Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Saratoga Springs. After his father died, he never rode in a race again, although he briefly considered a comeback. He went on to a successful career as a newspaper editor and author, and still lives on the family farm in Maryland.

Contemporary fans of racing will see a lot of familiar names in the book In the epilogue, Smithwick details what happened to the people mentioned, including trainers Scotty Schulhofer and Tom Voss, who, like Paddy, started as a jockey and successfully moved into the training business upon retirement. Eight pages of black-and-white photos of both the author and his father are included.

Given the subject matter, this would make an excellent Father's Day gift, as it deals so eloquently with the relationship the young Patrick had with his legendary father. Followers of steeplechase racing will enjoy reading about one of the sport's all-time greatest jockeys and trainers, as well as getting an inside look at not only the major leagues of Saratoga and Maryland steeplechasing but also the minor leagues of point-to-point and hunt meetings where Patrick Jr. got his start as a jockey. It is a very moving first-hand look into one of steeplechasing's most storied families.

Racing With My Father has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Exclusively Equine for $12.95 or for $15.72.

Rating:     4/5

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