Making an impulse decision, New York-based journalist Elizabeth Mitchell traveled to Churchill Downs for the 1999 Derby for her first time at the races. She watched the drama of Charismatic and Chris Antley's upset win unfold from the infield, holding a winning ticket in her hand. The race result and the circumstances surrounding the trip were the inspiration for this book. Through painstaking research and first-hand accounts, she pieced together the stories behind the big story of Charismatic's near-miss in his Triple Crown bid. Racing fans who witnessed the 1999 Triple Crown in person or on television will enjoy learning what went on behind the scenes and will once again feel the emotions of that summer through Mitchell's detailed descriptions of the running of each race and the atmosphere at the tracks those afternoons.
Those who have read Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit will enjoy this work because it is structured very similarly. The long chronological narrative is interrupted throughout with biographical chapters and history lessons, giving the reader useful breaks in the action. In these, the reader learns much about Charismatic's owners Bob and Beverly Lewis, his trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and gets a complete biography of his jockey Chris Antley. Mitchell pulls no punches exposing the "demons" in Antley's life, and the reader quickly realizes that he was on a collision course with disaster from the very beginning and simply ran out of chances. In a parallel to the main story, Mitchell includes an autobiography of her relationship with a friend dying of leukemia, his cancer analogous to Antley's "cancer" of drugs and alcohol.
Mitchell impressed this reviewer by the fact that a total newcomer to the game could in just three short years, release a work that is at par with the multitude of racing books that have been released in the wake of Seabiscuit's success, written by veterans of the turf. Unfortunately her inexperience showed through with some inaccuracies found in the text, but these did not take away from the quality of the whole package, which was very high indeed. This reviewer hopes that Mitchell will continue her study of the sport of Thoroughbred racing and release another work in the near future.
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