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Book Review

Ride of Their Lives: The Triumphs and Turmoil of Today's Top Jockeys
by Lenny Shulman
from Eclipse Press, 252 pages hardcover

Fans of racing focus most of their attention on the equine athletes, and that attention is well deserved, but races cannot be run without a jockey on board to control their immense power. These men and women risk their lives every day, followed around the track by an ambulance, a good hint as to how dangerous their job is. Ride of Their Lives is their story.

Lenny Shulman selected fourteen top riders and gave each one relatively equal billing. The short biographies, each accompanied by a few color photos, are in alphabetical order so no favoritism could be claimed. He generally let the jockey and the people around him tell the story, through frequent use of direct quotations. The reader learns about the extreme measures riders take in the never-ending battle to keep their weight down, the work of their agents to get them good mounts in big races, and the joys and pains of winning and losing big stakes races.

Since all the featured jockeys (except Chris Antley) are still active riders, the book gives the reader a thorough look back at perhaps the last twenty years of racing in North America. We see the 1996 Breeders' Cup through the eyes of Corey Nakatani, winning two races on the card just a month after his sister was murdered. Jerry Bailey brings back the memories of Cigar's run of sixteen consecutive wins, and Arcangues' 133-1 upset of the Breeders' Cup Classic. Laffit Pincay relives the experience of winning his 8,834th race aboard Irish Nip at Hollywood Park, pushing him ahead of Bill Shoemaker's record.

We also get a lot of personal stories about their lives both on and off the track. Pat Day tells us how his life changed from rodeo bull rider to racehorse jockey, and then from drug and alcohol abuser to born-again Christian. Kent Desormeaux walks us through the lowest point in his career when he stood up too early in the 1993 Japan Cup aboard Kotashaan and lost, fueling the opinion that he wasn't riding horses out. Pat Valenzuela's problems with cocaine abuse, marital problems, suspensions, and injuries are well documented.

The only negative of the book would be the total lack of any female jockeys, however, in fairness, since the retirement of Julie Krone there has not been a female rider in the national spotlight.

This reviewer strongly recommends this book to all fans of racing, new and old. The fourteen jockeys' backgrounds, lives, and personalities are so different yet they all share a common goal of winning horse races. Race fans get a better appreciation of how tough it was to get to where they are after reading their life stories. As Tom Hammond writes in his foreword, "Small in stature, large in heart, they put their lives on the line in every race. The best jockeys are among the most gifted of athletic performers."

Ride of Their Lives has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $17.47.

Want to win a copy of this book? Just register here for two copies to be given away courtesy of Eclipse Press. Entries close on July 13th.

Rating:     4/5

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