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Book Review

Legacies of the Turf
A Century of Great Breeders (Vol. 1)
by Edward L. Bowen
Eclipse Press, 303 pages hardcover, 10.70" x 8.56"

This new book from one of racing's top historians, Edward L. Bowen, explores some of the most influential Thoroughbred breeders of the 20th centure. We learn how they earned their place in history via a short but detailed biography of the breeder and his or her family, their business both inside and outside racing, and the horses they bred who earned them a place in this volume. Because of the size of the project, the author decided to break the book up into two volumes, one for each half of the century. This, Volume 1, covers the top breeders of the first half of the century. He said, "To condense too many chapters into one book seemed to give insufficient opportunity to describe these outstanding people." The second half, Volume 2, is due for release later in 2004.

Racing is full of many interesting characters. The jockeys, the trainers, and even the bookmakers and punters all contribute to the unique atmosphere of the racetrack and set it apart from other sports. However, the sport would not exist if not for the animals on the track itself and the owners and breeders who put them there, so Bowen set out to "entertain the reader while honoring a series of truly fascinating individuals." Twenty breeders are featured in Volume 1, and their names read like a who's-who of American racing. Included are the likes of the Phipps family's Wheatley Stable which bred Seabiscuit and Bold Ruler, August Belmont II who bred Man O'War, and Man O'War's owner Samuel D. Riddle who bred War Admiral and War Relic. Of course, no book on top American breeding would be complete without a chapter on the legendary Calumet Farm. Bowen thankfully focused on Calumet's past greatness preferring to leave the reader to look elsewhere for more details on the terrible fate of the farm at the hands of J.T. Lundy in later years.

A common theme for many of the breeders is family. Not just of the equine variety, but how many of the old-time breeding operations have remained with the same family for generations, many of which continue today. The Hancock family still runs Claiborne Farm, the Phipps family continues to race champions such as 2002 champion juvenile filly Storm Flag Flying, and Marylou Whitney still runs the stable left to her by the late C.V. Whitney, winning the 2004 Belmont Stakes with Birdstone. Another commonality between the breeders featured here is a desire to ship their horses to Europe to win important races there, such as the Epsom Derby, the Ascot Gold Cup, and the Grand Prix de Paris, something totally unheard of today.

Included in each chapter is a convenient "short list" of champion horses bred, pedigree charts of the key horses from that operation such as foundation sires or mares, and several photos of the horses and people involved. Concluding each chapter is a complete list of all the stakes winners bred by that farm, listing the horse's name, color, sex, year of foaling, sire, dam, and maternal grandsire. Finally, Bowen added an appendix featuring ten foundation mares from the first half of the century, demonstrating the widespread influence on the breed they have. Each descendent is listed with his or her sire's name and the name of the breeder, and champion horses are conveniently indicated by a dagger symbol.

This is an excellent reference book especially for racing history aficionadoes and students of pedigree and can help new fans as well as veterans. He said, "Knowing more about the history of the game will help them put into perspective the engulfing dramas we all see on the Turf every day. I hope the book does justice in helping preserve an appreciation of some extraordinary individuals. It has always fascinated me how many successful people in Thoroughbred racing and breeding had outstanding careers and influences on other aspects of American business and society."

Legacies of the Turf has a list price of $29.95 but can be purchased from Amazon.com, for $20.37.

Rating:     4/5

Legacies of the Turf Vol. 2

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