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Book Review

My Racing Heart: The Passionate World of Thoroughbreds and the Track
by Nan Mooney
from Harper Collins, 320 pages hardcover

Nan Mooney, a staff writer at the BloodHorse, demonstrates in great detail her personal experiences with the sport of Thoroughbred racing in her autobiography, My Racing Heart. Paralleling her own biography is a biography of the woman who introduced her to this great sport and was her inspiration, her late grandmother "May-May". Mooney's story would not be complete without this fitting tribute to her trail-blazing matriarch who was years ahead of her time breaking down traditional barriers to women.

Starting with her childhood in Washington state, she takes us on her personal "tour of duty" as a racing fan - as an aspiring jockey who grew too tall for the job, to a recreational gambler making small win bets with her grandmother, to a fan of individual horses such as Alydar, to a full-time professional horseplayer at Santa Anita, and finally to sports writer covering the Kentucky Derby in person at Churchill Downs.

Along the way, she ties her experiences with the sport's long and colorful history, paying homage to such luminaries as breeder Federico Tesio, Derby promoter Matt Winn, jockeys Angel Cordero and Donna Barton, and trainers Bob Baffert and Jenine Sahadi. She also gives the reader a complete history of the sport by inserting stories of the past at various intervals through the book - how the breed began in the 1700's, how racing started in North America, to more recent, sad events such as the Anthony Ciulla race-fixing scandal and the death of Alydar resulting in the collapse of Calumet Farm.

She also meets some others very strongly involved in the game, such as an Emerald Downs groom named Cleevie, a Santa Anita professional horseplayer named Albert, and a young New York track photographer named Brandon Benson; people who aren't in the spotlight but whose role in the sport should not be ignored. Benson's photos appear at the beginning of most of the chapters, and have also appeared on my other website, Horseracing.about.com.

In the final chapter, Mooney shows an editorial side, commenting on where the sport is going. "Change at the track is unceasing, like water through the fingers," she writes. She expresses disappointment but resignation that the new Emerald Downs is not like the Longacres of her childhood. She shows us that women have made inroads in the sport, as jockeys, trainers, and veterinarians, and have come a long way since a suffragette committed suicide at the Epsom Derby. She disagrees with the rampant use of drugs. She compares Magna chairman Frank Stronach with Matt Winn, in a surprisingly positive light.

My Racing Heart is recommended reading for fans, young and old, who value the human-interest side of the sport. Mooney's first love may be the Thoroughbred, but the sport would not exist if not for the many interesting characters she describes that connect us with the horses. From her historical coverage of racing, new fans get a better understanding of how racing arrived at where it is today. And some fans may find their personal experiences mirror that of the author, a roller-coaster ride of emotions that only racing can bring.

My Racing Heart has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $17.47.

Rating:     4/5

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