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Book Review

Diary of a Dream: My Journey in Thoroughbred Racing
by George Rowand
Eclipse Press, October 2005, 240 pages, hardcover

For most people, participation in the sport of Thoroughbred racing involves visiting their local track, studying a Racing Form or track program, placing bets on every race hoping to turn a profit on the day, and perhaps following the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup horses through traditional and Internet media outlets. To them, the thought of owning a racehorse and possibly winning a Grade 1 stakes race is only a distant dream. In his latest book, Diary of a Dream, Virginia-based news editor George Rowand tells us how he turned that dream into reality.

Some may think that horse ownership is a simple matter of spending more to win more. Rowand shows that nothing could be further from the truth. The Bonner Farm partnership, consisting mostly of family and friends he needed to convince to join, suffered several years of heavy losses as most of the horses they bought at the sales suffered injuries on the farm and never made it to the track. Fillies he thought would bring him to the winner's circle instead were retired as broodmares very quickly. Very little purse money was earned yet the vet bills, trainer fees, and other expenses continued to stack up. Bringing in more investors kept the business barely afloat. Rowand had hit rock bottom and he began to question the decision he made to forego a career in law to enter into the business of racehorse ownership.

Then things turned for the better. On a recommendation Rowand hired a new trainer for his stable, Maryland-based Barclay Tagg, a no-nonsense horseman with a reputation for being a grouch but also known for getting the best results possible out of his charges. Through Tagg, they secured the services of jockey Kent Desormeaux, who was just starting to make a name for himself at the time, as well as all-time wins leader Laffit Pincay Jr. Then the broodmares began to produce stakes winners. Among Bonner Farm's achievements, all by homebreds, Highland Crystal won the Violet Handicap at the Meadowlands, Highland Springs upset the great Fourstardave at Saratoga in the Daryl's Joy, and Miss Josh gave the partnership its only Grade 1 win, in the Gamely Handicap at Hollywood Park. As quickly as the farm reached the top, they hit bottom again as their best horses retired and Rowand felt the time was right for him to exit the game.

While reading about the roller-coaster ride of horse ownership experienced by Rowand and his partners, the reader also gains an understanding of the difficulties and risks every owner must face. Horses are fragile animals prone to injury and a freak accident can force an early retirement or worse, suddenly removing a source of income. Broodmares may fail to get pregnant, meaning a full year without a foal that might have profited the farm on the track or at a yearling sale. Or more simply, the horses may prove uncompetitive on the racetrack and fail to pay their expenses. Smaller operations like Bonner Farm may not have enough horses nor cash to ride out the bad times while patiently waiting for their fortunes to improve. The book also gives the reader a look at the earlier exploits of trainer Barclay Tagg, who was quickly thrust into the public eye when New York-bred gelding Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 2003. Just like he did with Funny Cide, Tagg took horses with unfashionable breeding owned by a small partnership of old friends to Grade 1 stakes success.

This is an excellent book for any racing fan considering entering the racehorse ownership business either alone or in a partnership. Rowand's experience may not be typical of all owners, but his account of 17 years in the business give an excellent example of the emotional extremes this sport evokes. Any owner will tell you it was always worth the risk. As Rowand writes, "Secretariat gave me the dream (...) which seemed highly improbable. And then it came true."

Diary of a Dream has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Exclusively Equine for $15.94 or for $16.47. An excerpt is also available online from Exclusively Equine.

Rating:     4.5/5

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