Toronto Sun sportswriter Perry Lefko's first book about the Breeders' Cup, The Greatest Show on Turf, was released in 1996 and covered up through the 1995 running. Seven years later he is back with this update, featuring many more exciting stories about the new-dubbed World Thoroughbred Championships.
Giving the equine and human superstars of racing equal billing, he dedicates a chapter to a specific character, frequently quoting first-hand reports. A 32-page section of black and white photographs gives a nice visual record of some of the highlights of the past 19 years of the Breeders' Cup. The volume of research Lefko has done to compile these stories is outstanding, yielding a very thorough treatment of the Breeders' Cup era of racing history.
Some chapters are devoted to special events or circumstances, like the post-September 11 Cup at Belmont Park only a month after the terrorist attacks. Most chapters focus on such racing luminaries as Bobby Frankel, D. Wayne Lukas, Pat Day, the Paulsons, Tiznow, Cigar, and Go For Wand. There are even two chapters on Canada, one covering the 1996 edition at Woodbine and one about Canadian horses in the Breeders' Cup, which is to be expected since Lefko is a Canadian.
His chapter on jockey Frankie Dettori was an excellent read, detailing his Breeders' Cup performances and looking more in depth at his apparently bad ride aboard Swain in the 1998 Classic, and then his "revenge" one year later in the Turf aboard Daylami. His love-hate relationship with the racing media is an ongoing theme. Many journalists criticized him for his flying dismount, first used off Barathea after winning the 1994 Mile, his overuse of the whip aboard Swain, and then his overexuberance after winning on Daylami, a horse that many felt any jockey could have won on since he was so dominant.
An entire chapter is dedicated to the debacle that was Ricks Natural Star, the "blunder horse" of the 1996 Turf at Woodbine. From his trainer's unconventional methods to how the horse got into the race in the first place, and what happened to the horse afterwards are covered in detail. Upon reading it, you have to be thankful for owner Larry Weber who claimed the horse and promptly retired him to Kentucky.
In a contrast of stories, Chapters 20 and 21 cover two famous Pick Six wins. Chapter 20 details the group of Breeders' Cup Newsfeed people headed by G.D. Hieronymous, who won over $3 million as the lone winner at Gulfstream Park in 1999, while Chapter 21 takes us back to one of the most embarrassing events in racing history, when Autotote employee Chris Harn masterminded the Fix Six at Arlington in 2002.
Lefko uses the last two chapters as a sort of "editorial page". In the penultimate chapter, "Heard Around the Rail", Lefko lists, in no particular order, his 20 most interesting Breeders' Cup stories. In the final chapter, "The Best of the Best", Lefko included submissions by members of About.Com's Horse Racing Forum and the Derby List of what the felt were the best Cup races ever run. Reading these submissions, you can sense what kind of an effect racing has on people. To many it is more than just a gamble, but an emotional rollercoaster ride, only experienced when you see the best horses in the world run the races of their lives and earn their place in Breeders' Cup immortality.
This is an excellent book for all fans of racing. Those who have followed the Breeders' Cup since its inception will enjoy reliving the memories of the last twenty years, while new fans will quickly earn an appreciation of how important the Cup is to racing and learn a few stories about the human and equine greats that make the sport what it is today.
To read a free excerpt from Thoroughbred Racing's Greatest Day courtesy of author Perry Lefko and Taylor Trade Publishing, click here.
Thoroughbred Racing's Greatest Day has a list price of $34.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $24.47.
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