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Book Review

Finished Lines A Collection of Memorable Writing on Thoroughbred Racing
edited by Frank R. Scatoni
Introduction by Steven Crist
from DRF Press, 342 pages

With few exceptions, no sport can express as much emotion through a journalist's writing than thoroughbred racing. In this anthology, Frank Scatoni demonstrates this fact by collecting some of the best examples of turf writing from the last century. The pieces are sorted alphabetically by author, giving variety as the book is read through and not showing favoritism for one piece over another.

Legends, both past and present, such as Andrew Beyer, Dick Francis, Jim Bolus, Damon Runyon, and the timeless Joe Hirsch are represented here. Scatoni said of this collection, that it is "more a celebration of Thoroughbred racing than a straightforward literary anthology. It captures the essence and spirit of the sport as seen through the eyes of some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century."

Although all of the pieces are non-fictional accounts of actual events, they range from excerpts from best-selling books, such as Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit, to newspaper columns such as Red Smith's discussion on jockey Bill Shoemaker. The authors each have a different focus and their collective efforts make the book more than the sum of its parts. Bill Nack vividly tells the story of Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes, while Joe Hirsch writes a tribute to John Henry, "the most remarkable horse who ever raced, anywhere."

Going away from the upper echelons and into the trenches, Andrew Beyer talks about the betting patterns at cheap fair meets and Mike Helm learns about the life of a track superintendent and how they can never keep everybody happy.

After reading all these great works, one quickly sees that racing really has changed little over the years. Trainers and handicappers still complain about biased surfaces, horses are still being drugged illegally, and touts still ply their trade, selling picks that they claim to be "locks" to win.

This reviewer could not find fault with any of the selected pieces. The anthology truly represents the best of turf writing to this day. But if one had to be chosen, Jay Hovdey's account of the Sunday Silence-Easy Goer rivalry through the eyes of training legend Charlie Whittingham stood out. When told that his Derby winner would not be the Preakness favorite, he said, "Those bastards don't even know what color our horse is." Needless to say Sunday Silence won that epic battle at Pimlico.

This book is strongly recommended to all fans of racing. The sport is not limited to equine and human athletic talent. Those whose job is to paint the picture of racing's exciting and colorful history play a very important role in attracting and retaining new fans and Scatoni gives them their due with this collection.

Finished Lines has a cover price of $24.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $17.47.

Rating:     5/5

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