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Book Review

Champions
The Lives, Times, and Past Performances of America's Greatest Thoroughbreds (revised edition)
edited by Daily Racing Form staff
DRF Press, December 2005, 448 pages, hardcover

How many times have you heard about some champion racer of the past and wondered just how good he was and what his career was like? How often does a debate between racing fans discussing the merits of today's stakes winners degenerate into a rant about how today's horses don't compare with those from the past? Well now you can satisfy your curiosity and settle some debates with this new, updated edition of Champions from DRF Press.

Champions is really two books in one. First there is a nice summary of North American racing history for each decade with over 100 great photos from the DRF archives. Several of Daily Racing Form's best editors and writers contributed to the text portion of the book including Steven Crist, Glenye Cain, David Grening, Joe Hirsch, Jay Hovdey, Dave Litfin, Jay Privman, and Paula Welch, with a foreword by Irwin Cohen. These articles are very entertaining and informative and the photos were a nice complement to the them, with many rare pictures in addition to the expected shots like Secretariat winning the Belmont.

Then to make it even more special, there are lifetime past performance charts for 531 champion racers from 1893 to 2004. These coded sets of numbers tell the story of what each horse did with great detail and accuracy, and can readily be compared between decades since the format has remained virtually unchanged through the years. This book is a wonderful reference to have in your library and gives a great perspective on how much things have changed in racing over the decades. The first edition covered just the 20th century, so this new revised edition includes 46 more divisional champions from the years 2000-2004, more than 135 updated photographs, and the addition of the Beyer Speed Figures for past performance lines from 1992 onward. As editor Irwin Cohen writes, these figures are "the single most important change in the evolution of past performances [and] provide a way to compare horses from the past two decades against each other."

Although most people would be flipping right away to such popular horses as Seabiscuit, Man o'War, Secretariat, John Henry, and Kelso, especially enjoyable to us was reading charts for horses like the mare Imp. She raced 171 times, finishing in the money in 126 of them, in a career that spanned from 1896 to 1901, sometimes running 6 times in one month at distances up to 2 1/4 miles. For someone used to the horses of today who often are hard pressed to race once a month over a 2-3 year period over much shorter distances, a career like this is mind boggling. Looking over the charts from decade to decade, you could see the pattern gradually shift from stamina to speed in thoroughbreds. All the Eclipse Award winners are included plus selected others generally accepted as champions of their year from the time before that award existed.

This is an invaluable reference that belongs in every racing fan's personal library. At just $50 list price, this book is a very worthwhile investment for fans of racing history. This is a volume you will find yourself referring back to many times to research the greats of the past to compare them to the stars of today.

Champions has a list price of $50.00 and is available for $31.50 at Amazon.com.

Rating:     5/5

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