The Program: Author Series

The Program: Author Series


When you love horse racing, it not only gets in your blood – it gets in your mind.  When you can’t be at the rail or in the barns, nothing beats spending some time reading a good book about horses.  The Author Series at Equestricon brings the people behind the best in our sport’s literature to Saratoga.  Whether you want to meet the authors of your favorite horse racing books, or you’re looking for new things to read, the Author Series is for you.

Learning the Sport

Donna Barton Brothers grew up in horse racing, and has worked in it her entire life: from exercise rider to jockey to broadcaster.  Through her broadcasting work, it became clear to her that racing has a language all its own, and a book explaining that language would help make the sport more inclusive.  Once she saw an introductory book about NASCAR written by a woman who grew up in the sport and now broadcasts it, the idea became clear: she could write this book herself.  She did, and it became Inside Track: Insider’s Guide to Horse Racing.

Even people who have been in racing for years have learned from reading Brothers’s book.  Seasoned handicappers already fluent in reading a program have told her, “When I read the section on trainers, it really taught me a lot about how to develop a Thoroughbred into a racehorse.”  The book can also help when May rolls around, to help Derby partygoers have an idea of what they’re getting into.  “When you’re watching the best races, you really just want to sit there and watch the best races!  You don’t want to have to field a thousand questions.”  

Meeting the Great Horses

The Author Series at Equestricon will introduce (or reintroduce!) horse racing fans to three of the most iconic horses in American racing.

The 1973 Triple Crown was “the most important six weeks in the history of the sport in the last century”, according to author Bill Nack.  Nack, who began his turf writing career at Newsday in 1972, covered Secretariat for his entire career – from the time when exercise rider Jimmy Gaffney took Nack over to Secretariat’s stall, a few days before stablemate Riva Ridge ran the Belmont, and proclaimed, “someday he’s going to make everyone forget Riva Ridge.”  After the great chestnut’s transcendent Triple Crown run, Nack delved back into his story, including detailed conversations with owner Penny Chenery, and wrote the seminal account of his career: Secretariat: The Making of a Champion.

Almost a quarter of a century after the 1973 Triple Crown, after seeing an ESPN segment about Secretariat, author Phil Dandrea became fascinated with another horse.  He had remembered Secretariat, but “when they talked about the Preakness, and how Sham had given him a run for his money again, I started to think, who's this Sham I keep hearing about?”  That question led Dandrea on a journey: through library stacks and press boxes for archived records of Sham, and to talk to the people who knew the hard-luck horse best.  The result became Dandrea’s book, SHAM: Great Was Second Best.

37 years later, writer Joe Drape was covering racing for the New York Times.  After eighteen years of not being able to write about a Triple Crown, he finally witnessed American Pharoah’s campaign in 2015.  After his run, Drape revisited all of the people involved, and wrote American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s Legendary Rise.  He found that in addition to being a talented horse, American Pharoah had everything he need for a good story, even though everyone knew the ending: “He was lucky, he stayed healthy enough, he had a little magic behind him, and you had compelling human characters to go with him.”

The History of Saratoga

The story of horse racing not only features legendary horses, but legendary venues.  Brien Bouyea brings the Spa’s beginnings to life in his book Bare Knuckles & Saratoga Racing: The Remarkable Life of John Morrissey.  He tells the story of John Morrissey, a man who started as a boxer, made his way into politics, and brought a top-tier track to life during the turmoil of the Civil War.  Bouyea stated the importance of his subject simply: “Saratoga is, in many people’s opinions, the greatest race venue in the world. We wouldn’t have that without John Morrissey.”

Though Saratoga has changed since the days of John Morrissey, Bouyea pointed out several ways in which those who found his book and the track’s history fascinating can experience it today.  Saratoga still runs a stakes race in Morrissey’s honor.  Bouyea suggests visiting the Oklahoma Training Track at the Spa, part of which made up the old Horse Haven track from the 1863 meet.  And, even with the changes over the years, Bouyea notes that “there is still much of the same charm with the old wood grandstand and many of the traditions of Saratoga still respected today.”

Fictional Worlds

Natalie Keller Reinert grew up with horses: hunters, then horse racing.  She also grew up wanting to write novels.  While blogging about retired racehorses, she got the idea for her first book.  She wrote it, and found herself at a crossroads.  She could either revise it for a general audience, or keep it focused on people close to horse racing and the equestrian life.  

To Reinert, the choice was clear.  She kept its equestrian focus in her novel The Head and Not The Heart.  Writing close to the horses she knew and loved proved to be the right choice.  “After a while, it gained some traction: not just that there was a market for it, but people want it.  So I said, okay.  You want to read horse stories for grown-ups?  I’ll write horse stories for grown-ups, because I like them too.”  She has now released eight equestrian novels, set in the worlds of horse racing and eventing, as well as a book of short stories.

The Author Series

When you are at Equestricon, make sure to visit the Author Series!  Here’s when you can meet the people behind your favorite horse racing books: