#ShelfieSunday: Here Comes Exterminator!

exterm

Review by Eric Banks

     In Here Comes Exterminator!, writer Eliza McGraw revisits the life of the 1918 Kentucky Derby–winning gelding Exterminator, one of the most celebrated American thoroughbreds of the first half of the twentieth century. Few geldings have won the signature race in its history—Exterminator is one of only nine, although the third in a short span between 1914 and 1920—and his career as a racer was prolonged for a greater period than most three-year-old champions. Much of McGraw’s book, and the appeal that Exterminator exerted for most of his racing life, concerns the determination of the horse’s owner, Willis Sharpe Kilmer, to surpass the career earnings of Man O’ War, which totaled $249,465. Exterminator did so as a nine-year-old in 1924, finishing fourth in a stakes race and collecting a small purse at the newly established Tijuana Race Course, nipping Man O’War’s winnings total by just over $3,000. Five starts later, he raced for the final time at Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal, pulling up lame while finishing third, and retiring with a remarkable record of 50-17-17 in a 99-race career.

     Griswald, a contributing writer to Equus magazine, charts the horse’s tenacity against the background of Exterminator’s erstwhile trainer Henry McDaniel, who conditioned the horse following his purchase as a lightly raced three-year-old, and his bullheaded owner, the Binghamton, New York–based Kilmer. The former was the son of the legendary David McDaniel, the trainer of the great campaigner of the 1870s, Harry Bassett, and a steady if not spectacular success as a horseman. Kilmer by contrast was a newcomer to horse racing who parleyed a family fortune—his father invented the dubious cure-all diuretic Swamp-Root—into a powerful stable in the late 1910s. Kilmer cycled through trainers over the course of Exterminator’s career; at one point, Griswald recounts sportswriters trying to recall the nearly two dozen who had worked for him at one point or another. But McDaniel was most powerfully connected to the critical decision to enter Exterminator in the 1918 Kentucky Derby and to the later campaign in which he would at last better his paper rival, Man O’ War—a pyrrhic victory given that another horse, Zev, had already overtaken Man O’ War’s tally.

     The recognizable figural motif underwriting Exterminator’s biography might be called “the wrong horse.” Like the stories of other racehorses, including Seabiscuit, Swale, and even Secretariat, which Meadow Stud famously received after losing a coin toss (part of a foal-sharing agreement) to Ogden Phipps, the wrong-horse tale involves the emergence of a lesser-regarded juvenile blossoming into a champion. In the case of Exterminator, he was purchased for a modest sum on McDaniel’s advice to serve as something akin to a workout partner to the highly regarded Sun Briar in preparation for the Derby. After a stellar two-year-old campaign, Sun Briar had put in a desultory performance in the spring of his three-year-old year and trained poorly. He was finally removed from consideration for the race and replaced by Exterminator, one of the longest shots in the field, at 30-1, whose victory echoed that of the extreme long shot Donerail’s five years earlier, in the process galvanizing popular and media interest in the Derby across the country as an opportunity for bettors to strike it rich and for outsiders to be competitive.

     Donerail and Exterminator shared another thing as well: they were both sired by the English thoroughbred McGee, which makes the rags-to-riches narrative sometimes told about Exterminator suspect. Exterminator’s potential may have been underrated, but he had at least one classics winner as a half-brother. He was nevertheless an unprepossessing and gangly young horse whose skinniness earned him the nickname “Old Bones”; as McGraw reports, it’s not clear why the decision was made to geld him, but it reflects the lack of faith in his future as a stallion. Following his Derby victory, the lack of optimism seemed warranted; his win in Louisville on a muddy track appeared to be a fluke, and he lost races throughout the year, while Sun Briar rebounded to win the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Springs. But by the end of 2018, he showed mettle as a handicap horse and ability to win longer-distance races. He and Sun Briar—who remained Kilmer’s favorite, and who named his state-of-the-art indoor training facilities in Binghamton Sun Briar Court—made a formidable one-two punch for the stable, with Sun Briar a difficult horse to defeat at distances under a mile and a furlong, and Exterminator a hard-knocking stayer.

     McGraw writes engagingly about an important moment in the history of the sport. During World War I, a number of influential figures like August Belmont Jr. helped forged a connection, both actual and in the public imagination, between the thoroughbred industry and the US war effort through the Remount Service. The breeding program imaginatively helped to surmount the less salubrious view of the industry as it emerged from anti-gambling initiatives in the years before. The remount campaign, however, posed a question on the status of geldings in racing. The trade-off, however, was a lengthy career in which there was no issue, of course, of retiring Exterminator to stud duty (unlike Sun Briar, who sired the wildly successful Sun Beau after his retirement in 1919). This longevity and later development would later distinguish Exterminator in a manner similar to other memorable geldings like Kelso, Forego, Dr. Fager, and John Henry.

     Exterminator’s virtuoso performances on the track, McGraw writes, endeared him to fans of racing and a legion of sportswriters, from Grantland Rice to the less-remembered Brooklyn Eagle correspondent W.C. Vreeland. His timing could not have been better: a moment when mass spectatorship was emerging around a number of sports (baseball and boxing, in particular); postwar transportation developments were making travel by spectators and horses a vastly easier undertaking; and the nascent film industry widened the distribution of newsreel images and celebrity. McGraw mentions the (now lost) 1919 Hollywood film A Challenge to Chance, which featured the horse (apparently playing himself); the movie was a vehicle for boxer Jess Willard, pegged to be released as promotional lagniappe on July 4 of the same year, when he lost his belt to Jack Dempsey in a heavyweight bout. At any rate, Exterminator achieved celebrity in a decade noted in the United States in particular for developing its own spin on the concept.

     McGraw writes well, if anecdotally, on this pivot moment in the history of US racing, when the industry underwent an early wave of professionalization and established itself as a major mass spectacle sport with a seemingly permanent place in the news cycle. On Exterminator himself, she is a terrific Boswell. The horse may be poorly remembered today—the closest analogy I can think of from another era is probably Stymie, the fabulously popular New York–based who became the leading money earner of the late 1940s after making 131 starts—but McGraw makes an enthusiastic case for his rediscovery just over a century after his birth.

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#ShelfieSunday: Breeds of Empire

breedsofempire

 

Breeds of Empire: The ‘Invention’ of the Horse in Southeast Asia and Southern Africa 1500–1950

Bankhoff, Greg; Swart, Sandra; Boomgaard, P. NIAS Press, 2007.

Review by Hylke Hettema

     As a Dutch person and a horse fanatic I have long wondered why I have never encountered an Indonesian or South African horse in the Netherlands. After all, the VOC and the colonising of both part of Southeast Asia and South Africa are a big piece of Dutch history; where is the evidence for horses travelling between the homeland and the colonies? This book answers that question: colonial government created their own breeds and horse markets in Southeast Asia and South Africa.

     Predominantly anthropologists/historians, some of whom have previously published works on horses, the authors are stepping into the interdisciplinary field of ‘Animal Studies’, briefly explaining the depths of this field to the reader in chapter one. Not only do they sketch a timeline for the introduction and subsequent history of horses in the colonies, the key theme explored in this book is the birth and role of the horse as an “imperial agent” in the creation of Empire.

     According to the authors there is a surprisingly large amount of source material, especially about the horse trade in the archipelago. After the Portuguese and the Dutch had introduced them, horses bred on the islands were a wanted commodity especially in British-India. Regional specialization of trade and the location of the Indonesian archipelago ensured that the VOC and the colonial government had no competition from overseas markets. William Gervase Clarence-Smith explains in chapter two how trade mostly focussed on the export of horses to India and China until the early 20th century, when the import of horses to South Africa was needed to supply the ongoing Boer Wars followed by WWI.

     The idea of the horse as trade commodity affects more than just the colonial treasury, explains Peter Boomgaard in chapter three. In order to supply the buyer with horses that met their demands the colonial regime as well as the VOC (who were facilitating the transport) needed to ensure the horse population in the archipelago contained the “right” traits. Therefore, they first Imported Persian and Arabian horses to “improve” their herds, and later Australian horses under English rule.  These imports were sometimes given away as diplomatic gifts, showing that local breeds were not yet considered worthy enough. The crossbreeding of imported horses and local breeds (which were previously imports as well) “created” what the authors call Breeds of Empire.

     In chapter four Bernice de Jong Boers takes a closer look at the process and motivations that lead to the “invention” of Breeds of Empire under colonial rule. In this chapter the horses are no longer seen as just a trade commodity, as the idea of connection to the identity of both settlers and indigenous peoples is introduced.  She notes that on one particular island, Sumbawa, horsebreeding predated European influence and horses were an important part of folklore.

     Dhiravat na Pombejra continues to explain the shift from Persian and Arab horses towards the Javanese horses as diplomatic gifts by sketching the history and demands of the Siamese (Thai) court buying horses from the Archipelago in chapter five.  The “invented” breeds were no longer considered inferior to the imported Persians and Arabians because they were now closely connected to the new colonial identity; a sophisticated imperial power.

     The horse is ascribed a new role in the colonisation process of the Philippines by Greg Bankoff in chapters six and seven. He portrays them as “agents of environmental transformation” because after their introduction to the Philippines, horses affected both the landscape and the eco system of the islands. On the one hand feral herds developed, causing large scale deforestation, while on the other hand the indigenous population started breeding horses, stimulated by the demands of the ever growing number of inhabitants of the islands and the horse trade in the Archipelago.

     Throughout the book the relationship between the horse and the social and economical status of the (white) settlers is stressed. Sandra Swart explains in chapters 8 and 9 how horses were an integral part of European settler identity in South Africa as the indigenous population had no contact with horses prior to the colonisation of the Cape. The horse distinguished the ruler from the ruled.  At first, possession of a horse was limited to white settlers and they considered that a confirmation of their superior identity. When the horse culture started to float into native hands, new ways to set white supremacy and indigenous identities apart were sought.  Through selective breeding of early stock to newly imported TB blood the Boerperd was created and became a symbol of Empire, a “true South African breed”, in the eyes of the white settlers, whereas the Basotho pony was created by indigenous peoples and represented their “traditional South Africa”. 

     Breeds of Empire is an eye-opening book for academics from all disciplines, the authors have succeeded in illustrating that the horse can truly be an “imperial agent” and influence history rather than its generally accepted supporting role as backdrop or aid to human activity throughout history. Through natural development, the initial imports actively participated in shaping landscapes, ecosystems, colonial societies and auxiliary human identities.  At the same time, the book draws attention to the connection between breeds and European imperial expansion, especially in the epilogue (chapter 10), where the idea of creating horse breeds is explained as typical to imperial discourse, a phenomenon which also gave birth to (equine) Orientalism due to white settler obsession with the need to dominate not only indigenous peoples but also the animals of the newly found colonies. The book concludes with a summary of interesting questions that could lead to further research to counter the predominantly white western angle of the majority of publications on the horse in relation to the creation of Empire and its effects on colonised lands and peoples.

#SheflieSunday: Riding for Caesar

ridinfforc
Riding for Caesar: The Roman Emperors’ Horse Guards

Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts
1994
ISBN 978-0-674-76898-7
Michael P. Speidel

Review by Miriam Bibby

     Last summer (2017), the dispersed exhibition “Hadrian’s Cavalry” took place at venues along the length of Hadrian’s Wall, attracting large numbers of visitors. There were not only static exhibits, but also live displays of horsemanship drawing attention to the nature and function of the (almost exclusively auxiliary) cavalry units that occupied the northern Roman frontier.  

     In contrast, Speidel’s book brings to life a different and perhaps lesser-known aspect of the Roman cavalry – the emperor’s horse guards. Among many interesting aspects revealed in the book is the nature of the close networks that existed between those who served in the frontier cavalry and those who accompanied the emperor in Rome and also on his imperial journeys in peace and war. Whether in gala dress on the parade ground, clearing the crowds (often brutally) for the emperor as he passed through the streets, or skewering his enemies in battle, the elite horse guards of the ruler of Rome were a force to be reckoned with. 

     The relationship between the emperor and his horse guards offers a great opportunity for political and psychological exploration. Speidel’s examination of this aspect results in some reassessments of well-known incidents such as Caligula’s apparently random behaviour at Puteoli and on the Rhine.

     The keynote of the relationship, stressed throughout the book, was loyalty. Members of the horse guard were “tall, fierce and faithful” mounted warriors, drawn originally from the tribes of the lower Rhine, thus giving the guards the descriptive title “Batavi” that would accompany them through various incarnations. Plenty of pay, dispensed frequently, encouraged loyalty, but so did the emperor’s own ability to relate to and inspire his guards, not through words but deeds. Emperors such as Septimius Severus had the capability if not the charisma, but it’s easy to imagine others less able standing white-knuckled in front of their fearsome guard in a display of fake nonchalance.

     All the evidence suggests that the horse guards’ reputation, both as skilled horsemen and dangerous foes, was well-deserved. The tribes of the Rhine had a skill at their disposal that was the equivalent of an ancient secret weapon – dauntless courage in crossing rivers alongside their horses. The Rhine remained a psychological as well as a physical barrier during WWII, as Speidel reminds us with a modern description.  How this skill proved ultimately to be their downfall makes a gripping conclusion to their story.

     Speidel re-examines and reassesses the textual evidence relating to the guards to great effect. It is the funerary monuments of individual guardsmen that will probably prove most compelling to researchers of equine history. Here we see the grooms preparing horses by long-reining, a grizzled-looking trooper with his two horses, heads turned towards him, and observe the guardsmen’s devotion to the goddess Epona.

     By putting the focus onto the relationship between the emperor and the horse guards, Speidel gives genuinely new insights into the tense four-cornered game played out between the emperor, the imperial guards, the senate and the populace. Along the way, he also opens up new areas of interest to equestrian historians.

#ShelfieSunday: Mr. Darley’s Arabian

darley    Review by Katherine Mooney

    Christopher McGrath begins Mr. Darley’s Arabian in the starting gate at Newmarket and follows Frankel to victory in the 2011 running of the 2000 Guineas. Watching on YouTube, you can hear the swelling roar of the crowd, the joyous acknowledgement of people who have together seen something numinous. The impetus for McGrath’s book is in that sound, as he spends the next 350 pages explaining how a creature like that came to be in that place at that time. Beginning with the Darley Arabian and following the top line of pedigrees sire to sire for twenty-six generations to Frankel, he tells the story of the modern Thoroughbred.

     McGrath grounds his project with Federico Tesio’s maxim: “The thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended…on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby” (292). The Derby gives the book a central focus, but it also dictates the scope of the analysis. If the Derby winning post is the thing that defines the Thoroughbred, then McGrath’s definition of the Thoroughbred exclusively encompasses high-stakes flat racing, mostly in the English Classics, and the stud careers of particularly influential progenitors.

     McGrath’s underlying premise is that the racetrack was not just a space of performance; it was a nexus of power. Everyone was there, and everyone cared about racing. His anecdotal examples range from Admiral Rous crossing the Atlantic in a dangerously decrepit frigate to attend the second autumn meeting at Newmarket to 1926’s General Strikers making way through their lines for Spithead, the gutsy winner of the Chester Cup (154, 282). But McGrath is mainly concerned with the men who paid the bills. “[T]he Darley Arabian line has followed a constant arc—as a monument to economic power. However random its biological provenance, for three centuries the thoroughbred has remained a faithful index of a changing world beyond the racecourse” (6). He begins at the turn of the eighteenth century, as political and economic factions battled through the Restoration and the rise of the Hanoverians. From 1750 to 1846, landed aristocracy and gentry controlled the Thoroughbred world. With the repeal of the Corn Laws came the rise of the industrial magnates, and after World War I the turf came firmly into the hands of a fantastically wealthy global elite. These periodizations remain fuzzy, as McGrath does not so much argue as chronicle. But he broadly paints the evolution of the Thoroughbred as a component of the evolution of British national and imperial identity and power. And he suggests that the results of the Classics are invaluable indicators of shifts at the top, as coal barons, diamond merchants, and Jewish bankers were grudgingly accepted into Newmarket, Epsom, and Doncaster (250). Though he describes today’s partnerships between racing professionals and international moneymen as purchased connections “between the lore and the profits,” his own work makes clear that these relationships stretch back centuries (297).

     McGrath largely takes the realities of power for granted. Indeed, sometimes this chatty amorality is jarring, as when he drily tells us that John Scott’s Whitewall training stable “was never the same once Colonel Anson was posted to India…. Mind you, nor was India.” Anson was in command of the Bengal Army during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (128). The suffragist Emily Wilding Davison, surely the most famous person ever to treat the track as a political space, appears unnamed in a single sentence (259). But McGrath does sometimes step back and remind us of the cost of accumulated wealth and authority to the most vulnerable people in and out of the Thoroughbred world. He does not mince words about the systemic cruelty of industrialist James Merry to the coal and iron workers who made him rich (190). The genial racing man Lord Derby managed to get the jockey Fred Rickaby a safe World War I post in the Veterinary Corps so he could be handy to ride. But when awkward questions were asked in Parliament, Rickaby was reassigned to tanks. Derby got over the embarrassment and in 1918 became Ambassador to France, where his colleagues drew up a “form guide” to help him stumble through his diplomatic obligations. Rickaby died of wounds in France that autumn at the age of twenty-three, leaving a widow and two young sons (275-78).

     McGrath has the advantage of being a superbly gifted writer (this month he was awarded the prize for the Racing Writer of the Year in the U.K. for the third time). He can wield a dependent clause like a stiletto. And his access to today’s mightiest figures in racing greatly enhances the book’s final sections. McGrath’s bibliographical essay references an impressive array of primary and specialist secondary sources. As they tumble over one another in his lists, he demonstrates, in this driest of formats, just how much fun this book was for him to write. It seems churlish to complain about its inevitable shortcomings.

     Scholars will find the book frustrating in its lack of readily available citations, and, for those who have closely followed recent publications in the history of the Thoroughbred, there is not much new. The argument is largely implicit and unsurprising. But for both popular and scholarly readers who love horses and horse stories, the book is amply worth reading; McGrath has convinced me that Running Rein’s Derby of 1844 deserves at least a miniseries. It is a tribute to the author and his framing of his subject that, as he speculated briefly about the possibilities for Frankel’s progeny, my first thought was of Cracksman. Frankel’s three-year-old star took the Champion Stakes at Ascot this year. Will it be Frankel, then? Or will Nathaniel, like Frankel a son of Galileo, carry the blood into the next generation? Nathaniel has, after all, already produced Enable, the three-year-old filly who triumphed in the Arc this year, while Cracksman refused to face her. Both are slated to remain in training. And next spring the story will continue.

 

 

#ShelfieSunday: My Colourful Life: from Red to Amber

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Review of Ginger McCain, My Colourful Life: from Red to Amber. London: Headline Book Publishing, 2005, 2006, 2014.

Review by Anastasija Ropa

    In this lively autobiography, Ginger McCain, a trainer of racehorses, best-known as the trainer who has won the Grand National four times, tells of his experience of horses on and off the racetrack over more than half a century. Not only is Ginger McCain a man who made history, having trained Red Rum, a three-time Grand National winner and a national sporting hero, but he also lived through a period of change, as the jockeys and trainers of the post-war Britain retired to give place to the men – and women – of today’s racing world. Much of the book, is, appropriately, about Red Rum, who, the author declares, “changed the course of my life as no man or woman or child could ever do.” Arguably, Red Rum influenced the lives of many other people, both those who were directly involved with the horse and the countless racing enthusiasts, those who place their bets at the Grand National, or simply watch the great race. Indeed, Ginger and Red Rum had contributed to saving the Grand National when the race undergoing a rocky patch in the 1970s and was nearly closed.

     Ginger’s involvement with horses – and horse people – is no less remarkable than the Red Rum phenomenon. It began at the time when horses were still part of daily life rather than a luxury or an oddity. The day-to-day reality of working horses and the care the drivers took of the animals laid the foundation of Ginger’s respect and care of his race horses.

     Throughout the book, Ginger outlines his position on several issues that make today’s British racing world very different from that of the previous century. Some of his statements may be hard to accept for a reader raised in the age of tolerance, animal rights and globalisation. Thus, when Ginger describes the treatments applied in an attempt to improve the condition of lame racehorses – which he applied himself as a cure or prophylaxis to some of his horses – one is vividly reminded of medieval hippiatric treatises. For instance, a treatment colloquially known as a “blister” meant clipping the problem leg and rubbing a red mercury blister into it, then bandaging the leg for six weeks. Another common remedy was bar-firing the legs (illegal in the UK, bar-firing is still used in other countries). Doubtless, such medicines have no place in modern veterinary, yet, as Ginger claims, they worked. Even if we may not want to reintroduce these very risky treatments, Ginger’s experience may lead us to reconsider our views on the efficiency of veterinary medicine in the past.

     At other points, Ginger’s position is full of contradictions. On the technical side of racing, he deplores the fact the jockeys nowadays have shorter stirrups, making it impossible to apply the leg when racing – but he also claims the new regulations on using the whip are do not take into consideration individual peculiarities. While conceding that he does not condone beating a horse that has already lost the race, he believes that some horses would be stimulated by harsher application of the whip: “It has to be an effective way of encouraging a horse to dig deeper within himself.” Yet he remembers the first Grand National won by Red Rum and the state in which the horse, ridden by Tommy Stack, arrived at the finish, in a somewhat apologetic tone. “Red Rum was striped on both flanks – he wasn’t just a sergeant, he was a top sergeant.”

     At many occasions throughout the book, Ginger expresses his attitude to women in the racing sport, opening him to possible accusations of chauvinism. Indeed, should women be excluded from racing just because the weighting room used to be “was a man’s domain, like a fighter’s gym”, and now it “smells like a pool’s parlour”? Ginger may be excused, though, when he explains that “in the years after the war most of the jockeys were senior riders who’d been in the forces, like Brian Marshall, Dave Dick and Dick Francis”, implying that racing is, in fact, a dangerous and cruel sport and that women should not risk their necks on the racecourse.

     Among Ginger’s less controversial remarks are his observations on the management and practice of training. He compares the situation in his early years, when few trainers would have as many as forty horses in the yard, to the later developments, when many yards have expanded to include over a hundred horses, so that a trainer cannot possibly pay attention to all animals and must rely on assistants. Again, Ginger’s attitude may seem old-fashioned, but he has a point: quantity does not always lead to quality. A horse like Red Rum, who had chronic leg problem prior to arriving on Ginger’s yard in Southport, and who showed lack-lustre performance over the less challenging jumps would have a high chance of being overlooked at one of the bigger yards. Whether this is outweighed by the availability of better facilities – something that was not available in the earlier post-war yards – is a question Ginger does not countenance.

     In all, My Colourful Life is not a critically balanced study; it is a subjective account of an individual trainer, tinted with his personality and opinions. Not everything of what the author says is to be taken at face value, and, with characteristic wit, Ginger is prone to undermine many of his own statements. However, the book captures the atmosphere of the racing world it portrays and sketches vivid images of the jockeys, trainers and owners who inhabited it: Red Rum’s owner Mr Le Mare (“the Guv’nor”), the jockeys Tommy Stack, Brian Fletcher, Jonjo O’Neill and Jackie Grainger, the trainer Bobby Renton, and many others. To counterbalance Ginger’s views, the book includes many testimonies written by other people, including his wife and his business partners. Complete with photographs of Red Rum and other horses with which Ginger McCain was involved, the book will be captivating reading for all who are into horses and history.

#ShelfieSunday: Race Horse Men

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Katherine C. Mooney
Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014
Hardcover: $35.00
ISBN 9780674281424
Subject matter: Horse Racing, Nineteenth-Century United States History, Slavery, Race and Race Relations.

Review by Charlotte Carrington-Farmer (Roger Williams University)

     Race Horse Men examines how the racetrack was an important political and cultural arena, where slavery was “made” alongside freedom in the United States. The book’s seven chapters, which are structured chronologically, weave together a picture of the lives of the so-called “race horse men” from the early 1800s through to the 1920s. Thoroughbred racing was arguably America’s first spectator sport, and black jockeys were amongst the best jockeys in the country, who rode in (and won) many famous race. Enslaved grooms, jockeys, and trainers were granted significant autonomy from their white masters, and their opinions were valued. They were often well-paid for their work, and were permitted to travel as part of their job. However, Mooney complicates our understanding of slavery and systems of power. Her most persuasive argument demonstrates the shades of oppression within a larger system of total subjection. Mooney convincingly argues that whilst race horse men were some of the “freest” unfree people in the United States, their freedom served to reinforce their master’s dominance. Race Horse Men is not an overly simplified story of how black men crafted nooks of freedom at the racetrack; it is a more complicated story of how white men used the racetrack to advance their power bases and to create a microcosm of their version of the United States, in which they ruled supreme. Masters used race days to “demonstrate their power was rightful” (37), and through the track they “saw in miniature the hierarchical world they wanted, its boundaries policed by violence” (173.)

     Mooney is an Assistant Professor of History at Florida State University, who works on the cultural history of inequality in the United States. Her work adds to the burgeoning scholarship on black race horse men, most notably Joe Drape’s Black Maestro: The Epic Life of an American Legend (2007) and Edward Hotaling’s The Great Black Jockeys (1999) and Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield (2005.) However, Mooney’s work goes beyond previous scholarship, which offers an overly sanguine depiction of the lives of black race horse men. One of the strengths of Mooney’s book is that it presents a complicated picture of enslaved lives, which never lets the reader forget the brutality of a slave society. She powerfully describes the horrors of how white owners tortured slaves, which included forcing young jockeys to stand in horse manure to stunt their growth and walk for up to twenty miles with heavy layers of clothing on to shed weight. Mooney’s work shows how enslaved horse men took pride in their work and enjoyed agency, but she goes beyond previous scholarship by demonstrating how masters ultimately controlled their lives and bodies: “Jockeys…were positive proof that slaves could be physically shaped according to white desire…proof that torture could make a perfect slave” (49.) Mooney fleetingly mentions that the largest sale of enslaved people in the U.S. took place at the Ten Broeck Race Course in Georgia, when approximately 436 men, women, children, and infants were sold in 1859. Mooney describes how the slaves were kept in the stables and potential buyers examined their teeth and “prodded them in the ribs,” just like they did with the horses (115). Whilst Mooney acknowledges that this shows slaveholders “ownership of animal and human bodies,” she could push this argument further. Readers interested in learning more about the slave sale at Ten Broeck Race Course should consider Anne C. Bailey’s new book, The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History (2017).

     Mooney traces the lives of black race horse men through the Civil War and into Reconstruction. In the immediate aftermath of emancipation, black horsemen became sports celebrities and were a source of pride, hope, and inspiration. As racing moved north, formerly enslaved jockeys used their freedom to push for change. The fact that the most prominent jockey in the nation, Isaac Murphy, was African-American, served to raise these hopes. Mooney argues that the real change at the track did not come in the immediate aftermath of emancipation, but in the early twentieth century when segregation laws were enforced in the wake of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which legalised the doctrine of “separate but equal.” By the early twentieth century, black race horse men were only employed in the lowest rungs of the racing industry, as “Black horsemen’s success could not be safely channelled into the support of white supremacy” (225.) Whites explained the absence of blacks at the track using a range of techniques, including the scientific racism that gained currency at the turn of the twentieth century.

     Successfully weaving a story together about race and sport spanning over century is no mean feat. Mooney has clearly dug deep in the archives, and the book’s convincing arguments are supported by a plethora of sources, including photographs, newspapers, and personal letters. The images in the book are not only an interesting addition, but they also further Mooney’s arguments. For example, Mooney uses a Currier & Ives lithograph (231) to show white people’s uneasiness with black horsemen’s success under Jim Crow. Mooney’s work builds upon the growing animal turn in history, and it uses thoroughbred racing as a lens to explore the struggle against slavery and oppression. This work will appeal to equine historians, in addition to scholars of the long nineteenth century and race and relations. Mooney’s vivid writing makes this book accessible to a wider public audience beyond the academy, especially those with an interest in racing history. Race Horse Men offers an uplifting epilogue about the reburial of Isaac Murphy next to Man o’ War in Lexington Park in 1967, amidst struggle for black civil rights. Race Horse Men ends by bringing the story up-to-date with the recent Project to Preserve African-American Turf History and social justice initiatives such as the Isaac Murphy Bicycle Club and Everybody Reads Project. As America continues to grapple with its complicated history of enslavement, segregation, and oppression, Mooney concludes that “the ride” for equality “is nowhere near over” (248.)

#ShelfieSunday: The Perfect Horse: The Daring US Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped By the Nazis

lettsby Jeannette Vaught

Review of Elizabeth Letts, The Perfect Horse: The Daring US Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped By the Nazis, New York, Ballantine Books, 2016.

     Elizabeth Letts, a noted author of popular equine histories, uses the lens of World War II to lead her readers directly into concurrent cataclysms: mechanized warfare, and apocalyptic eugenic racism across cultures and species in Europe.  Letts explains how the meaning of the Lipizzaner, and other carefully bred European horses, depended on human allegiance to national, eugenic, or cultural ideals, and she introduces a host of actors – representatives of The Spanish Riding School and post-Hapsburg Austria, Poles, Russians, the National Socialist Party, Germans, Americans – whose alliances shift in unexpected and often uncomfortable directions when it comes to these horses and what they come to signify. 

     Despite the breadth and horror of this tale, Letts attends carefully to the relations between humans and equines who form the core of the story.  This attention results in a narrative that teaches readers much about several topics.  The general knowledge readers gain finds real traction in her use of it to deepen readers’ understanding of what happens to the Lipizzaner horses who anchor the book.

     One example of how Letts’ balances the interplay between big historical shifts and their impact on the particular story of the Lipizzaner is her clear treatment of the uneven military transitions from equine cavalry to tanks and jeeps in American and European armies.  This knowledge has a direct impact on readers’ understanding the motivations of people who later act on behalf of the Lipizzaner, despite grave danger to themselves and an otherwise unclear reason why they would care about these horses.  Certain American officers, those who had been raised with horses and trained in the equine cavalry, had themselves recently transitioned from horse to machine warfare.  These men, when confronted by a dire situation regarding European horses they had never heard of, nevertheless had the knowledge needed to understand the cultural importance of the Lipizzaner, and the ability to understand the urgency and sincerity of Europeans who spoke on their behalf.  This small number of American officers who had themselves transitioned from horse to machine warfare were also uniquely able to understand the consequences of preventing Lipizzaner horses from falling into the more equine-centric military system of Russia, which would certainly have destroyed them.  This is just one example among many of how large threads of knowledge are made intimate in this narrative.

     Letts also does great justice to the complex relationships between humans and horses, and it is clear that she writes these encounters from experience.  For dressage riders in particular, her treatment of the relationship between Spanish Riding School director Alois Podhajsky – a towering figure in my own youth and training – and his Lipizzaner horse Neopolitano Africa is emotionally powerful and fully embodied, as attuned to the movements and signals horses express as well as how humans feel.  Letts does not diminish the role of emotions in human-equine partnerships, and she also ensures that the nature of these relationships is integral to the historical narrative of the meaning of the horses in this war. 

     Many current fans of dressage in general and Lipizzaners in particular may not be familiar with the role that Nazism played in preserving these traditions of equine genetics and culture.  For much of the book, Letts carefully details how many horses were kept safe, while others brutally perished, because they were gathered into Nazi eugenics programs designed to create a pure, white “super horse.”  Readers learn much about equine breeding and genetic theories that operated in Europe before and during the war, trends that run concurrently with the decimation of human populations in Poland.  As this entwined story unfolds, Letts shows how several actors accepted or even sought Nazi protection in order to advocate for horses.  Letts details this complex tale with sensitivity to the horses, but without flinching from or sentimentalizing the human and equine costs of these decisions.

    The first half of the book builds up the prewar and wartime context of the people and horses involved, spanning several decades and continents while leading to a suspenseful midpoint.  The second half of the text takes time explicating a single moment of danger to the horses we’ve followed to this point, how it was resolved, and the consequences of this resolution into the present.  Based primarily on thorough archival research and oral history interviews, as well as drawing from Letts’ own experience as a horsewoman and military descendent, the well-illustrated book holds its own among academic and popular histories of World War II as well as equine histories.  To the great credit of its popular imprint, it has a sizable bibliography and notes section.