Kentucky Derby Dreams: The Making Of Thoroughbred Champions, by Susan Nusser
This book is one of those volumes that takes advantage of a period of access granted to the author by a noted horse farm in Kentucky to provide a look at how it is that thoroughbred horses are bred and trained to the point where they can at least potentially become household names through racing and, more profitably, breeding. The author clearly thinks that this subject is one that deserves to better known and appears to be in favor of greater honesty and transparency in the industry so people who are at least potentially interested in horses are able to provide a base of support to make horse breeding profitable for those who do it and to help the general health of the horse industry as a whole. And while I am by no means deeply personally involved in the horse world I am at least in general sympathy with the author’s desire to make this world better known and more appreciated and less prone to the boom and bust cycles that come from big money infusions from people with more cash than sense about what they are doing. If this book is by no means perfect, it is a thought-provoking read.
This particular volume takes about 250 pages or so to cover the period between February 2009 and September 2010 in the Kentucky horse breeding business, with a look at the raising and training and breeding of young thoroughbred horses. The author begins with a look at foaling season, which has three chapters in February (1), early Spring (2), and Summer 2009 (3), where the author looks at the economics and scheduling of breeding and how it is that breeders try to maximize their profits by seeking advantageous bloodlines for the horses they have. After that there is a look at pedigree in September and Christmas of 2009 and March 2010 as different people seek to train and evaluate yearlings and determine how much someone would be willing to pay for them, in the hope that these horses will be of the quality that they could compete and win the most prestigious races like the Kentucky Derby. After that there is a look at horse auctions in July (8, 9), August (10), and September (11) 2010 in Kentucky as well as Saratoga where people face the lower prices thanks to the recession and find themselves barely breaking even if that. Finally, the book ends with a glossary of terms, a look at here the horses were at the time the book was written, as well as a directory.
Not all of the thoughts this book provokes are by any means positive, though, it must be admitted. Indeed, when I was reading this book I could not help but think about the unrecognized connection between the current interest of Kentuckians in breeding horses and the state’s role in the past of breeding slaves for sale down south. It was fascinating, if somewhat darkly so, to ponder the connections between the economics of horse breeding and those of slave breeding, as well as to note the way that those states most interested in horse racing are also those states that were most open to the influence of plantation owners and their ways. It is strange to see how culture endures for so long, and how poignant it is that for horse breeding to be profitable a mare must give birth nearly every year, which cannot but be exhausting for an animal that takes nearly a year to give birth to a live foal. Few books like this one are better calculated for me to feel a sense of compassion for the poor mares and a sense of anxiety that so many jobs and so much effort should be spent on an industry that chases after money in such a fashion as racing horses to encourage gambling and seeking to induce constant pregnancy to keep the breeding stock up, even as horses are increasingly being bred for horse races that no longer exist because the market of ready gamblers and viewers is not there.