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The Dark and Beautiful World of Horse Racing

by Elizabeth Mitchell

Pub Date: June 5th, 2002
ISBN: 0-7868-6723-X
Publisher: Hyperion

From Mitchell (W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty, not reviewed), the story of the thoroughbred Charisma and the decidedly troubling story of his jockey.

The passion for horses is an old one—even if we have been channeling more of that pleasure of late into automobiles—and those that beat the long odds at racing have a special aura. Such is the case with Charisma. Despite being a grandson of Secretariat, the horse’s performances were spotty if bright. Not so with jockey Chris Antley, who took his craft by storm, a cocky and gifted rider who burned along at a 20% victory rate when other top jocks were humming at 7%. But Antley had a problem—two, in fact: He liked drugs and couldn’t keep a handle on his weight. The horse and the man became comeback darlings—Antley over his drugs, Charisma over his unpromising start—and Mitchell twines the relationship into a smooth braid one can’t help cheering on. That the author draws intelligent portraits of other principals—D. Wayne Lukas, the trainer, and Bib Lewis, the owner, plus others of the small handful of Antley friends—adds immeasurably. If Mitchell occasionally loses her focus and windily takes on too much history of the sport or its sidelines of gambling and media play, readers can expect her to get pretty quickly back to the main event. Which is simply that Charisma, Antley up, went on to win the Kentucky Derby, and then the Preakness, before barely missing the Triple Crown at Belmont. Genuinely touching material about Charisma’s breaking a leg is matched by a parallel story of the dwindling health of Mitchell’s lover, who is fighting leukemia, though both tales are overwhelmed by that of Antley’s decline and subsequent awful death after the Belmont loss.

A good blend of spirit and woe that would have benefited from less of the extraneous for both—spirit and woe—to shine more vividly.