Former Chicago Tribune editor Squires (The Secrets of the Hopewell Box, 1996, etc.), a horse breeder since 1990, relates how Lady Luck took a shine to his Two Bucks Farm and gave him a Kentucky Derby winner.
Of the 30,000 thoroughbred foals born every year, only 15 to 20 run the big race. Squires, who poured his golden parachute from the Tribune into his Kentucky farm, gives a vivid account of how otherwise sane and sober people can devote their lives to this quixotic endeavor. Starting with his childhood fascination with the type of beauty found in horses and human females, Squires rapidly turns to today's thoroughbred establishment, a world made up of “bloodstock agents, pedigree specialists, sales consignors, farm and racing managers, veterinarians, mating advisers, agents, and consultants of every stripe.” From here, he traces the genesis of his Derby winner, Monarchos, offspring of “two castoff descendants of royalty hooking up in a quest for restored respectability.” A blizzard of details about horse auctions, foreign ownership, dealers, sales, weanlings, yearlings, and stakes follows, for a time obscuring the trail of Monarchos. The reader who struggles on, however, is rewarded with a thrilling end. The haze of facts and figures resolves into an old-fashioned horse race, with heroes, villains, favorites, and Monarchos, saddled with 10-to-1 odds and a genius of a jockey. Squires has the gift for good, toothsome storytelling; his give-and-take relationship with his wife, “the dominant female,” adds a certain savor, and his unabashed admiration of the look of a certain breeder in her tight jeans adds salt.
A promising start, muddled middle, and heart-pounding finish.