An earnest attempt to view championship racehorse Secretariat through the eyes of his African-American groom.
In 1973, “Big Red” became America’s tenth Triple Crown winner, setting track records at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and romping over the finish line at the Belmont Stakes 31 lengths ahead of his closest competitor. During his two-year racing career, the thoroughbred was groomed by Edward “Shorty” Sweat. Considered one of the best in the business, he had back-to-back Derby winners in 1972–73 with Riva Ridge and Secretariat. Some 30 years later, Scanlan (Wild About Horses, 1998, etc.) decided to write generally about the groom-horse bond and specifically about Sweat, who died in 1998. Gathering memories from other grooms, exercise riders and Secretariat’s jockey, Ron Turcotte, the author discovered that everyone held the same opinion: Edward Sweat was a kind man and a superb horseman who loved Big Red. They didn’t have much to say beyond that, however, and Scanlan’s decision to mimic people’s speech patterns makes reading some of the interviews an embarrassing experience. (Exercise rider Charlie Davis, for example, speculates that if Secretariat could have talked, the horse would have told him, “I am the pilot. You is de co-pilot.”) Sweat should have had a larger share of Secretariat’s winnings, the author believes; his contributions to the thoroughbred’s victories have been overlooked by history. Yet in his heyday, the groom made the cover of such mainstream magazines as Essence and Ebony, and he was still being quoted extensively in racing publications at the time of his death. Lacking the kind of detail about Sweat’s personality that would make this more than just another biography of Big Red, Scanlan doesn’t add anything to the accounts of the racehorse’s career provided by Raymond Woolfe in Secretariat (2001) and William Nack in Big Red of Meadow Stable (1975).
The author’s tribute is heartfelt, and Sweat is a worthy subject, but there simply isn’t enough material here for a full-length book.