CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 14 . . . . March 7, 2008
Behind the Scenes: The Racehorse.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008.
72 pp., pbk. & hc., $19.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55455-032-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55455-018-0 (hc.).
Horse racing-Juvenile literature.
Racetracks (Horseracing)-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.
Review by Val Ken Lem.
A top-notch breeding farm is a bit like a spa for horses. Mares and foals are given the best of care – roomy box stalls, large paddocks (outdoor enclosures) and fields for exercise, top-quality food, and regular veterinary attention. Keeping a mare at one of these excellent facilities can cost more each month than renting a house. But if the horse turns out to be a winner, the owner stands to make a lot of money in prizes and, eventually, from breeding fees and the sale of offspring after the racehorse has retired.
Tate, an experienced horsewoman and novelist, has written a fine introduction to the racehorse, the sport of horse racing, and the many people involved in the sport. In a brief overview of the history of horse racing, the reader learns about the origins of thoroughbreds, standardbreds used in harness racing, and the steeplechase. Much of the text focuses specifically on thoroughbreds. Tate traces the life of these racehorses from birth at breeding farms, through the training of young horses, their care and training at the track, to the excitement of race day and eventually to post race life – if the horse is fortunate, it will escape the pet food market and find a new role as a riding horse or life in another adoptive home. Along the way, the reader is introduced to an amazing assortment of horse people including exercise riders, outriders, grooms, farriers, track veterinarians, trainers, owners, and, of course, jockeys. Tate includes general information and some jockey facts that are specific to Canada, Ireland, England the United States. She does not shy away from some of the more controversial elements of racing, including the fact that, faced with pressure to win, some jockeys develop eating disorders or drug and alcoholic addictions. The book emphasizes the importance of safety precautions at the track and accurate registration and random drug testing to thwart drug abuse and cheating. Given the amounts of money to be earned from winning horses and their breeding potential, the sport, like others starring human athletes, is prone to illegal activity that is difficult for track officials to stop.
Though the racing industry doesn’t emphasize this fact, horse racing is a dangerous business. Horses die on the track every day, and many others suffer from career-ending injuries.
Tate ends the work on a sobering note. There are not enough homes for failed or retired horses. Some injuries require euthanasia. Nevertheless, horse racing remains a popular spectator sport, with Canadians wagering 1.7 billion dollars on horse races in 2004.
Almost every page includes one or more colour photographs that aptly illustrate the text. Some miscellaneous facts, definitions, and even profiles of individuals such as Julie Krone, the first woman jockey in the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame, are presented in sidebars or pages that are attractively printed on colourful backgrounds that stand out as separate from the main text. Tate includes a citation to the Behind the Scenes website where more information and resources can be found. No other bibliographical references are provided. There is a serviceable index and a list of photo credits. One final observation: uninitiated readers will be amazed at the confusing array of data provided on the racing program that fans use to help them plan their wagers.
Val Ken Lem is a catalogue librarian and collection liaison for English, history and
Caribbean studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.