Not by a Long Shot: A Season at a Hard Luck Horse Track

Not by a Long Shot: A Season at a Hard Luck Horse Track

by T.D. Thornton
     
 

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The great myth of horse racing is that the game is the regal and royal Sport of Kings. It isn't. Not by a long shot.

Anyone who doubts this need look no further than Suffolk Downs, a once-proud racecourse graced in its glory years by boisterous throngs and champions such as Seabiscuit. Now the blue-collar East Boston track is one of many that have fallen on

Overview


The great myth of horse racing is that the game is the regal and royal Sport of Kings. It isn't. Not by a long shot.

Anyone who doubts this need look no further than Suffolk Downs, a once-proud racecourse graced in its glory years by boisterous throngs and champions such as Seabiscuit. Now the blue-collar East Boston track is one of many that have fallen on hard times. These days "Sufferin' Downs" is where grizzled Thoroughbreds come to end their careers, hopeful young jockeys aspire against daunting odds to begin them, and diehard fans cheer, curse and gamble on the entire fascinating spectacle. These bit players are not just cogs of a single, struggling horse track. They are the unseen supporting cast for a $15 billion betting industry.

In fifteen years as a racing reporter and press box personality, T.D. Thornton gained access to remote corners of racetrack life off limits to the general public. He got to know the raucously Runyonesque characters and the quirky personalities of the horses; he learned the tricks of the trade from trainers, owners, and jockeys; he witnessed the tragedies and small triumphs of racing lives lived below the radar. One recent season, he finally decided to write it all down.

Not by a Long Shot is a deeply textured portrait of an industry where even the best in the business lose 75 percent of the time.

Editorial Reviews

Illinois Racing News
"An honest top-of-the-grandstand overview... [The] book has the drama and flow of an episodic novel.

New York Daily News
A Good Read: True horseracing fans will enjoy T.D. Thornton's new book . . . we couldn't put it down.

Publishers Weekly
In this intermittently engaging book, Thornton narrates a long season at Boston's Suffolk Downs racetrack, a blue-collar gambling bastion struggling for survival in the casino age. Thornton-who has spent his life around racetracks as a gambler, groom, reporter, announcer and PR man-possesses a deep sympathy for and understanding of the dynamics and contradictions that sustain this threatened world. As our tour director, he introduces the reader to hard-luck horses and eccentric jockeys, gambling scandals and betting strategies, as well as the ice and rain that inevitably make the sport of kings in New England a muddy mess. Thornton's credentials are impeccable, he has unrivaled access, and he delivers keen observations in a style that alternates between workmanlike and poetic. However, the various story lines he traces-a jockey paralyzed in a racing accident, an old gray famous for finishing second, a shady owner, and his father's small stable-are not strong enough to hold the book together or draw the reader all the way in. Any horseracing fan who wants a peek at the inner workings of a track will want to pick this up, but the attention of the general public might wander. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Terrific portrait of the 2000 season at Suffolk Downs, a mid-level, blue-collar, East Boston racetrack. A veteran racing reporter and the son of a horse-trainer, Thornton is what fellow incurables call "a racetrack degenerate"-the sort of person who works six days a week at the track and then drives 150 miles in a rainstorm on his day off to place a $2 bet on a nag at the county fair. He was also, in 2000, the media-relations director of "Sufferin' Downs," and his text outlines a typical season at this lower-rung facility. It begins in frigid January, with jockeys battling 50-mile-per-hour winds and subzero temperatures in their journey around the Eastie oval, and culminates in June with the Massachusetts Handicap, the richest, most historic horse race in the region and Suffolk Downs' most important event of the year. In between, the author ably chronicles the lives of horseplayers, jockeys, trainers, racetrack valets and stoopers (i.e., scavengers who "scour the floors and trash bins for winning betting tickets that have been tossed away in error by unwitting horseplayers"). The star of the book, though, is Saratoga Ridge, a workmanlike 11-year-old who has run for nine seasons. This thoroughbred, Thornton's favorite, has an uncanny knack (or personal preference) for coming in second; his mid-tier career encompasses 129 races and lifetime winnings of almost $300,000. Saratoga Ridge is that rare thing, a horse with heart, so it's devastating when he shatters his left front ankle on the next-to-last day of the season. Thornton clearly demonstrates that without horses like Saratoga Ridge working lesser tracks, upper-crust, Kentucky Derby-type races would cease to exist. A fitting tribute tothe race course that once featured Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Discovery and Whirlaway.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781586485665
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Publication date:
03/31/2008
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
1,154,232
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author


T.D. Thornton has written for several newspapers, most notably The Boston Globe and the national Thoroughbred daily The Racing Times. His work has appeared in an array of literary journals, and he often comments on racing on television and radio. He lives outside of Boston.

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