In Three Strides Before the Wire, journalist Liz Mitchell traces the pursuit of horse racing's Triple Crown by Charismatic and his trouble-ridden jockey Chris Antley. The story, though, is not just a stirring narrative of two underdogs triumphing. Indeed, this rags-to-riches saga goes sour before the end. Instead, Mitchell has slyly smuggled an exposé of the $7 billion-a-year horseracing business into a riveting racetrack story. That she intertwines these narratives so seamlessly is a testament to her artistry.
Mitchell's book possesses an appeal that extends well beyond its subject.
A contributing editor at Newsweek and author of W: Revenge of the Bush
Dynasty, Mitchell was drawn into the sport of horse racing by chance. In
1999, Mitchell and her boyfriend, Chuck, then undergoing treatment for
leukemia, made a spontaneous trip to the Kentucky Derby. Basing her wager on
a portentous dream, Mitchell picked the winning horse, Charismatic, a 20-1
long shot, and thus began her research into Charismatic's story. Almost
given up on by his owners and trainers, Charismatic wasn't the only surprise
victor that year; his jockey and trainer were also amazing comeback stories.
A shy and quiet kid who set several racing records while still a teenager,
jockey Chris Antley didn't handle success well. Drugs and depression seemed
to have taken their final toll when Antley, who had grown over an inch in a
bizarre, late growth spurt, was saddled with an extra 15 pounds (jockeys
must maintain strict, low weight to ride). Charismatic's trainer, D. Wayne
Lukas, was a champion trainer whose reputation was losing ground to younger
trainers. Mitchell weaves these struggles (as well as that of her stricken
boyfriend) into a story that raises the question of the importance of luck,
fate, work and genetics in the lives of man and beast. Mitchell's easy tone
is backed by meticulous research, including original author interviews.
Though the stories are often exceedingly poignant, Mitchell is never
cloying; this beautiful book makes a distinct contribution to a singularly
American sport and culture.
Forecast: Published roughly a year after Laura Hillenbrand's bestselling
Seabiscuit, Mitchell's effort proves that, in the right hands, horse racing
carries stories with incredible mass appeal.
Three Strides Before the Wire remains a strong contender with Seabiscuit down the backstretch.
I didn't know about horse racing until I read Three Strides Before the Wire ... well-written book.
. . . the jockey's story is the most interesting and dramatic... Mitchell also fills in, gracefully I think, her own heartbreak . . .
Los Angeles Book Review
a superb job reporting, . . . wonderfully privileged glimpses of a closed world . . . conveys the romance and harsh pathos of the sport.
This eloquently written and well-researched book by Mitchell . . . will be welcomed by racing fans and horse lovers.
From Mitchell (W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty, not reviewed), the story of the thoroughbred Charismatic 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 Charismatic. 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, Charismatic 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 Bob 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 Charismatic, 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 Charismatic'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 theBelmont 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.