Book Review: 'Headless Horsemen' by Jim Squires

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Sunday, August 30, 2009


A Tale of Chemical Colts, Subprime Sales Agents, and the Last Kentucky Derby on Steroids

By Jim Squires

Times. 249 pp. $25

In 2008, the death of filly Eight Belles on the track at Churchill Downs led to an uproar over steroids in racing. At the same time, the recession and a glut of thoroughbred stock led to disastrous sales at the industry's most prestigious auctions. A former editor of the Chicago Tribune and the breeder of the 2001 Kentucky Derby winner, Monarchos, Jim Squires is well suited to write the definitive book on the crisis gripping horse racing.

He may have done so, but his florid prose and scattershot organization leave us slogging on a muddy track. Racing neophytes will be lost amid the rail-talk. But aficionados may find nothing new in Squires's charges that chemical enhancements allow thoroughbreds to run a furlong faster than Secretariat ever did, while steroid-related damage keeps them from producing worthy foals. Almost everyone will be amazed, though, by the suggestion that a prominent Kentucky vet, the late Dr. Alex Harthill, gave drugs to Derby horses for 50 years "simply because he could."

-- Dan Kois

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