Horse Racing Book Tropes I Can't Stand
When trying to become a better writer, the advice always given is "Read Everything." I am on a never-ending quest to become the most electrifying man in Turf writing, so I collect books on horse racing. Here are a few patterns in that sliver of publishing that I've found frustrating along the way, and aim to avoid in my own writing.
- •Starting with a detailed account of the breeding processI specialize in writing about the Thoroughbred breeding industry. It's the lifeblood of the sport, and pretty bizarre to those not versed in it. Too many writers, though, feel compelled to open with a detailed rendition of The Birds and the Bees, leaving us marching over the same ground to start a story. Should it be ignored completely? Absolutely not. Should a description of the methods to keep a horse erect be Chapter 1, Page 1? Nah. Blaze a new trail.
- •Focusing on the Kentucky DerbyLook at the (probably tiny) horse racing section in any bookstore, and at least half of the books on the shelf will probably have some combination of the words "Kentucky" and "Derby" in the title or subtitle. Of course, it's the biggest race on the North American calendar and the one race everyone has heard of, but this focus on one event perpetuates a major issue of exposure with the sport. We need to cover new ground, this time to broaden the appeal of the sport.
- •Glossing over thingsI see this a lot in autobiographies, which makes sense, given it's one side of the story. What made "Seabiscuit" great was that it found every nook and cranny of its story and explored them to their limits. If you're reading a book beyond "Let's Go to the Kentucky Derby!" you probably want to know how the sausage was made. When you only get to see the outside of the factory, that can be frustrating.
- •Coming out too soonReleasing a book quickly after an event or a horse's career is understandable. In a niche sport, you strike while the marketing iron is hot. However, in doing so, you lose the necessary historical context that one wants to gain by reading a book, instead of a magazine article. "The Secretariat Factor," a book on the champion's beginning at stud, stopped after his first crop's Triple Crown season and labeled him a dud. He later sired a Horse of the Year. Otherwise, it's a fine read. Seek it out.
- •Under-researching when the subjects are still alive and willingThis goes back to the "How the Sausage is Made" thread. I'm always disappointed when I read a book on a particular horse or topic, and the author appears to have only spoken with a key subject once or twice, or didn't get enough out of them. Going back to "Seabiscuit," Laura Hillenbrand created a colorful, thorough account decades after all the principals had died. She's the best at what she does, but it proves it can be done.
- •Trying too hard to fit racetrack characters into old-time stereotypesYou're not Damon Runyon. Stop trying to be Damon Runyon.
- •Being "Lord of Misrule"I hated that book. Imagine your least favorite creative writing professor going to town on your favorite niche of your favorite subject. If and when I ever write a book, I want it to make people feel the exact opposite of how I felt reading this.