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Headless Horsemen: A Tale of Chemical Colts, Subprime Sales Agents, and the Last Kentucky Derby on Steroids Hardcover – August 4, 2009

26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Squires, a newspaperman–turned–horse breeder who bred 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos (chronicled in his 2003 book, Horse of a Different Color), offers a meandering though at times hilarious and informative look at the troubled condition of horse racing at the end of 2008. The book is a subjective combination of memoir, recent horse-racing history and rant at the use of steroids, subprime sales agents and the tradition-laden powers who oversee the horse business, known as the Dinnies. Squires, a self-described pygmy breeder, spins some engaging stories, especially about the exploits and influence wielded by the late veterinarian Dr. Alexander Harthill on the outcomes of the Kentucky Derby. Although Squires is critical of much in horse racing, he writes persuasively about the love for horses that he and his wife share with real horse people. And Squires makes a passionate defense of the integrity of Larry Jones, who trained Eight Belles, the horse euthanized on the track after finishing second and then breaking both ankles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. For casual horse-racing fans, though, some of his exposition on the multifarious boards that run the industry or the minutiae of X-rays given to horses may be more detail than necessary. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Acerbic wit and an insider’s brazen take on the elusive horse-game."—Sam Shepard

"I laughed. I cried. I read this book a second time, and then I cried again. If you want to know how thoroughbred horse racing in the United States has destroyed itself, this is the book for you. If you want to know what is to be done, this is the book for you. I can’t recommend it highly enough."—Jane Smiley

"Jim Squires has written a sad and scathing and all-too-true story about the greed and obtuseness that are destroying the once glorious sport of thoroughbred horse racing and that are turning that most magnificent of God’s creatures -- the thoroughbred horse -- into a steroid-swollen dinosaur. The charlatans of the Kentucky breeding industry and at the New York Racing Association -- as well as their overpaid apologists -- should read every page of Squires’s indictment with heads hung in shame."—Joe McGinniss

"[A]n insider's stunning account of the corrupt practices that threaten both the horses and the game. . . . Squires' folksy style makes for an engrossing read."--Minneapolis Star Tribune

"[A] hilarious and informative look at the troubled condition of horse racing."--Publishers Weekly

"Exposes a thoroughbred horse-racing industry drowning in drug abuse and rife with unscrupulous business practices. . . . A well-told cautionary tale about greed and willful inattention."--Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (August 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805090606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805090604
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,255,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Best Of All on August 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Greed. Unbridled greed.

Author Jim Squires caught lightning in a jar when his Kentucky-based Two Bucks Farm bred 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. Chronicled in his 2002 book, Horse of a Different Color (2003 paperback; Perseus Books Group: PublicAffairs), it is a wonderful story of a small breeding farm defying the odds and permanently carving its name into the Thoroughbred record book.

But there is no joy in Headless Horsemen: A Tale of Chemical Colts, Subprime Sale Agents, and the Last Kentucky Derby on Steroids (August 4, 2009; Times Books: Henry Holt and Company, LLC), as Squires provides a candid account of the other side of the "Sport of Kings," which includes a small club of influential owners and their sycophants who run the industry for private gain, the proliferation of illegal drugs being pumped into equine athletes and the unseemly price manipulation at public auctions and in private deals by "agents" who knowingly inflate prices in a game to boost profits, with a total disregard to the true reality of the marketplace.

The sordid saga is laced with Squires piecing together accounts from a variety of sources - but oftentimes lacking a "smoking gun" of documentary evidence - which is not surprising, since every facet of the industry has mostly avoided the public and professional scrutiny found in other sports. There are explosive allegations that may not be new to those who meticulously follow racing, but are now available to a wider audience.

Squires believes that steroids entered the sport as early as the 1950s and other dangerous drugs like cocaine were used to boost the performances of racers for many years.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By B. Clark on August 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Squires book is an insiders take on what is ruining the horse racing industry. The thing I like
best about Squires book is that he holds no punches and is painfully candid.
From health battles, to personal feuds, to taking his finger and clearly pointing it at who is exactly at fault, the book is amazing. Squires has boldly gone where no horse racing author has gone before. He takes on the biggest and richest leaders in the racing world with an incredible amount of humor and humility.
I would recommend this book for every 2 dollar better to anybody who has been lucky enough to bid on or own a thoroughbred. Three cheers for Squires.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Portland Pony on October 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This could have been a wonderful book. The subject is good. The writing isn't.

I had to force myself to keep reading until the end. Then I wanted to take all the information from it, spread it out, organize it, and put it back together into a logical and coherent story. I suspect that if I tried that, I'd find some duplicated pieces and a lot of missing ones. Several times, I had to reread sentences trying to make sense of them. I should have made notes so I could give examples of problems, but I didn't, and I'm not about to reread it to do so.

It's a mystery why Mr. Squires thought he should include his ordeal with kidney stones anywhere in the book. His problems with Indian Charlie also seemed off track. He also went on and on about his love for a mare, which seemed to have nothing to do with the subject of the book. These pieces probably could have been woven into the story neatly if more care had been taken with them. Instead, they're just strange, jolting sidetracks.

My impression is that this book was written hastily and put into print without any editor saying, "Whoa, this needs a lot more work!"
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Arnold Kirkpatrick on September 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Jim Squires is not only a good writer and a good reporter, but he knows what he's talking about. This a story of his own experience in the Thoroughbred business--and the frustrations and aggravations he has experienced are real.
In the interest of full disclosure, he is also a good friend of mine.
The primary complaint I have heard about the book is the level of negativity--and that has caused a lot of readers to quit reading before they finish the entire book--but the last two chapters deal with his love of the horse and the industry, which is why he has endured the deplorable aspects of the business and continues to do so.
If you get tired of the pessimism, skip to the last two chapters and read them. Then you'll be able to finish the rest of the book with better feelings.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By ivy7496 on August 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Among the errors: writing on page 119 that Funny Cide won two legs of the Triple Crown in 2004 (he won in 2003); on the same page saying Azeri won Horse of the Year in 2003 (she won in 2002); repeatedly spelling the name of WinStar Farm co-owner Bill Casner as Castner on page 179, and writing that New York legalized the use of Lasix in 1985 on page 133 (it was 1995)."

Credit to Alicia Wincze [...]
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Richard L. Pangburn VINE VOICE on October 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this one, as I enjoyed the author's previous book, which I thought a five-star work. Squires says much that rings true in this one; it rates four stars as a rant, as an entertainment, and as a work of philosophy.

As a work of journalism or history, however, he is much too careless with the facts.

His chapter on "Vets," for instance, seems hastily written and is flat out wrong about a number of things. He has no footnotes and cites no sources and we must guess how he came to some conclusions about historical incidents which happened long before he became involved in the sport.

For instance, his take on the episode where Dr. Alex Harthill 'decked' journalist Billy Reed seems taken from Billy Reed's own account of it, written long after it happened and leaving out some important things. With a little investigating, Jim Squires could have interviewed others who were there and gotten a much different account of the circumstances on that day.

I cheer the sentiment of the work, while shaking my head at the leaps in factual inferences and erroneous nuances of fact.
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