From Publishers Weekly
Unfortunately for authors like Ours, who has worked at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, all horse racing books must now be judged in light of Laura Hillenbrand's outstanding Seabiscuit. And while Man o' War (born in 1917), voted by racing experts as the No. 1 American race horse of the 20th century, kept winning his races and breaking speed records, Ours's account of his career isn't even in the money. This is a far less sophisticated recounting than Hillenbrand's, lacking the broad social context, and since Man o' War was a winner from the get-go, Ours lacks a dramatic narrative arc. But she does have a command of horse-racing technique and history, and offers some interesting tidbits and anecdotes. Sometimes the book feels puffed: for a while it focuses more on another champion, Sir Barton, than on Man o' War; only much later does it become clear why-the two great horses finally meet in a match race, and at this point, the pace of the story picks up nicely for a dramatic finish.
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*Starred Review* Laura Hillenbrand, in her best-selling Seabiscuit
(2001), set the bar awfully high for scholarly research in just about any genre, let alone what might be called racehorse biographies. Very much to her credit, Ours meets Hillenbrand's standard in her exhaustively researched account of the career and human connections of Man o' War, usually conceded to be the greatest racehorse who ever competed in America. Man o' War dominated racing in 1919 and 1920, winning 20 of 21 starts and setting speed records nearly every time he raced as a three-year-old. Such uninterrupted excellence, however, poses a problem for any biographer. Man o' War's saga lacks the drama of Seabiscuit's rise from obscurity and comeback from injury. Nor are the stories of Man o' War's human connections as compelling as those of Seabiscuit's, though the history of jockey Johnny Loftus is more than intriguing. Also of great interest is the remarkably detailed account of Man o' War's most famous race, a showdown with the older Sir Barton, America's first Triple Crown winner, at an unlikely bush track in Canada. Finally, Ours uncovers the true reasons for Man o' War's early retirement, which ended a career that seemed destined to dwarf the accomplishments of those who came before him and set an impossibly high standard for those who followed. Even without Seabiscuit's dramatic trappings, this is must reading for racing fans, and it will reward anyone with an interest in the history of American sport. Dennis DodgeCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved