In the early 1950s, a rising star flickered across millions of black-and-white TV sets.
With an introduction that compares 1950s racehorse Native Dancer with Elvis and Milton Berle, Eisenberg puts a great deal of pressure on his volume to convince readers these comparisons are viable. Thankfully, in most cases, the book and author live up to the challenge. Alternating between captivating retellings of Dancer's come-from-behind racing style (the account of Dancer's rally from 10 lengths down in 1954's Metropolitan is stunning) and a detailed account of how TV catapulted horse racing to the top of America's sports scene, Eisenberg's evenhanded writing style makes it easy to see how Dancer captivated Americans from coast-to-coast. Like the horse's popularity, Dancer's diverse race team a Vanderbilt owner, a Cajun high school dropout rider, a folksy black groom personified a cross-section of American society and helped make Dancer as American as the glamorous Elvis or the comforting Berle. If there is a hitch in this book's giddap, it is its focus on the controversial 1953 Kentucky Derby, which, though covered engagingly, occurred in the middle of Dancer's career, forcing the book to a premature climax. But that fault belongs to real-life timing, not Eisenberg, whose thorough research, historical analysis and old-fashioned horse sense bring to life an American hero whose nickname, the "Grey Ghost," should be as remembered as those of the King and Uncle Miltie if not Seabiscuit. Illus. not seen by PW.