He was the perfect horse, it was said, "the horse God built."
Most of us know the legend of Secretariat, the tall, handsome chestnut racehorse whose string of honors runs long and rich: the only two-year-old ever to win Horse of the Year, in 1972; winner in 1973 of the Triple Crown, his times in all three races still unsurpassed; featured on the cover of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated; the only horse listed on ESPN's top fifty athletes of the twentieth century (ahead of Mickey Mantle). His final race at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack is a touchstone memory for horse lovers everywhere. Yet while Secretariat will be remembered forever, one man, Eddie "Shorty" Sweat, who was pivotal to the great horse's success, has been all but forgotten---until now.
In The Horse God Built, bestselling equestrian writer Lawrence Scanlan has written a tribute to an exceptional man that is also a backroads journey to a corner of the racing world rarely visited. As a young black man growing up in South Carolina, Eddie Sweat struggled at several occupations before settling on the job he was born for---groom to North America's finest racehorses. As Secretariat's groom, loyal friend, and protector, Eddie understood the horse far better than anyone else. A wildly generous man who could read a horse with his eyes, he shared in little of the financial success or glamour of Secretariat's wins on the track, but won the heart of Big Red with his soft words and relentless devotion.
In Scanlan's rich narrative, we get a groom's-eye view of the racing world and the vantage of a man who spent every possible moment with the horse he loved, yet who often basked in the horse's glory from the sidelines. More than anything else, The Horse God Built is a moving portrait of the powerful bond between human and horse.
In this rambling tale, author Scanlan (The Man Who Listens to Horses) declares his intention to explore the relationship between Triple Crown winner Secretariat and his long-time groom, Eddie Sweat. For Scanlan, the African-American Sweat is a symbol of the exploited, underappreciated workers who make the sport of kings run but receive a pittance of the winnings and even less recognition. Scanlan's mission is a noble one, but although he's right there in the subtitle, the groom is strangely absent from the text, and the quest becomes a McGuffin that allows the writer to travel to racetracks around the country. The journey is not without its pleasures, however. Scanlan has written over a dozen books on horses, and this volume bulges with insight into and sensitivity toward the world of Thoroughbred horse racing. He offers hundreds of racing anecdotes and endless minutiae about Secretariat's career. More interestingly, he introduces readers to the marginal figures grooms, hot-walkers, exercise riders, smalltime trainers, breeders and owners whose love for horses and hope for a lucky break outweigh their desire to make a decent living. Sadly, he also explains that all too many broken-down Thoroughbreds end their careers in the abattoir. In this backstretch meditation, Scanlan's scope is encyclopedic, but his narrative never finally coheres.
New found love
Very good insight into the relationship between a Great Horse and his loyal groom. I found it very interesting and learned so much about a great story in the history of horse racing.
The Horse God Built
I loved this book!
Not what I was expecting - thought it would be about the horse. But a beautiful essay on the bond of horse & human. Highly recommend to anyone who loves horses and racing.