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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Battleship by Dorothy Ours

Battleship: A Daring Heiress, a Teenage Jockey, and America's Horse by Dorothy Ours


This story was more like the biography of Marion Dupont -- not that I'm complaining -- with flashes of Bruce Hobbs's terrifying childhood mixed in. Marion duPont, is more than an heiress, although her family never wanted for money because they had the good fortune to invent gunpowder--and no matter how bad a recession is, war never goes out of style.

Her father, William Sr. was the black sheep of the du Pont family, cast out of the family and the family business after a scandalous divorce, he chose to retreat with his new wife and growing kids to an estate with show horses. She and her brother William Jr. grew up in the country; Marion duPont learned to ride with both legs on either side of a horse; first riding saddle-seat horses and later hunters until the fateful day she saw legendary Man o'War auctioned off and her dream made itself known. Both Marion and William would come to love racehorses, Marion preferring hunt races, her brother preferring flats.

Bruce Hobbs was born to a fanatical father; Reginald Hobbs was a legendary trainer and he dreamed of a son whose name would be more famous than his own. Bruce was asked for perfection with horses from a very young age-- as someone who rides horses I can honestly say that some of Bruce's training would border on child abuse today-- But that training eventually paid off.

Battleship is the undersized son of Man o War...And nobody knows what to think of him. One day he sets blistering fractions and the next he looks like he's dead on his feet...and Marion can hardly wait to own him.

First, I can't imagine the amount of research Dorothy Ours needed to do to get all her facts straight; this book reads like fiction. At times its easy to dissociate from the fact that this really happened, and imagine "characters" playing this drama out. Its all to easy to cry over fatal accidents, sick and hurting friends, and broken hearts, even though part of you knows it happened over 70 years ago.

Secondly, I love that it reads like fiction! The whole problem I have with non-fiction is that too many facts can be boring. Dorothy Ours managed to write about races that happened years ago as if she were watching them in person. You get to see the attachments these people had to each other and to their horses. The dedication they had to the sport and their attempts to better it. I love the references to events happening internationally (the second world war) and seeing horse people in their own little bubble.

And considering the era, its really a remarkable event. Marion duPont was stepping outside the realm of what was traditionally expected of women. She was an accomplished rider and managed her own racing stable and the horses inside of it. Bruce Hobbs was the youngest jockey to win the Grand National, but he was also groomed since birth to win it. Battleship, a stallion too small to be a National horse, too temperamental, running in a race that didn't favor stallions or small horses.

And a small part of me, wants to know exactly how much money Marion had access to, lol. When people want a new house, typically they sell the old one, use the sale money toward the new... When Marion had need of a new house, she built one while she lived in the old one, or gave it away...Sometimes she built her friends houses...Okay, maybe that's shallow of me, but I live with my parents so its nice to have shallow dreams.

I think this is a fantastic book for horse lovers, race fans, or anyone looking to read a nonfiction that reads like fiction.

Rated 5/5

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