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Monday, February 23, 2015

Native Dancer: The Grey Ghost by John Eisenberg

Native Dancer: The Grey Ghost, Hero of A Golden Age by John Eisenberg


"Standing in the winner's enclosure, in the shadow of the grandstand, the Dancer was a portrait of power and glory... His moment to make history was at hand."

As you may have guessed from the title, this is the story of racing legend Native Dancer, whose name belongs right up with well known thoroughbreds like Secretariat, War Admiral, and Citation... Native Dancer whose DNA courses through the blood of many modern day Kentucky Derby winners... A touch of irony; though Native Dancer won 21 of 22 starts, he's rarely remembered because he never claimed the Triple Crown. The fan favorite lost by a head at Churchill Downs even though he went on to claim the Preakness and the Belmont.

Born to Alfred Vanderbilt Jr, Sagamore farm in 1950, Native Dancer arrived during an era of change, accompanied by his favorite groom Les Murray, ridden by jockey Eric Guerin, and trained by Bill Winfrey. The Depression and the war were over, and America's love affair with the television (and televised sports) were just beginning. On a black and white tv, it was hard to miss the grey horse surging down the homestretch and into American living rooms.

This book is definitely for the horse racing fan, but nearly missed its 4 star rating. Mostly it was a fun, informative read about The Grey Ghost, but the story drags in some places. The 50s were surely an exciting time and this book contains a lot of information, but its not always compiled in an exciting way. When John Eisenberg writes about the Vanderbilts, Guerin, Winfrey, and the first people to experience television and televised sports, its as if he's a bored reporter assigned a story he doesn't want to cover but feels occupationally obligated to do so. He didn't have fun writing it and it wasn't pleasant to read. But when he talks about the big grey colt he's passionate bordering on poetic; which was the redeeming quality that brought me from 3 stars to 4. He gives play by play accounts of each race which makes the reader feel like a spectator getting caught up in the heat of the moment. By the end of the story he had me choked up and teary eyed. It certainly helped his cause that he'd have to be one helluva bad writer to mess up a story of a powerful horse who couldn't lose...except just that one time.

Rating: 4/5

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