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I am a huge fan of horses. I was excited to discover a new book (2016) published about a horse. Eliza McGrew’s biography of the 1918 Kentucky Derby winner Exterminator is a great read. Exterminator stood at 17 hands, a gelding and was a skinny ungainly looking horse with a white heart in the middle of his forehead. He was a 30 to one long shot in the Derby and he caught the eye of the working man. Exterminator ran 99 times and won 50 races and 20 of them carrying a weight of 130 or more pounds; this is unheard of in today’s world of racing. During the first part of his career, after the Derby, he was sent into a race as the second horse to Sun Briar to run interference and set up Sun Briar to win. It was felt by the trainer he could have won most of those races. That is no longer allowed in today’s racing. Most racehorses have a companion; this can range from a hen, goat, small pony, another horse or more commonly a cat. Exterminator’s companion was a pony named Peanut.
At this time people were tired of war and Exterminator provided them a brief escape. McGrew provides a review of this history and a look into the culture of the time. It was the time when Vanderbilt, Hancock, Belmont and Travis were the big names in horse racing and breeding. The big name horses were Man O’War and Sir Barton and then there was this skinny, ugly horse that could win and win. Exterminator never raced against Man O’War but I sure wished they could have faced each other. McGrew provides the history of racing and horses during World War One. I was interested in the section about Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin who was the founder of Santa Anita Racetrack on his estate lands. Baldwin came to San Francisco for the gold rush but became a merchant, hotel owner and early member of the San Francisco Stock Exchange. He then bought several successful mines in the Comstock Lode. He later moved to Southern California where he became a land baron.
The book is well written and researched. McGrew successfully transports the reader into the gilded age of horse racing. If you like horses you will enjoy the story of “old bones the wonder horse”. Nicol Zanzarella does a good job narrating the book. Zanzarella is an actress, author and award winning audiobook narrator.
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