Author Q and A
Why did you choose to write this book ?
I was close to the story that emerged. I observed firsthand Barbaro's time preparing for the Preakness. I reported on the colt's well being at New Bolton Center and oversaw the emergence of a large fan following. I had some insights that I thought were not only unique, but interesting.
After traveling for a couple of years, doing additional research at various racetracks across North America, I knew that I had content and a book that could be thought provoking. Obviously the support of the Jacksons (Barbaro's owners) and all those who worked closely with Barbaro, gave me access to an amazing story about a horse who really had captured the nation's conscience.
Did you ever see Barbaro race in person, or see him the barn etc ? Did you know his jockey or barn staff that worked with him ?
While I did not see Barbaro race in person, I saw him training, each morning, as he prepared for the Preakness. I also visited Barbaro, on a number of occasions, during his time at New Bolton Center. I knew many people who worked directly with Barbaro before this saga developed, and got to know many of those who worked directly with him as things unfolded.
How long have you been working on this book ?
I started working directly on the book in the Summer of 2007, conducting interviews. That fall, while I was traveling, I wrote a couple of chapters. By the Summer of 2008, with two chapters written, I stalled. While I continued to do research, I did not restart the writing process until the end of 2009. I then spent a year, full time, researching and writing. The chapters I had originally written in 2007-2008 were completely rewritten.
Which part of the book did you write first ?
During the first "go around," I wrote two chapters, one on horse rescue and one on horse slaughter. Both were very useful for me as I was managing alexbrownracing.com and helping with Barbaro's legacy, but ultimately I decided that neither was appropriate for the book, in the form I had written. In the second "go around," it took me a while to get started again, but after many interviews I began writing about Barbaro's Derby. That was the easiest place to start, and I think the easiest chapter to write; it essentially wrote itself. I remember precisely the first paragraph I wrote, and I could not stop once that paragraph was written!
How many people did you interview for the book ?
I interviewed about 100 people for the book. I was fortunate that so many people were so willing to be interviewed for the book. Michael Matz's team, Dr. Dean Richardson's team, and all the media that followed the 2006 Triple Crown series, were the three main targets for my interviews. I also interviewed many people from Pimlico. The willingness of people to interview really helped keep me going through the project.
Who was the most interesting interview ?
I am not sure who was the most interesting interview, but the most influential was Steve Haskin of the Blood-Horse. Steve was one of the very first interviews, and he basically set the theme for how people really revered Barbaro's Kentucky Derby winning performance. While I knew it was good, and had all the characteristics of being one of the best performances in recent memory, to hear that from Steve really made me realize that perhaps the story I wanted to tell really did need telling. And then when I interviewed some of Steve's colleagues at other media, I just became overwhelmed with the impressions media had regarding how great Barbaro's Derby win was.
You have a lot of pictures for the book, why so many ?
When I began researching and writing the book I had no intention to use many pictures. My rationale was that the content of the book was going to be strong, why worry about pictures too ? Now I think that is wrong-headed. Just because the content can be strong, people do like pictures, and people like horse pictures, and Barbaro was very photogenic. So I pursued getting some pictures.
Barbara Livingston was very helpful to me, giving me access to her Barbaro library. Other photographers followed. After a while I thought, if I could retell the entire story through photographs, why not try to do that? So I did. I now have 164 pictures in the photo story, and basically the photo story does retell the entire story of the book. There are some anecdotes you will learn by reading the photo story that you won't learn from the main narrative, and the main narrative obviously has more details, and many quotes from the interviews. I think together, both stories work. I think it is an unusual approach, but I am hoping it works.
Why did you choose to illustrate the book ?
This book is multi-dimensional. It comprises insights from about 100 interviewees, photographs from the best horse racing photographers, as well as from my own iPhone, and from amateur photographers. It also comprises great illustrations by young artist Lynden Godsoe. While I had not thought about illustrating the book initially, it made sense once I had made the decision to include all the photos in their own photo section. Now the illustrations help serve as a visual "placeholder" of sorts, allowing people to browse through the book and visually see where they are in the story as they view the illustrations. Once I saw the first illustration Lynden drew, Barbaro as a foal, I was hooked on the idea! I discovered, after I started working with Lynden, that she had tried to visit Barbaro while he was at New Bolton Center.
There are other books on Barbaro, why this book ?
There are a couple of answers to this question. For many subjects, there are multiple books, so I do not think that a horse should be limited to one book. The other books, three or four, vary in terms of their quality and how they were perceived in the marketplace. One I thought was horrible. I think Sean Clancy's was probably the best in terms of portraying Barbaro as a racehorse and as a patient. My book goes a little further I think. Because I was not planning to release the book in a timely fashion, I could spend time interviewing many people (including Clancy) to help create a multi-dimensional view of Barbaro, his life and his legacy. It's a focus on his legacy, and an examination of whether he was a great racehorse, that helps differentiate this book. I also look at why Barbaro was so inspirational, and highlight other horses that have also proven inspirational. So I think this work is just a little more broad. I also hope that my own experiences with Barbaro help provide some legitimacy to this story.
What did you learn, through the process of writing this book ?
I had finished the book and decided to do a little traveling. I wanted to see some of the friends I had made at Woodbine, I had a wedding to attend, and wanted to visit Kentucky to take a couple more pictures for the book and just tie up a couple of loose-ends for the book. When I visited Churchill Downs I was dumb-founded. I really had not thought how important Barbaro's Memorial really is. After visiting the Memorial, interviewing Alexa King (sculptor) and Wendy Treinen (Derby Museum), I rewrote a lot of the final chapter. I became a "geek" about Memorials, and how important they are regarding sustaining a legacy. I learned a lot more, through the process of writing this book, but that was an important epiphany for me and an important addition to the book.
Did you ever feel like giving up ?
I did give up once, for a year and a half. Once I got back going again in late 2009, I kept going. I became pretty obsessed with the process. When I could not write, I interviewed more. Thankfully I rode a few horses in the mornings for most of 2010 which kept me a little sane.
How did your personal feelings for Barbaro change, through the process of writing this book ?
I am not sure my own feelings changed much, but what really impressed me was that those feelings were widely shared. Not just with "Fans of Barbaro," but with horse racing media and horsemen alike. That is very cool.
What do you hope readers learn from this book ?
First and foremost, readers will get an accurate portrayal of the life of a terrific racehorse. I hope that readers get a renewed sense of Barbaro's place in history, as a racehorse. I also think the book highlights the importance of horses in general, in terms of the development of human civilizations and how they truly are inspirational. The book includes some subtle but interesting leadership lessons, which is something I might try to expand upon during speaking engagements.
Did you always want to be an author ?
The short answer is no. I did not think I had the talent, let alone the commitment, to write a book. I just hope that my writing is adequate enough to do justice to the story, and all the support I have received from the people that I interviewed and helped me with the book. I am also a bit of a design geek, so I enjoyed the process of working with the designer of the book to execute on my vision for the book.
Do you plan on writing another book ?
Until this saga developed, I had no intention of writing a book. So while I cannot say I will not be writing another book, I certainly do not have a plan to write another book. This book is a function of being in the right place at the right time, and running with it.