Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach

I’ve been wanting to read Wild Ride for almost four years now. Maybe three months after I moved to Lexington, a friend and coworker was reading it and said it was really good. Fast forward four years, and I finally got the chance to read it, and I honestly think that I wouldn’t have appreciated the book as much as I do now.

See, being in the Bluegrass has really broadened my Thoroughbred knowledge, and I’ve gained a deeper respect for the industry in the area. Despite what you read in the media- because there is always a dark side of each industry- it is truly regarded as the Sport of Kings for good reason. Generations of families taking the chance on the next superstar, and pouring hours, years, lifetimes of dedication (and money) into their horses. Not only have I gained a deeper understanding of the industry, but I’ve also learned my way around (for the most part) Lexington and the surrounding area. I haven’t gone full local (because I still can’t stop acting like a tourist or shake my New England accent), but while reading Wild Ride, I could easily picture the locations mentioned, or the events occurring.

The byline of Wild Ride is “The Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty”, but Auerbach doesn’t just rehash the demise- she delves into the history of Calumet from the very origins of it’s founder, William Monroe Wright.

The reader learns about the self-made businessman who eventually decided to move from Chicago to the Bluegrass and start his own harness horse breeding operation. From there, his son Warren takes over the family operation, despite being at odds with the way his father ran the place. He converts what becomes Calumet Farm into a thoroughbred operation, and an empire is born. Though strong in business practice, the younger Wright had a lot of horsemanship skills to learn, but his progress turned out derby winners and two Triple Crown winners. Unfortunately, his health took a turn for the worse, and when he passed on, his wife and son became benefactors of his estate, and his wife Lucille inherited the farm, along with gigantic sums of money.

Lucille decides to keep the farm, and in doing so blossoms into one of the social elite. She meets Gene Markey and remarries, and the Markeys, adding a touch of glamour that the Wright men did not achieve, take Calumet to up the social ladder. While Lucille enjoyed being  Lady of Calumet, her son Warren Jr. was moved to the wayside. He didn’t care for the farm life, and had many peculiarities that made him difficult to work with. On top of that, there was some discrepancies about him being the legitimate son of Warren Wright Sr. Lucille did very little to defend her son because he was seen as an embarrassment in her circle. This feud caused much heartache for his wife and four children, and eventually the Wright family became estranged to the Markey family, most so after Warren Jr. succumbs to an early death.

Knowing fully about the family feud, Warren Jr.’s eldest daughter, Cindy, marries a man named J.T. Lundy. Determined to run Calumet, he pressures and fights with Lucille to run the farm. Lucille and Lundy stubbornly spar, neither one giving up, until Lucille’s age catches up to her. Through the will of Warren Sr., the farm is finally turned over the Wright children, and because of their disinterest in the farm due to all the past heartache, Lundy takes over in care of the Wrights. From here, as secretary Margaret Glass notes, Armageddon begins with the fall of Calumet.

If you live in the area, you can still drive past the farm, and see for yourself the images that Auerbach describes- the white double fencing, the devils-red trim on white washed barns, the acres of famous Kentucky bluegrass dotted with horses. But the Calumet you see isn’t the dynasty that existed prior to 1990, and reading about the fall brought chills to my spine.

If you’re a horse junky like me, or interested in historical novels (Kentucky history in particular), horse racing and breeding, or crime novels, Wild Ride is a must read.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Oh you guys… here’s another good one for you! Another recommendation from my book-loving coworker, and she didn’t disappoint! I read “The Art of Racing in the Rain” bits and pieces at first, more due to being preoccupied with other things rather than lack of interest. But I found myself with some free time today, and polished it off… greedy word after greedy word, needing to know what was going to happen.

On page one, the reader immediately steps into the observant thoughts of Enzo. It takes a second before you realize that this narrator happens to be…a dog. A very sophisticated, brash, and intelligent dog at that. Enzo reflects upon his life, and in tandem, a significant era in the life of Denny, his master.

Enzo begins life with Denny as a puppy, and as he reaches adulthood, finds himself watching Denny marry a woman named Eve, and raising their daughter Zoë. But as Denny works towards a career in speed racing, Eve learns she’s got a terminal illness.  Leaving Zoë and Enzo in the center of the confusion and drama that follows, all Enzo can do is observe his humans as they struggle to keep their family together. When the illness finally takes Eve, Enzo also bears witness to the aftermath as Eve’s parents and Denny feud for custody of Zoë.

Woven throughout his story, Enzo philosophizes on the history and traditions of ancient dog, speed racing, medicine, and weather. He also gives the reader idioms to ponder such as “The car goes where the eyes go,” and “No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there.” Throughout the novel, Enzo also refers to his human-like qualities, and how he hopes that at the end of his life, he will be reincarnated into a human to someday express these qualities; such as his ability to listen, his love for racing, and his compassion for mankind. He also hopes that someday, his human form will be able to reconnect with his old master and let him know that “Enzo says “hi”.”

It’s a heart wrenching story on so many levels. As an animal person, I love how Stein put the reader into the mind of a dog, and in my opinion did it well without overdosing on the anthropomorphism. I love how he displayed the loyalty and unspeakable bond between human and dog. And I love how at the end of it all, Enzo got his wish.

Definitely a must read.