First, a brief apology for the long, unanticipated absence. Suffice it to say that my library has been finishing up a rather large grant -- and sending me to conferences near and far (Harrisburg and San Antonio). All of this conferring must be doing some good, since we've received some nice awards this year, and of course, somebody has to go pick them up. Yes, sometimes it's nice to be Queen.
However, my preparation for our annual sojourn to the Belmont Stakes is seriously behind (we haven't picked up the beer for our long weekend yet!) and for some reason -- possibly Pennsylvania Turnpike-lag --I haven't been able to get excited about a possible Triple Crown winner. Sadly, my library's collection is rather weak in the horse racing department, and even sadder, all of our books about the Triple Crown are still sitting in their spots on the shelves, wallflowers at a dance where local professor Randy Pausch and Pennsylvania native Dean Koontz jitterbug their way to the top of our circulation charts.
The good news is that even this close to Belmont Stakes Day, I was able to borrow a copy of The Most Glorious Crown by Marvin Drager. It's a wonderful introduction to the Triple Crown winners of the past: the writing is clear and engaging, there are plenty of black-and-white photos, and best of all, Drager includes the charts for every Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. A chapter is devoted to each of the eleven Triple Crown winners, and details from their careers after the Belmont are included. Drager sprinkles in quotes from turf publications that capture the mood of the country, and gives some context to those delightful charts. (For example, it's one thing to know that only 3 horses ran in the 75th Belmont; it's quite another to learn that one of Count Fleet's opponents had only a maiden victory; the other, only a maiden win and and a Class C allowance victory.)
Drager originally published the book in 1975, but it was updated in 2005, and at the moment, it remains up-to-date. The 2005 edition also comes with a DVD of a History Channel program, Win, Place, or Show: The History of Horse Racing. (I really meant to make notes on the DVD program, which I watched while doing the elliptical tonight, but I had a bit of trouble with the resistance levels. All I can tell you about the DVD program is that though it starts a bit slow, interviews with folks like Jimmy Jones are pretty interesting, and Whirlaway and Seattle Slew get quite a bit of attention.)
I was delighted that a book so readable also includes some features that make it useful as a reference tool. In addition to the full race charts, the book includes the complete campaign records & earnings of each of the Triple Crown winners, a glossary, a bibliography, and an extensive index. (Longtime readers may recall my strong feelings about indexes; for those who missed previous rants, let me just say that hell hath no fury like a librarian without an index.)
What might be of most interest to fans of Big Brown is the chapter entitled "Near Misses," which gives a brief summary of the Triple Crown campaigns of the 17 horses who have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to fall short in the long stretch of Big Sandy. Amazingly, my eyes welled with tears when I read about the excitement generated by Smarty Jones's 11-1/2 length victory in the Preakness:
"Racing fans throughout Pimlico wept openly for joy over the accomplishment of their newfound hero. In fact, all of America was suddenly caught up in the Smarty Jones fever.... People lined the roadways, and Pennsylvania Turnpike workers applauded when his caravan traveled to Belmont Park."Kind of makes you wish this year's contender had that kind of charisma, doesn't it?