As you know by now, I'm a sucker for books and a sucker for horses. I love horse racing, and I had such a good time watching the Kentucky Derby this past Saturday that I decided to finally pick up a book that had been sitting on my bookshelf unread for a whole year.
The Horse God Built is the story of Secretariat. But what separates this book from other stories about famous racehorses is that it is also the story of a member of the Secretariat team that no one ever paid a whole lot of attention to: the horse's groom, Eddie Sweat.
Now if you ever go look at some photos of Secretariat during his racing days, you will often see a short man standing near him or holding his lead. In the winner's circle, he will often be dressed brightly and maybe wearing something awesomely 70s like plaid pants. But no one ever looked at this man. They only looked at the horse, his jockey Ron Turcotte, his trainer Lucien Laurin, and his owner Penny Chenery. And yet this man was always there. He was the one who was photographed wiping away tears the day he brought Secretariat to his new home after he was retired from the track. He was the one Secretariat knew best, and likewise he knew this horse best. They were uncommon friends who impacted each others lives in amazing ways.
While this book isn't nearly the sensation Seabiscuit was, it still has merit in its own way. I too had never paid attention to the groom, and so it was amazing to read a side of the famous Secretariat story I had never heard before. There were also some wonderful tidbits about other aspects of racing in the book that I thoroughly enjoyed, but really it was this unassuming man Eddie Sweat that carried the story. A man who lived a dream by enjoying the company of the world's greatest racehorse, but who died a pauper. And yet this man is remembered by many in the industry as one of the best grooms of his time.
There was a mention in the book about how grooms are not currently being inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame, but that perhaps this is something that should change. After finishing the book, I have to say I absolutely agree with this and hope that Eddie Sweat will be the first one given this honor (albeit posthumous). I don't think anyone deserves it more.
One final note of awesomeness: In the upcoming Disney film Secretariat (October 8, 2010), Eddie Sweat is being portrayed by Nelsan Ellis, better known as Lafayette from True Blood. Is that not completely awesome or what?
Here's a statue in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington depicting Secretariat, his jocket Ron Turcotte, and his groom Eddie Sweat: