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SEMIFINALIST – 2011 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, presented by Castleton Lyons and Thoroughbred Times
The inside story of how a three-year-old filly captured the hearts of racing fans and cemented her bid to be named Horse of the Year.
When Rachel Alexandra thundered to a stylish win against the boys in the 2009 Preakness Stakes, her connections came to the 141st Saratoga Race Course meeting wanting more than just another victory. They wanted Horse of the Year.
Her jockey, Calvin Borel, pointed triumphantly to the three-year-old filly beneath him. Rachel Alexandra was the best horse he had ever ridden and it was his job to ensure that she and her connections didn’t leave Saratoga Springs without a victory.
Hall of Fame trainer and gruff New Yorker Nick Zito felt he could slay the queen. He’d take his shots with two rival horses, Da’ Tara and Cool Coal Man, because, as he well knew, you can’t win if you don’t play.
New York Racing Association president and CEO Charlie Hayward knew that Rachel Alexandra could run elsewhere and didn’t have to come to Saratoga. The pressure was on him to keep this talented and magnetic filly on his property, but how far could he go without compromising his values?
Then there were the other horses at the meet: the Zito-trained Commentator, eight years old and looking for one last try in the Whitney Handicap; Kentucky Derby–winner Mine That Bird, aiming to reclaim his glory if he could only stay healthy; and Summer Bird, the Belmont Stakes winner, who demanded respect.
Everyone was in the twilight of their careers. What would be their legacies? How would they be remembered?
Never before has the famous racing season at Saratoga been illustrated through these threads, in real time. As we follow the jockey, the trainer, and the executive, we come to understand how they, and so many other racing fans and professionals, were drawn to the magnetism of one special horse, Rachel Alexandra.
All of this happens in six weeks, all at Saratoga.
“O’Meara narrates the drama-filled story with behind-the-scene details that will grab the interest of racing enthusiasts and non-fans alike.” — Hudson River Valley Review
“…O’Meara will make your pulse pound and breath run short. The story of this amazing filly and controversial year in horse racing is a deeply informative and a fast-paced read with a journalistic, Spartan use of language that brings the smell of turf, dirt, horse sweat, and anticipation directly to the reader.” — Sacramento Book Review
“Going behind the scenes of three-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra’s 2009 triumph … O’Meara makes her story gallop and gleam.” — Chronogram
“The [book] is one of enjoyable promise, and as the author recounts little moments and inside conversations, he provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of the figures he covers. The narrative keeps game pace with outside literary standards and features bursts of brilliance, and I found it a refreshing change from the selection of racing-themed volumes available today. As O’Meara brings his subjects to life, you find yourself thinking this is the kind of guy whose work I want to follow.” — Claire Novak, ESPN.com
“O’Meara … provide[s] a tremendous amount of detail from behind the scenes that the reader would not have otherwise enjoyed … Six Weeks is essentially a Rachel book, but it’s told without neglecting the always rich backdrop of a Saratoga meet. That means there’s history, surprises, characters (human and equine), great racing, foggy mornings and sun-splashed afternoons—plenty of material through which O’Meara could exercise his descriptive abilities.” — Schenectady Daily Gazette
“O’Meara fell for a magical place and magnificent horse, which is a lovely malady that often befalls horse people, and with a great deal of heart he tells us how and why. You’ll never forget his Six Weeks in Saratoga, either.” — Joe Drape, author of Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen
“Brendan O’Meara tells the story of this proud horse with verve and great historical insight. Six Weeks in Saratoga marks the debut of an exciting new talent.” — Wil Haygood, author of Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson
“Brendan O’Meara’s Six Weeks in Saratoga is a victory to be savored by those who treasure good writing in general and tales of the track in particular. Horses may win races, but they also win hearts as this impressive book proves beyond doubt. A memorable, sure-footed debut.” — Madeleine Blais, author of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle
Brendan O’Meara is a freelance writer who has written on racing and sports for the Saratogian, Paulick Report, and Horse Race Insider. He lives in Saratoga Springs.