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Blood Horses

Notes of a Sportswriter's Son

John Jeremiah Sullivan

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

One evening late in his life, veteran sportswriter Mike Sullivan was asked by his son what he remembered best from his three decades in the press box. The answer came as a surprise. "I was at Secretariat's Derby, in '73. That was . . . just beauty, you know?"

Sullivan didn't know, not really: the track had always been a place his father disappeared to once a year on business, a source of souvenir glasses and inscrutable passions in his Kentucky relatives. But in 2000, Sullivan, an editor and essayist for Harper's, decided to educate himself. He spent two years following the horse-both across the country, as he watched one season's juvenile crop prepare for the Triple Crown, and through time, as he tracked the animal's constant evolution in literature and art, from the ponies that appeared on the walls of European caves 30,000 years ago, to the mounts that carried the Indo-European language to the edges of the Old World, to the finely tuned but fragile yearlings that are auctioned off for millions of dollars apiece every spring and fall.

The result is a witty, encyclopedic, and in the end profound meditation on what Edwin Muir called our "long-lost archaic companionship" with the horse. Incorporating elements of memoir and reportage, the Wunderkammer and the picture gallery, Blood Horses lets us see--as we have never seen before--the animal that, more than any other, made us who we are.

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Blood Horses
THE KIDIt was in the month of May, three years ago, by a hospital bed in Columbus, Ohio, where my father was recovering from what was supposed to have been a quintuple bypass operation but became, on the surgeon's actually seeing the heart, a sextuple. His face, my father's face, was pale. He was thinner than I had seen him in years. A stuffed bear that the nurses had loaned him lay crooked in his lap; they told him to hug it whenever he stood or sat down, to keep the stitches in his chest from tearing. I complimented him on the bear when I walked in, and he gave me one of his looks,
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REVIEWS

Praise for Blood Horses

"Illuminates the art of the sportswriter like no book I've read, while tracing the startling links among animals, gambling, dads, and what we habitually think of as the more serious issues of the world. Secretariat, Funny Cide, Kafka, and Osama bin Laden? You bet." --James McManus

"Sullivan does his father, and horses--and an astonishing range and weave of related sources of fascination--proud." --Roy Blount, Jr.

"Sullivan takes us over the tangled courses that horse and man have run together with a natural lyricism and the born storyteller's knack for the unexpected. Blood Horses escorts us to the thick of this race, where the surehanded author looks mortality in the eye, and displays the gifts his father passed on in abundance: arresting language, a keen eye for the ridiculous, and a horseman's love for the mysterious creature at the heart of our shared history." --Kevin Conley, author of Stud

"In the genre of American turfwriting, John Jeremiah Sullivan's Blood Horses is truly an original--a literary hybrid that ranges gracefully from the horse in prehistory to the horse in war to the running of the Kentucky Derby; from the sad life of Stephen Foster to the limestone geology of the Blue Grass to Secretariat's astonishing tour de force in the 1973 Triple Crown; and from the blue-blood yearling sales at Keeneland to the poignant story surrounding the life and death of Sullivan's endearing, Irishly romantic father. Blood Horses is an always fascinating, often touching read." --William Nack, author of Secretariat

"A young man's day at the races and, along the way, a superb history of the gambler's sport." --Elizabeth Hardwick

Reviews from Goodreads

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Blood Horses

Notes of a Sportswriter's Son

John Jeremiah Sullivan

PEN Literary Award - Finalist
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FROM THE PUBLISHER

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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