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Blood Horses

Notes of a Sportswriter's Son

John Jeremiah Sullivan


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ISBN10: 0312423764
ISBN13: 9780312423766

Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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Winner of the Whiting Writers' Award

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?"

John Jeremiah 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 of inscrutable passions in his Kentucky relatives. So Sullivan decided to educate himself. He spent two years following horses across the country. He watched one season's juvenile crop prepare for the Triple Crown, and he tracked the animal's evolution in literature and art, from the ponies that appeared on the walls of European caves thirty thousand 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 and profound mediation on what Edwin Muir called our "long-lost archaic companionship" with the horse. Incorporating elements of memoir, reportage, and picture gallery, Blood Horses is an unprecedented look at Equus Caballus, and it introduces a new voice in American nonfiction, that of an insatiable observer in the traditions of Ian Frazier, John McPhee, and Guy Davenport.


Praise for Blood Horses

"Sullivan has found the transcendent in the horse."—Sports Illustrated

"Wisdom that is both personal and universal . . . Brilliant."—Chicago Tribune

"A splendid account of [the] Triple Crown . . . In horses' beauty and power, and with their hint of danger even when schooled, Sullivan senses a restoration of what has been lost to us."—The New York Times

"As unconventionally lovely a book as you are likely to read for some time."—Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"Sullivan subtly extends the theme of bloodlines to make this book as much about family as it is about horses . . . Its appeal isn't limited to the equine crowd."—Outside

"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

"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 sure-handed 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

"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 Southern childhood? You bet."—James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street

"In his own quest to trace racing's history and capture its urgency, Sullivan, a former Harper's editor, has indeed worked hard but made it look effortless. He has found narrative not in a particular horse but in The Horse—the cultural, literary, and biological phenomenon . . . Sullivan, who won a National Magazine Award for the piece on which this book was based, has a fairly liberal approach to structure and pace, but no matter: he has written a history as sweeping as it is personal, and whose coherence is made more impressive by its lack of central drama—a book that is, in short, as remarkable as the finest horses it documents."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

Blood Horses

It 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...