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My Guy Barbaro: A Jockey's Journey Through Love, Triumph, and Heartbreak with America's Favorite Horseby Edgar Prado
Synopses & Reviews
A new superstar appeared on the American sports landscape in the spring of 2006: Barbaro, a three-year-old racehorse, won the Kentucky Derby by six and a half lengths, the largest margin of victory in sixty years. Barbaro's impressive performance immediately stirred talk of a possible Triple Crown. But in the opening yards of the Preakness Stakes two weeks later, the horse suffered a catastrophic leg injury that ended his undefeated career and left him fighting for his life.
Edgar Prado, a native of Peru and one of the world's top jockeys, rode Barbaro to glory and then stood beside him for months as the horse valiantly struggled to survive and millions of fans held their breath. Having ridden in more than twenty-five thousand races over the previous two decades, Prado thought he had been around too long to fall for any one horse, but Barbaro—intelligent, charismatic, and resourceful in sickness as well as in health—stole his heart.
In My Guy Barbaro, Prado recounts his own story, a tale of grit and dreams that moves from his impoverished childhood in Lima, Peru, to the winner's circles of the greatest racetracks in the world, and memorably chronicles his emotional time with Barbaro before, during, and after the horse's breakdown. Their bond was special and immeasurable. With Prado still reeling from a wrenching personal loss, Barbaro lifted his spirits by giving him “the ride of a lifetime” in the Derby. When the tables turned and the horse needed support two weeks later, Prado was there, going out of his way to make a succession of visits to the New Bolton Center, the animal hospital in Pennsylvania where Barbaro underwent more than two dozen surgeries and was ultimately put down.
Barbaro made worldwide headlines for eight months, and now Prado's poignant, clear-eyed narrative takes us where no reader has gone before—onto Barbaro's back in the heat of a race and into the intensive care suite where Barbaro's life-and-death drama played itself out. My Guy Barbaro is a heartwarming, unforgettable story of a man and his love for a beautiful animal and an irreplaceable teammate.
"In a straightforward narration, Prado (with journalist Eisenberg) relates the brief, poignant story of Barbaro's rise and fall. One of the most successful jockeys in history, Prado sensed Barbaro's special qualities during a race in Maryland. After going undefeated in their first three races together, Prado and Barbaro shared an easy 2006 Kentucky Derby victory that positioned Barbaro to win the Triple Crown. Disaster struck at the Preakness, however, when Barbaro shattered a leg into more than two dozen pieces just out of the gate. His struggle for survival was avidly covered by the media and made the horse a national hero. Sadly, after a prolonged struggle and multiple surgeries, Barbaro had to be put down. Prado's matter-of-fact presentation is most successful when he's describing the routines and rituals and his own intense work habits. His journey from a one-room house in Lima, Peru — which he shared with his parents and 10 brothers and sisters — to a place at the top of his profession is fascinating in its own right. Out of necessity, jockeys try not to get attached to particular horses, but the loss of his mother just before the Kentucky Derby made Prado particularly sensitive to Barbaro's plight." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
There are two distinctly different ways of looking at horses: One is through the eyes of a horseman (this word includes "horsewoman" in the horse world), the other through the eyes of an animal lover. That is not to say that horsemen don't love horses, but they do not as a rule romanticize the horse or give too much thought to the horse in its wild state (those few that remain), and... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) still less to the horse's soul, if it has one. For horsemen, the horse is a working animal whose task it is to perform a specific service, be it winning races, herding cattle or filling a variety of recreational roles, such as a child's pony or a foxhunter or a hunter-jumper or just as a plain old horse for hacking out on the trails. Animal lovers on the other hand tend to ignore the fact that the horse is no longer a wild animal. They lay upon it considerably heavier emotional baggage than it is equipped to carry. Horses accept affection from humans, unless they have been severely mistreated, but they do not necessarily return it. The Romantic belief that they would be better off in the wild, living free in herds, ignores the fact that we have been carefully breeding them away from that state for 10,000 years. The average thoroughbred is about as well equipped for life in the wild as its owner. The three books reviewed here represent good examples of both ways of looking at this animal: the idealistic and the practical. The first two books are either for or by horsemen, though that may be stretching it somewhat in the case of "To the Swift," edited by New York Times sports writer Joe Draper, since it's a compilation of sports writing about Triple Crown winners in the 100-year history of the event. If you are a fan of thoroughbred racing, it's a pretty good read, bearing in mind, which sports writers can't avoid, that horse racing is about money, not about horses. There is a certain obligatory dose of hero-worship about the great champions like Secretariat and Citation in these pieces, but no more than sports writers usually show toward boxers. Like boxers, successful race horses are said to have "a great heart," meaning that they keep going when another horse would slow down and catch its breath. The basic questions here, as at the track and the off-track betting parlor, are "Did he win?" and, if so, by how many lengths, and how much did he pay off? Sentimentality is not a notable feature of horse racing, any more than it is of boxing, and none of the writers wastes his time trying to make the horse seem warm and fuzzy. However, those who are interested in good writing could do worse than to read Draper's collection. The sports writers he has picked are brilliant at packing the maximum amount of information into the shortest possible narrative, and still making a story of it. Draper has a good eye for the best of the best, in this case Red Smith and the immortal Arthur Daley, who write more to the point about racing than do the more "literary" writers in the book like Jane Smiley and Laura Hillenbrand. Here's Daley on Count Fleet, the favorite for the 1943 Kentucky Derby: "Count Fleet will win the Kentucky Derby by either a length or a mile at Churchill Downs today. The Count is a cinch. The Count can't miss. If he does fail to capture the classic there undoubtedly will be mass suicide by those lovers of horseflesh whose only interest in the sport is the improving of the breed — and the collecting of winning pari-mutuel tickets." The Count went on to win the Triple Crown. "My Guy Barbaro" is jockey Edgar Prado's paean to Barbaro, the horse he rode to victory in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and that shattered a leg coming out of the starting gate at the Preakness. Barbaro survived eight months of veterinary treatment only to be put down in the end. Prado (with his co-writer John Eisenberg) tries hard for a blend of hero-worship and tear-jerking sentimentality, and almost succeeds, but Prado is too much of a horseman to ignore the fact that racing is a tough business and that even a great horse and jockey can't beat bad luck. "My Guy Barbaro" is good, fast reading because it's clear that Prado is not only a great jockey but also a real horseman, who can take in a horse's strengths and weaknesses at a glance, and figure out what makes it tick. He's even better at describing what makes a jockey tick, the strategy of riding a race and how to get the most out of a horse, and the ways a horse and jockey can bond together as a racing team. Prado makes the reader realize how well he and Barbaro understood each other. Clearly, Barbaro was a great horse. Joe Camp's "The Soul of a Horse" takes a more modern, more romantic view. Camp, the creator of the canine movie star Benji, came to horses late in life and set out to unlock what he takes to be the mystery of their souls. He wants to learn from the horse, rather than teach it. He fixates on the idea that the horse is born wild and that the herd life remains in its head — to paraphrase Rousseau on mankind, the horse is born free, yet everywhere is in chains. Its behavior is governed by flight reaction; as prey its instinct is to bolt at the first sign of danger. This is nothing new. All horsemen know this; indeed, the reason why horses can be raced is that it comes naturally to them. But the modern horse has had most of this genetic programming carefully bred and trained out of it. A thousand-pound animal that wants to kick, buck and bolt at every sudden noise or movement is a danger to everybody around it. It is not part of the horseman's job to become part of the horse herd, as Camp apparently wants us to do, but to get the horse to accustom itself to "our" world, since that's where it lives, for better or worse, now that we have domesticated it. Camp alternates his own experiences in achieving a "natural" relationship with his horses, with descriptions of life in a more or less mythical horse herd. This part, like most stories told from an animal's viewpoint, will put some readers off and attract others. I have to admit that I found many of the passages ("The stallion slid up next to the matriarch, adding his burning stare to hers") a little too anthropomorphic, but for those who like that sort of thing it is by no means as sappy as some efforts. Camp has a passion — some might say a bee in his bonnet — about not shoeing horses, and a firm conviction that pulling off a horse's shoes will give it "a longer, healthier, happier life." A good case can be made for this argument; the American Plains Indians never shod their horses, many Westerners still don't, and even people who do shoe them often take the shoes off for the winter. Despite Camp's enthusiasm, though, neophyte horse owners might do well to pause before taking those shoes off, since Camp also seems to feel that many of the uses to which owners put their horses are unnatural, including dressage, racing, Western cutting, show jumping and much else. Still, one cannot help but be touched by Camp's love and sympathy for the animals and by his eloquence on the subject. Like him, I have very seldom met a horse that I didn't like better than its owner. Michael Korda is the author of "Horse People" and "Ike: An American Hero," and co-author with his wife, Margaret, of "How to Keep a Horse at Home." Reviewed by Michael Korda, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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About the Author
Edgar Prado is one of the world's premier jockeys. In February 2008, he became the sixteenth North American jockey to win six thousand races. Later that year he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. Born in Lima, Peru, Prado now splits his time between Hollywood, Florida, and Elmont, New York.
John Eisenberg is a former sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun and is the author of six books, including the acclaimed Native Dancer and The Great Match Race. He lives in Baltimore.
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