Is there anything more American than horse racing? Anything as classy and earthy? Down on Jim Squires' Kentucky horse farm, blue-jean clad millionaires mix with rough-talking horse handlers, all of them victims of Derby Fever, a personality disorder that overtakes people who spend too much time around thoroughbreds.
Squires, a former editor of the Chicago Tribune, brings all the black arts of journalism he learned at the big city paper to Horse of a Different Color, a tale that unfolds his passion for both horses and women. Squires is shifty in the way he spins his story, burying his own identity the way a skilled journalist sometimes buries the lead. He refers to himself in the third person, as though he were a skeptical reporter rather than a passionate participant. He never uses his given name, but instead riddles the reader with a string of nicknames like breeding genius, underbidder and Two Bucks guy. Horse of a Different Color revolves around the breeding, selling and training of Monarchos, a colt whose athletic prowess the author predicted when he was born. Monarchos' career is far from guaranteed, however. Underpedigreed, he fails at auction when an x-ray turns up a bone lesion on his hip. His lineage is snubbed at the Saratoga Springs Derby, and he's ranked as an outside chance at the big event the Kentucky Derby. With one eye on Monarchos, Squires leads his readers through the labyrinth of the thoroughbred horse industry. It's a high-stakes world with huge gambles, crushing losses and unexpected windfalls that literally save the farm a complex, often contradictory world where traders deliberately overpay for a horse to stir up interest in its prospects, where an owner may buy her own horse at auction just to protect its reputation, where Japanese tycoons and Middle Eastern sheiks vie with Kentucky breeders to produce a champion. It's an industry in which the proverbial dark horse the one nobody's seriously betting on may steal the trophy. Like so many of the blueblooded beasts he writes about, Squires' new book is a winner. Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.