Book Review: Alexandra the Great

I have mostly positive things to say about this book, and a few negatives, which is what readers deserve in a critical review.

First, I can’t remember when I have handled a book with such high-quality paper, cover and color images. It’s certainly a fitting homage to Rachel Alexandra, who never gave anything less than her best and will go down in history as one of the finest Thoroughbreds ever to step on a racetrack.

I share the awe most of the racing public holds for this exceptional filly. I followed the career of another great filly, Ruffian, and I was on the Belmont backside when she broke down. My heart was in my throat every time Rachel ran, fearing a similar disaster. But Rachel proved to everyone that she was better than Ruffian and, indeed, a super filly for all time.

I fancied myself as being pretty well versed on Rachel Alexandra, but Deb Aronson’s book gave me new insights into the life of the orphan foal who would grow into “Alexandra the Great.” The book was obviously the result of exhaustive interviews with everyone associated with Rachel, and the writer’s passion for the horse and her human connections leapt off every page.

That said, I have a few caveats for the young readers the book is intended for, and to those of other ages who just can’t help reading anything written about the lovely and astounding Rachel Alexandra.

 In her acknowledgements, author Deb Aronson says, “Although the stories of Rachel I read in my newspaper excited me, I knew nothing at all about the world of Thoroughbred racing.”

It shows. The author’s research served her well–but not well enough to avoid some errors that should have been caught by her knowledgeable proofreaders. During Rachel’s early education, the author mistakenly refers to the halter rather than bridle when describing how horses are introduced to the bit. In the description of the Preakness: grooms do not lead horses to the starting gate. They hand them off to pony riders at the entrance to the track. Jockey Calvin Borel did not “climb back on” Rachel after she reared behind the starting gate. One of the gate attendants would have given him a leg up. In that race, there would not have been “puffs of dust” rising from the horse’s footfalls; no track is that dusty, and the author had said it was drizzling during the post parade.

There are other mistakes that will only be noticed by anyone with more racing knowledge than the average reader or racegoer. Under normal circumstances, small errors lead readers to doubt the veracity of the whole. My advice: ignore those minor goofs and focus on the story, which is well told and accurately documented through the author’s extensive interviews.

Bottom line: Deb Aronson’s Alexandra the Great is a good read–touching, suspenseful and uplifting—a tale for the ages. We may never see another filly like Rachel and it’s good to have her story shared with young readers, accompanied by a complete glossary of terms.

Deb Aronson’s Alexandra the Great: the Story of the Record-breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack, is available on Amazon for $18.99 ($25.99 Canada) in hardback, $9.99 Kindle. The hardback is 176 pages long, with 25 color photos.


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