Note: Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy is now available for purchase. Please click Alex Brown’s website for instructions.
Some ask Alex Brown why he included so many pictures in his forthcoming book on the fallen racehorse. When they ask, he responds, “Why not?”
And then he describes his vision for the book. It’s a biography of a horse, and his legacy. Think of it not as a high budget movie, nor a documentary, but something in between.
A photo essay with 160 photos is included in the book. The photos are taken by about a half dozen of the best professional photographers in horse racing, dozens of amateurs, and many from Alex’s own iPhone. The collection augments the written chapters about a horse who has galvanized fans in and out of the racing industry. Like Alex, thousands became near obsessed with the progress of the fallen colt who was spectacular in winning the Kentucky Derby, only to break down 2 weeks later in the 2006 Preakness.
Despite valiant effort of owners and veterinarians to save him, Barbaro was euthanized. But he left in his wake a legacy that though not perfectly defined in the forthcoming book, “Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy,” is left to the imagination of readers who consider how the colt affected discussions on horse slaughter, developments in laminitis research, and other issues surrounding racehorse Thoroughbreds.
As the book is readied for a March launch, the author is busy scheduling a marketing push. He is making plans for book signings at racetracks across the country. And as he plans, he has also enjoyed a little down time reading other tomes about great horses.
Having just finished “Crazy Good,” a book about the pacer Dan Patch, Brown is even more optimistic of his book’s place in history.
Not only does he capture the horse in words and photos, but he also offers insights about horse-slaughter, why horses can be so inspirational, and features commentary from the people who knew Barbaro best.
The following is a from a recent interview with Alex Brown:
Q: You have over 160 photos related to Barbaro. Why so many?
A: I’ve read a lot of biographies about horses— recently I read Crazy Good, about Dan Patch. When I finished the book, I just wished there had been more photographs. Obviously I am reading a book about a horse who performed 100 years ago. There just is not much in terms of photographs available. For the Barbaro story there are plenty of photos.
When I decided to embark on this book project, I didn’t see why the number of photos should be limited. One of the reasons I chose to self publish, as opposed to looking for a book publisher, is that I had a certain vision for this book. A big part of that vision was to repeat the entire story as a photo essay. I just know that some people prefer to read in small chunks, and it just made sense to me. Essentially I wanted to detail the complicated story of Barbaro both editorially and graphically.
Q: How did you go about obtaining so many pictures?
A: I have to thank some of the professional photographers that supported this project. Barbara Livingston, for example, really helped. She was the first photographer I went to, and she said, “Alex you can use as many as you want, no charge.” Not all the photos are free. I’ve paid for some of them, and I took some of them, but I was really fortunate to be able to work with many of the photographers that supported this project.
Q: How is your book different from the others?
A: In a sense the book feels like it’s a documentary. And the photo essay is a big part of that. A reader can look through the photographs and come away with a real sense of Barbaro and his impact. There’s also pretty thorough caption information to accompany the photos. I just have not read a book that goes into so much detail from a photographic standpoint. Maybe there is a reason for that, but I cannot fathom what it might be.
As an example, as part of the book I have a chapter discussing why Barbaro was so inspirational. As part of that chapter I discuss other horses who were inspirational (Dan Patch, Seabiscuit, Man o’ War etc.) to make the point that Barbaro is not unique as an inspirational figure. In the photo essay I include pictures of Overdose (the “Budapest Bullet”) and a very cool shot of Zenyatta fans at Breeders’ Cup 2010 to make the same point. I hope it works!
Q: Where does Barbaro fit in? What is his legacy?
A: In the book I don’t absolutely try to answer that question. I try to cover a number of different aspects of his legacy. Also, the book does not say whether Barbaro was great or not great. I interview a lot of people and ask them that question, and then weave my thoughts into the narrative. I let the reader come to his / her own conclusion, based on the evidence I provide.
Q: Did Barbaro’s breakdown on national television influence the horse-slaughter issue?
A: In respect to issues related ex-racehorse retirement and slaughter, what Barbaro did was raise the bar of scrutiny. Because of Barbaro, more people started to question what’s going on in racing. But it’s not just racing; it’s the overall issue of slaughter that his life-and-death struggle helped to highlight. I also explore some of the positive changes that racetracks have put in place to address the issue.
Q: As a horseman who is obviously very supportive of horse racing, how did you strike that balance between addressing the slaughter issue, but not becoming overwhelmed by it?
A: This was one of my biggest challenges, one I struggled with. I wanted to write a book that people want to buy, that highlights and analyses the greatness of the horse. Nobody wants to read a book about horses going to slaughter. But the slaughter issue is part of his legacy (and in the book I explain why that is), and it would have been remiss of me not to address it. My hope is that people will read this book and that it will help make a difference, because obviously we want to end the practice of horse slaughter. In my book, I address the issue and I offer suggestions for ways we can end the practice. I hope it helps us get one step closer to recognizing that horse slaughter is not an appropriate way to deal with the end of a horse’s life.