Q&A: Alex Brown discusses Barbaro’s legacy

Photo by Jennifer Duffy

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.

Baby Picture. Photo by Rai Phelan

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.

Canadian slaughterhouse. Photo by Alex Brown

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.

Alex Brown exercising a horse

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.

19 responses to “Q&A: Alex Brown discusses Barbaro’s legacy”

  1. Tricia K.

    Can’t wait to read your book, Alex. I’m sure I’ll cry all the way through it. What can I say about what Barbaro has meant to me, and what your website “Alex Brown Racing” has done to bring together all the Fans of Barbaro, and to make positive change by saving thousands of horses, raising millions of dollars to save and support them, working hard to someday pass The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act in Congress, and contributing to help end laminitis. You’re book will no doubt be exceptional — just like you. Thank you Alex! Barbaro will lead the way….

  2. Lynne Brown

    Susan Salk: Our American horses’ welfare can use all the ‘warriors’ we can gather, if you’d like to learn more about contacting people in DC please visit http://www.alexbrownracing.com there’s a sidebar on the left of the page titled Anti-Slaughter, America. You’ll find all kinds of helpful information there and though I don’t want to leave my email address in a public forum, Alex has it…I’d be happy to help in any way I am able:)

  3. Kim Gatto

    Nice work – both Alex and Sue!

    And, no worries – the book’s photo captions are fabulous. 🙂

  4. Otherlyn

    I have books and photos and memories, of BARBARO, but I am grateful for this one more definitive account. When I tell people about BARBARO and his legacy, I will show them this book. Alex enlisted input from the FOB, who have a special connection to this great champion. I expect that this will be a work that has come from the heart (many hearts). I expect that it will share a very intimate point of view. For Alex has sought input from many of us who’s lives have been profoundly touched by the “magic” of what we FOB call “the BARBARO effect.”

    There is eversomuch more to BARBARO, than his on track accomplishments. Another book…one that seeks to express “the goodness and greatness” of this one-very-special-big-bay-colt will help to show the world how precious one life can be. BARBARO set his hoof to the waters, and now ripples touch distant shores. The story unfolds, as his legacy continues. It is a legacy of Life and Love. As Alex has said, “it will help to make a difference.”

    Loving BARBARO, and looking forward…Your FOB Fren, O

  5. Sally Spencer

    Great interview. I can’t wait for the book to come out – I will definitely buy one or two!!

  6. Louise Ferro Martin


    I have to add that being a photographer that is driven by the passion and love of horses, I can’t wait!!!

  7. Evy

    I, too, look forward to reading Alex’s book. Barbaro was the one who started it all for me…made me aware of the good and bad in the racing industry. Before Barbaro, I loved horse racing for the excitement and the power of horses on the track; but, after following Barbaro’s odyssey, I realized how the business is ever so convoluted. I am glad that the forthcoming book contains lots of photos. Good luck to you, Alex, I hope this turns into a successful venture.

  8. LyndaP31

    Nice interview! I will be buying a hard copy of the book as well.
    Ok, I did have to laugh at the captions on the pictures. But the captions are besides the point lol.

  9. Brut Al Fobio

    If the book’s photo captions are anything like the one’s on this page.

    Well, LMAO!!!!!

  10. L.M. Riedel

    I very much look forward to purchasing Alex’s book, this tribute in both words and photos to Barbaro. No one is more qualified or dedicated than Alex to write this story and I know the book will be truly phenomenol!
    As has become my mantra on Alex’s site, “My heart beats for your heart, Barbaro, always and forever!”
    I know Alex’s book will grace many collections!

  11. Lynne Brown

    I also can’t wait to read Alex’s book about a horse I never met but fell in love with. A horse who became a hero not just to me, but to countless others. A horse who taught me all I know today about horses. A horse I’ll be forever grateful to for so many reasons. A horse who brought me to other horses, because of Barbaro, I wanted to touch a horse, I wanted to be up close to horses. A horse who inspired me to become active in educating others about their slaughter along with contacting those in DC to please stop the practice by passing the Conyers Burton Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act.

    A horse I never met but will never forget.

  12. Louise Ferro Martin

    I am so looking forward to Alex’s book for many reasons. His personal story of Barbaro and the selection of many photos will be a treasure. Living so close to University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Veterinary Hospital, I would drive by every day and say a little prayer for Barbaro. Like millions of others, he was my hero. My hero because finally attention was being given to thoroughbred racing, not just the sport, but to the the unsung heros in every race of every day, the thoroughbred horse.

    Alex Brown’s book is going to help continue on where Barbaro left off. He was that special horse that was here to represent the thoroughbred to so many who only knew horse racing via the legendary races. So much good has come out of this horrible tragedy. Thank you Alex for fighting for my passion, saving the Off track thoroughbreds, thank you Susan for your wonderful story and thank you Barbaro.

  13. Robyn Hoffmann

    I’m eagerly anticipating the release of Alex’s book. His familiaritywith Barbaro prior to as well as subsequent to the injury on 05/20/06 give Alex a truly unique perspective. And the photos themselves should be wonderful to see in a compilation. I can’t wait to purchase several copies!

  14. Dee

    All Glowing Rainbow Book.

  15. Linda / Maryland

    This is one book that I can’t wait to purchase. I have been following Alex Brown’s page and the book. It will be a part of my Tribute I have here in my home of Barbaro. I loved him like he was my very own, like millions of other Barbaro Fans.

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