Award-winning young-reader novel, RAJA, Story of a Racehorse, promotes second careers for racehorses. With the 2013 running of the Preakness just days away and the media spotlight on racehorses, Author Anne Hambleton shares what’s new in the world of “off the track” Thoroughbreds with Yahoo Equestrian Sports Contributor MaryAnn Myers.
You’re passionate about second careers for racehorses. Is that why you wrote RAJA, Story of a Racehorse?
“Yes! Former racehorses are wonderful sport horses,” Hambleton says. “An ex-racehorse recently won the Badminton Horse Trials, the world’s most difficult three-day event. Most horses retire from racing around six years of age but horses live into their 20’s. Raja’s story, which could be real, but is fiction, was waiting to be written. So much is going on now with second careers for racehorses and with anti-slaughter legislation. In fact, my experience as an amateur steeplechase jockey and with re-training racehorses was the inspiration for writing the book, which is about second chances and never giving up.”
Is the racehorse rescue group in the book based on a real organization?
“The character, Raja, a Triple Crown contender, falls through the cracks of the horse world and finds himself at the New Holland Auction in Pennsylvania where he is rescued by a group modeled on the Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue in Chesapeake City, MD. MAHR goes to the auctions and buys young, sound racehorses that could succeed in second careers and that might otherwise be purchased by ‘kill buyers’ and sent to Canada to end up as horsemeat. MAHR then finds them new homes as sport or pleasure horses. The auction scenes in the book are realistic. I went several times to research. It’s a very sad place and there are always racehorses for sale.”
What’s happening in support of sport careers for ex-racehorses?
“A lot. The Jockey Club and New York Racing Association have new programs like the Thoroughbred Incentive Program, TAKE2 and Career2 that supports awards for Thoroughbreds at horse shows. Also, Thoroughbred-only horse shows are starting to pop up and are wildly successful. Last summer Pimlico Racetrack held the first ever Thoroughbred-only horse show at a major track and they attracted over 800 entries, more than three times what they expected! A new Thoroughbred Alliance Show Series started this year in the mid-Atlantic and Thoroughbred shows are now in California, Kentucky, Texas, and Virginia. People are really proud of their ex-racehorses.
The horse pictured on the cover of Raja, Story of a Racehorse is Afleet Alex – Winner of the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes. He finished third in the Kentucky Derby that year, beaten only a length. Afleet Alex is well-known for the way he recovered to go on and win the Preakness after clipping heels with another horse in the race, almost falling, his nose just inches from the ground and practically down on his knees. Just one horse-length kept him from winning the Triple Crown.
“The cover photo of Afleet Alex was taken by award-winning equine photographer Cappy Jackson,” says Hambleton. “I love the horse’s expression; intelligent, competitive, yet wary, like Raja.”
Both Afleet Alex’s and Raja’s stories represent the beauty and resilience of the magnificent Thoroughbred. Stumbling, falling, facing impossible odds, both come out champions. Raja, Story of a Racehorse was named the Best of 2012 Indie book by Kirkus Review and is the recipient of Mom’s Choice, Benjamin Franklin, and IPPY awards.
MaryAnn Myers is the Bestselling author of Thoroughbred Racetrack novels Favored to Win, Odds on Favorite, and Barn 14 – Meg’s Meadows of the Winning Odds Series. She is a Thoroughbred owner – racehorse fan, and lives on an organic farm in Northeast Ohio with her husband and a menagerie of dogs and Off Track Thoroughbreds.