BOOK REVIEW OF “HEAD TO HEAD”

Head to Head is a 2021 book by award-winning writer Lenny Shulman and published by the University Press of Kentucky.  Its 37 chapters and 220 pages contain the author’s engaging discussions with notable personages in American Thoroughbred horse racing.

The chapters originally appeared as articles in BloodHorse magazine, where Shulman was features editor.  The 37 interviews are efficiently grouped into six categories: “Legends of the Industry, Women of the Thoroughbred World, Celebrities, Kentucky Hardboots, Veterinarians, and Kentucky Derby-Winning Owners.” 

Contributors included such well-known people in horse racing as Helen “Penny” Chenery, Marylou Whitney, Tom Hammond, Arthur Hancock III, Dr. Larry Bramlage, and Bob and Beverly Lewis. 

The interviewees’ accounts focused on horse racing, but sometimes their recollections ventured outside the sport. One example: TV and film writer David Milch told of how his great uncle once worked for the infamous Mafia treasurer Meyer Lansky as a busboy in one of Lansky’s gambling clubs in Saratoga Springs, NY, and Milch’s father was Lansky’s physician.

Prior to Shulman’s two decades at BloodHorse, he wrote with distinction for television, film, newspapers, and magazines.  Leading turf writer Steve Haskin observed “Anyone…knows what an excellent writer he is, but here [in Head to Head] he demonstrates his…skills as an interviewer.” 

Listen, for example, to Helen Alexander describe how she, as a very young woman, took over the fabled King Ranch racing operation upon the passing of her grandfather Robert Kleberg in 1974.  Or Bobby Frankel explain what differentiates a successful horse trainer from the not-so-successful.

A particularly attractive aspect of this book is that it can be read sporadically over weeks or even months without losing continuity.  One might read about the experiences of the racing-partnership pioneer Cot Campbell and then pick up the book again in a couple of weeks to learn how famed New York Yankees manager Joe Torre relieved the pressure-cooker tension of his job by spending time at a racetrack or OTB parlor, often accompanied by Yankee coach Don Zimmer.

Years from now, Head to Head will be a resource for those attracted by racing’s history, as lived and made by some of turf’s renowned participants in the latter part of the twentieth century and the early part of the twenty first. 

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