The July 29, 2009 Wall Street Journal has a review (“Trouble at the Track”) by Ray Kerrison of a new book by Jim Squires titled Headless Horsemen (Times Books, 249 pages, $25). Mr. Kerrison is the racing columnist for the New York Post.  Mr. Squires is the former editor of the Chicago Tribune, owner of Two Bucks farm with his wife, and breeder of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos.

According to Mr. Kerrison’s review, Mr. Squires implies, based on rumors and innuendo, that:

  • Secretariat’s racing performances may have been aided by steroids. The sources for this revelation are “oldtimers.” The corroborating evidence is that the colt had trouble settling mares early in his stud career.
  • The late Frank Whiteley, who trained Damascus and Ruffian, may have owed some of his success to using cocaine on his horses. The evidence here is: “Denigrators of the late Frank Whiteley [1915-2008], the surly magician who trained Damascus and Ruffian, ­sincerely believe that his magic came from sniffs of ­cocaine and say they know people who say they saw Whiteley coming out of the stalls brushing the white dust off his hands.”  In other words, someone told someone else and he or she told Mr. Squires, who is telling us.

Mr. Kerrison writes: “One wonders what Mr. Squires, in his days as the editor of the Tribune, would have said to a reporter who gave him such an accusing story based on hearsay and third-hand accounts. But in the world of horse racing —with its lax management and loose supervision—rumor and hearsay take on a life of their own. Mr. Squires presses on, revisiting the horse-doping suspicions that dogged Dr. Alex Harthill (1925-2005), the most gifted—and, to some, the most notorious—veterinarian in racing history. Mr. Squires finds Harthill’s successor in the current-day veterinarian Steve Allday, who was associated with many top horses in the 1990s.”

Also coming in for criticism are Ogden Mills Phipps and William Farish, who Squires alleges control the sport, along with other bluebloods. 

Thoroughbred auctions are said to be places where buyers are duped.

Racing no doubt has its share of problems and is need of reform and oversight. However, Mr. Squires’ book is likely not to be the catalyst to begin the process. There is a huge difference between making a case on rational facts and resorting to a whining diatribe based on hearsay by unidentified accusers referred to as “oldtimers” and “people.” Disparaging a racing icon like Secretariat and a Hall of Fame trainer like Frank Whitely serves no purpose at all.

Mr. Kerrison closes by commenting, in part:

“Mr. Squires has been a prominent reformer in the crusade against illegal drug use, only to be hit with the unthinkable. One of his horses last year was flagged in the lab for running with a banned substance, which resulted in the suspension of his trainer. Mr. Squires, furious and embarrassed, insists that his horse was the victim of sabotage calculated to silence him….He certainly hasn’t been silenced, but “Headless Horsemen” is long on complaints but short on solutions…”

If racing is so hopelessly corrupt and rigged, why not simply invest your money elsewhere?

I am going to read Mr. Squires’ book to make up my own mind about what he says.  But I’ll be getting it at the library rather than purchasing it.

Copyright © 2009 Horse Racing Business

Click here to read Mr. Kerrison’s Wall Street Journal book review of Headless Horsemen.