Sunday, August 17, 2008

'Cajun Racing' Book Review

Quite by chance, last week as I was conducting intensive research using my Google Search Engine, I discovered the whereabouts of the Turf Writer Formally Known As 'Eddie Mac at the Track'. Ed McNamara, sports columnist for Newsday, had entertained me on a weekly basis with his witty contributions to ESPN, and I found myself missing his weekend touts over the past year. So I emailed Ed McNamara and he delighted me with a response, informing me that he had to leave his ESPN contributor gig in May 2006, and used the extra time to write a book, Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown.

So how does some guy from New Jersey get interested in horse racing in Louisiana? Ed responded,

Always wanted to write a book, and when my ESPN days were done, I had the time. So I decided to make the leap of faith and go down to Cajun country for a week in June 2006 and do a reconnaissance mission. People were very friendly and open to the idea of a book and told me dozens of great anecdotes, so on I went with the project and kept grinding away. It's all in the introduction to the book. What an irresistible sales pitch, huh?

Clearly, I do not possess the talents nor skills of good friend and fellow blogger, John of Not to the Swift fame – it didn’t exactly sound like Mr. McNamara would be forwarding me my free autographed copy any time soon. Having written my own Louisiana horse racing stories, I felt compelled to read Ed McNamara’s book for a variety of reasons such as, (1) I know where Louisiana is located, (2) I have eaten boudin and crawfish, and (3) I would be on vacation over the next week or so and I thought that it would make for interesting reading while driving through the scenic Flint Hills on the Kansas Turnpike. But apparently, reading while driving is frowned upon. At least that’s what the Kansas State Trooper said when he pulled me over.


Anyway, throughout my vacation, I read Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown. Well, most of it. I accidentally spilled my Slurpee somewhere around page 30, while reading “Dirty Tricks”, and shortly thereafter, discovered that my 6-year-old, for reasons only logical to a 1st-grader, had pressed her blueberry Fruit Roll-up in the chapter entailing the Delhommes.

It is evident that Ed McNamara spent substantial time in southwestern Louisiana and interviewed a variety of individuals as his book is comprised of a gumbo of quotes. The origins of Cajun racing, as well as the locations and sizes of bush tracks is difficult to discern, which made me think that McNamara’s book could really use a good map. And some pictures. The only pictures are on the dust cover of the book and they consist of Calvin Borel on Street Sense, a couple of unidentified black and white pictures from someplace that I assume is in Louisiana because they are courtesy of Cajun horseman and former jockey, Kenward Bernis, and a pile of crawfish. And crawfish are not even mentioned until page 164 – you’ll have to take my word on it as there isn’t an index in the book. And it could use a good index as well.

However, Ed McNamara unfolds fascinating biographies of remarkable Cajun racing horsemen, such as Pierre LeBlanc and Junius Delahoussaye, filled with colorful anecdotes and warm memories of friends and family. Also, he provides the histories of Evangeline Downs and Delta Downs as well as laments the disappearance of bush tracks where on a Sunday afternoon there might be 20 to 25 match races - "My horse is better than yours!" - and the jockey might be a 7-year-old boy or a chicken.

The final portion of McNamara's book discusses the beginnings and success of today's Cajun riders, most notably, Calvin Borel and Robby Albarado. Calvin Borel's story is intriguing, but the remaining chapters seem light on the characters, instead focusing on the 2007 Triple Crown races or the toll that "reduction" takes on jockeys. The evolution of the book seemed somewhat disappointing and distracting from the original premise of the bush track glory days.

Anyway, Ed McNamara captured the stories and history of horse racing in southwestern Louisiana. And for his efforts, appreciative Cajuns will be sending him alligator sauce piquant and some bouilli. Ah c'est bon!

4 comments:

Dr. Bill ;-) said...

Yes, reading while driving is discouraged. We'd recommend enjoying the scenery, actually!
Positive mention of the Flint Hills always gets my attention! Thanks!
So happy it brought me to your site.

Our 22 county Flint Hills Tourism Coalition, Inc. promotes visits to the Kansas Flint Hills – the website is: http://www.kansasflinthills.travel/

Best wishes!
Dr. Bill ;-)
Personal Blog: http://flinthillsofkansas.blogspot.com/

suebroux said...

I have driven through the Flint Hills on numerous occasions, and one especially memorable sojourn was during my college days when my little ’80 Chevette kept breaking down between Wichita and Emporia. I will admit, I met some helpful friendly folks along the way.

My husband is a big fan of the book PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon, which writes of the “last remaining grand expanse of tallgrass prairie in America” so we’ve been to Chase County to absorb the scenery.

Thanks for dropping by, dr. bill;-)

Tote Board Brad said...

i love bush track stories in particular, and if for no other reason i've got to get this book. also, my better half is from nola, and it can thus serve duel duty as i can claim i'm not just reading another horse racing book, but that i'm reading up on her people! thanks sue, great review!

QQ said...

Great to hear that someone's looked into that fabulous breeding ground for jockeys. Thanks for the heads up. Now, I'm dying to read about chickens as jockeys!