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Author Interview: Fred M. Kray

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kathy Stickles is talking with Fred M. Kray, author of Broken: The Suspicious Death of Alydar and the End of Horse Racing’s Golden Age.

FQ: Broken is such an amazing story and I was so impressed with the writing and attention to detail. Is this the first of this type of story that you have written, and what made you choose to write it?

KRAY: This was my first attempt at writing non-fiction. I’d started and abandoned several fictional legal mysteries before starting Broken.

I fell in love with Alydar in 1978 watching him run in the Flamingo Stakes and the Florida Derby in Miami. At the time, I was a struggling trial lawyer overwhelmed by a new job. Watching Alydar’s determination in his stretch run was a personal message to me to persist.

My interest in Alydar’s death was piqued when, on an Ocala horse farm tour, I had an unexpected conversation with a former Calumet employee present the night of Alydar’s injury. She told me everybody on the farm knew what happened and refused to elaborate because she feared for her life. It was over thirty-five years ago! I followed up by obtaining the transcripts of the night watchman’s trial. I just wanted to solve the mystery of his death. It wasn’t until I saw the pictures of Alydar’s stall door taken the night of his injury I decided writing a book about Alydar was the best way to celebrate his legacy and answer the questions surrounding his alleged stall accident.

FQ: I know that you are an animal law attorney and deal with numerous cases involving all kinds of animals, but can you tell us about how you became so involved with Alydar and why you felt it so important to put this story on paper?

Author Fred M. Kray

KRAY: I’ll always remember the races where I watched him in person. I felt a kinship for Alydar and somehow in his debt for the help he gave me in continuing my career as an attorney. I followed his travails in his Triple Crown races, where he came in second to Affirmed. In the public eye, he was always the runner-up, never the winner. In the year he died, he was the greatest breeding stallion in the United States. His bloodline still runs through racing today. His breeding income carried Calumet Farm for a decade, while they overbred him for profit. He did everything asked of him, and he never got the credit or legacy he deserved. I wanted to change that.

FQ: Between all of the investigation into the details of what happened and the interviews for the book, etc., it must have taken up a huge portion of your life. How long did it take to write the story, and how important was it for you personally to get the facts out there?

KRAY: It was a five-year project. A labor of love, really. I would have enjoyed it whether I wrote a book about or not. I got to talk to the people closest to him, those that knew and loved him the most. His trainer, John Veitch, his exercise rider and grooms, they all had great tales to tell. It was heart-warming to hear those stories. The more I heard, the more determined I was to write a book about Alydar.

FQ: I realize this must have been a huge case for you to undertake, as they all are. Can you tell readers a bit about some other big cases you have handled trying to get the justice that animals deserve?

KRAY: The most rewarding cases were saving undeserving dogs from death row and reuniting them with their owners. Watching that reunion, there’s no case I’ve ever had that gave me such a feeling of joy. Suing pet stores for selling dogs raised in puppy mills was another type of case that was important to me. Some of the most interesting litigation involved challenges to laws that banished pit bull type dogs from a city or county based on an animal control officer with no training just looking at the dog and determining breed. Getting involved in the dog genome and canine DNA was fascinating. And of course, the highlight of my career, recovering a stolen Great Dane with a SWAT team.

FQ: I can only assume that your love of animals and taking care of them started at a young age, given your choice to go into the field of animal law. Are there any particular situations or animals that you can remember that started you on this path?

KRAY: When I was born, my parents decided to get a Great Dane. I was brought up in an era where stoicism and emotional control prevailed. It was, I think, a result of growing up in the post-depression era. Children were seen and not heard. Most of the expressed unconditional love that I got as a child came from our Great Dane. She was my protector, friend, and confidant. Being with her are some of my most cherished childhood memories.

FQ: I see that you have also taught courses on the subject of animal law. I have to wonder how much of a difference there is between having an animal as your client as opposed to a human who can speak for themselves. How hard is it to teach others how to handle such a situation?

KRAY: There’s a saying among animal lawyers, “Your client is always innocent.” It’s true. When you take on these cases, you immediately realize that it is always the animals that suffer when humans make mistakes.

It’s really a lot easier to have a dog as a client than a human. There’s no deception.

Most students take animal law as an elective, so it’s not hard to teach them empathy. It’s the opposite. You have to teach students to control their feelings about animal welfare so that they can be effective in presenting a legal case. Animals are considered property, and while you can argue to change that, you still have to fit your case into the existing framework. You can’t convince a judge or jury by lecturing them about animal rights.

FQ: How supportive is your family in terms of your career in animal law and the time and effort it must take to prepare for a trial, not to mention the time and effort it took to write this story?

KRAY: My family, particularly my wife, enabled me to write the book. At one point, during a year and half period, my dog died, my father died and my mother died. It all happened during COVID, which made it impossible to be with my parents when they passed. I could not write. Almost a year went by and I decided I wouldn’t finish the book. I was first time author with no agent or contract. Nobody would care. My wife encouraged me to complete what I started, and was an incredible help in dealing with all the loss. One day I was looking at the pictures of Alydar in my office, and it was as if Alydar said to me, “If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me.” And I did.

FQ: Broken is such a heartbreaking story, but I personally feel that you handled it so well and gave the reader everything they could want in terms of telling Alydar’s story. Do you have something in mind going forward for another book on another case?

KRAY: I haven’t really seriously considered my next book yet. Promoting a book is just as hard, if not harder, than writing it. I’m still on social media almost every day. I’m in the process of writing an epilogue to the book. A month ago, I was finally able to get onto Calumet Farm and see all the places I had written about. The Calumet office, the stallion barn, the breezeway, the breeding shed, the training barn, the veterinary clinic, the canteen, the mansion and the cemetery. It was an emotional experience and provided some closure to me.

I also just finished an eleven-episode companion audio podcast. I was not into podcasts, but my daughter does documentary films. She came to me and said, “You should do a podcast for your book. You have all the interviews on tape. It’s a great story.” I was reluctant. I didn’t know anything about podcasts. She did the perfect thing. She said, “Let’s make one and then you can decide.” When I heard it, I thought it was, in some ways, better than the book. Hearing the people speak in their own voice provided a depth of meaning that is hard to convey in a book. The podcast has music, race calls, and stories that didn’t make into the book because it was already published when I did the interview. It’s like watching a movie with your eyes closed.

FQ: When he isn’t researching or writing, what does Fred Kray do to relax and not think about such horrible facts and stories?

KRAY: We have six dogs, so that keeps us busy. A year and a half ago we rescued a smooth coat collie that had been hoarded with 200 other dogs in Illinois. I’d never rescued a dog from that situation before and it was challenging. It took four months to just touch her. We got a trainer, and he told us the best thing we could do was get a dog that had been socialized normally to help teach her what being a dog is really like. It worked. Seeing them play together and relaxing on the couch is so rewarding to see.

But to get away from it all I like to listen to music. I played the trumpet and was in the orchestra in grade school, and was in a “rock” band in high school and college. I played rhythm guitar, and because I was the worst at it, I was relegated to bass. I’m an old school audiophile and listen to hi-rez music with earbuds. It’s a very intimate way to listen, and you get away from all the problems with room acoustics. I also love listening to audio books with good narrators. The audiobook of Broken has a good narrator, by the way.

FQ: Is there anything you feel still needs to be told about Alydar and his life that was not in the book?

KRAY: The original manuscript was 600 pages, so there’s a lot that did not make it into the book. But the only thing I think has to be in the book, and I’m hoping to do it in the next few months, is an epilogue about my visit to Calumet.

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