By: Jo Anne Normile
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: October 2014
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: November 11, 2014
Jo Anne Normile had a dream – a dream to own a grandson of the famed racehorse Secretariat, and see that horse race. She had no idea how deep into the “Sport of Kings” this dream would take her, nor how it would forever change her life.
The first thing Normile needed to make her dream a reality was a top-notch broodmare (a female horse used for breeding) that would produce her future champion. The horse she found was Pat, a sweet Thoroughbred mare that was already in foal. The agreement with Pat’s owner was that Normile would care for the mare and once the horse foaled, she’d be able to re-breed Pat and that resultant foal would be hers. The first foal would go back to Pat’s owner once it was old enough to leave its mother. That foal, officially named “Reel Surprise,” was nicknamed “Baby” and was soon the love of Normile’s life. How could she send Baby back to Pat’s owner? Eventually, Normile was able to work out a deal with the foal’s owner and Baby became her horse. Her horse to love, spoil, and blow kisses to. As Baby grew, however, the time to send him away for training drew near. As part of the sale agreement, Normile had promised Baby’s original owner that she would race the horse and so, reluctantly, she sent her prized horse off to the trainer.
A fair amount of Saving Baby relates the ups and downs of Baby’s training, although as Normile admits, many of the experiences were not positive. From his first trainer’s insistence on keeping the horse through the winter (the horse was originally supposed to go home after a few months of initial training), to the second trainer’s feeding poor quality hay and making her horse very sick, to the actual races where Baby lost almost every time, the author honestly tells all. Time after time, she admits that she allowed things, “against my better judgment,” because she was enamored with the “Sport of Kings” and thought all would be well. But slowly, while spending a significant amount of time in the stabling areas of the track, she saw things that made her re-think the world of racing. When Baby became a victim of these track issues, Normile made a promise to her beloved horse to help other racehorses.
With her background and connections, Normile was the perfect candidate to start rescuing racehorses that had reached the end of their careers. Whether from age or injury, most of these horses were destined to travel in horrible, terrifying conditions to the slaughterhouse. Normile founded an organization called CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses) that grew exponentially once established and word got out about what wonderful sport horses most of these washed-up ex-racehorses would make.
Some readers may question why Normile didn’t simply pull her horse out of training and bring him home. This is a valid question and, no doubt, she asked herself that over and over, particularly after Baby suffered at the hands of the racetrack. But as so many people know, it’s very easy to get swept up in the excitement of racing, and think that everything will be okay, that no harm would ever come to your horse. The reader, too, will get swept away in the story, hoping that Baby will return home safely.
As the book progresses, the author tells numerous stories of horses that her organization saved, as well as some that they couldn’t get to in time. This story will give fans of racing something to think about next time they head to the track to bet on their favorite horses.
Quill says: You’ll get angry, and shed a tear or two while reading about Baby and other racehorses. There’s no doubt, Jo Anne, that Baby would be proud of all you have done for ex-racehorses.