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Barbara M. Libby - Sidelights

horse secretariat red sports

Barbara M. Libby told SATA: "The idea to write about the racehorse Secretariat was my husband's. He'd been reading an article by William Nack for Sports Illustrated, entitled "Pure Heart," which was a eulogy for the horse. It was a beautiful tribute, and sparked my interest as a potentially great subject. The first time I saw videotape of Secretariat running, I burst into tears. It is so rare to see that kind of physical perfection.

"Initially, I intended to write a full biography with lots of illustrations. And I did, complete with footnotes about jockey silks, and so on. But something happened along the way. I had quotes from the jockey (Ron Turcotte) running through my head, and realized there was an entirely different book there, much shorter, much more poetic, and focusing on the Belmont race, which defined his place in the history of the Triple Crown. I sat down one afternoon and began to type, and it almost came out all of a piece. This was after reading, thinking and writing for eighteen months, so it didn't come out of a vacuum.

"I may not have been born on a horse, but I was close to being born with a pencil in my hand. There is no memory of not drawing. However, doing these drawings gave me great anxiety! This wasn't some old nag, this was 'The Horse of the Century!' All that musculature! With my first book, Old Cat, people said, 'You really know your cats. This is just like my (old, black and white, one-eyed, etc.) cat.' We lived with the cat, so we did know him, all his postures and expressions.

"And here I was taking on this Myth-in-Life of a horse! I visited the Kentucky Horse Park, and several horse farms, saw the grooming and breaking to a saddle, watched horse movies (The Black Stallion is a favorite. It also plays on the idea of horse as mythological symbol), watched the Secretariat videos over and over, collected as many photos as I could find, and finally jumped in. In the end, you can only do what you can do. Whew!

"When Secretariat ran, in 1973, the country was in distress over Watergate and Vietnam. His image, blazing red in blue and white, represented what we wanted to be. There was such a purity to him. His records still stand, thirty years later. I fell in love with him. He should be remembered."

Libby's book, I Rode the Red Horse: Secretariat's Belmont Race was voted one of the top ten sports books for young readers by Booklist magazine in 2003. The self-illustrated title tells the story of Secretariat from the point of view of his jockey, Ron Turcotte, and introduces children to racing lore and a history of the times in which Secretariat ran. In citing the title for the honor, Booklist correspondent Gillian Engberg particularly praised the "vivid, realistic artwork." In his Booklist review, Todd Morning concluded that I Rode the Red Horse "beautifully captures a memorable sports moment."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, July, 2003, Todd Morning, review of I Rode the Red Horse: Secretariat's Belmont Race, p. 1895; September 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, "Top 10 Youth Sports Books," p. 124.

ONLINE

Eclipse Press, http://www.equinepress.com/ (June 7, 2004), interview with Libby and information about I Rode the Red Horse.

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