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HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 June 2003
In 1953, Native Dancer, a grey, 3-year-old racehorse bred and owned by Alfred Vanderbilt, captured the hearts and imagination of America and was declared "one of the three most popular figures in the country," along with TV personalities Arthur Godfrey and Ed Sullivan. Winning an incredible twenty-one of his twenty-two races, he was only a few inches away from having a perfect record, losing that one race "by a nose." Horse of the Year in 1954, Native Dancer was an unprecedented choice to grace the cover of Time magazine in May, 1954, just before he retired from racing as a four-year-old.
Author John Eisenberg reports here on the horse, the stable, and all the individuals who were part of his illustrious career, explaining the circumstances which made Native Dancer the darling of the country. Seen by more race fans than any other racehorse in history, thanks to America’s recent discovery of the joys of television, he stood out visually from the pack and became "America’s first matinee idol." When he began racing in 1952, World War II had been over for only a few years, and the fifties were a decade in which "institutions were to be admired, not challenged." Americans "saw their country as wealthy and invincible," and Native Dancer became a symbol of this power. He was, in fact, so big and so powerful that when he ran, "you could draw a horizontal straight line from his airborne back feet to the tips of his forelegs," his stride measuring an incredible twenty-nine feet.
Having thoroughly researched every conceivable aspect of his story, Eisenberg writes with the journalistic brio of a true lover of horse-racing, and makes the horse, his stupendous bursts of speed out of the pack in the final seconds of his races, and the people surrounding him live again. Through newspaper accounts, photographs, step-by-step reconstructions of the races, interviews with the participants and their heirs, and personal stories by people who remember the horse and his quirks, he turns back the clock to a simpler era and recreates the spirit of the fifties when all the world looked bright. Though Native Dancer was never as lovable as Seabiscuit (and, in fact, once bit off the finger of someone he did not trust), he was a huge and positive presence, an immensely powerful racer who had a tremendous desire to win and the intelligence to know how hard he had to work to accomplish that win. Mary Whipple
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