Thursday, April 25, 2013

ARC Review: Battleship: A Daring Heiress, A Teenage Jockey, and America's Horse by Dorothy Ours

Battleship: A Daring Heiress, A Teenage Jockey, and America's Horse
Author: Dorothy Ours
Publication: St. Martin's Press (April 30, 2013)

Description: The moving story of a tough little horse, a gifted boy, and a woman ahead of her time.

The youngest jockey, the smallest horse, and an unconventional heiress who disliked publicizing herself.  Together, near Liverpool, England, they made a leap of faith on a spring day in 1938: overriding the jockey’s father, trusting the boy and the horse that the British nicknamed the "American pony” to handle a race course that newspapers called “Suicide Lane.”  There, Battleship might become the first American racer to win England’s monumental, century-old Grand National steeplechase.  His rider, Great Britain’s Bruce Hobbs, was only 17 years old.

Hobbs started life with an advantage: his father, Reginald, was a superb professional horseman. But Reg Hobbs also made extreme demands, putting Bruce in situations that horrified the boy’s mother and sometimes terrified the child.  Bruce had to decide just how brave he could stand to be.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the enigmatic Marion duPont grew up at the estate now known as James Madison’s Montpelier—the refuge of America’s “Father of the Constitution.”  Rejecting her chance to be a debutante, denied a corporate role because of her gender, Marion chose a pursuit where horses spoke for her.  Taking on the world’s toughest race, she would leave her film star husband, Randolph Scott, a continent away and be pulled beyond her own control.  With its reach from Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight to Cary Grant’s Hollywood, Battleship is an epic tale of testing your true worth.

My Thoughts: BATTLESHIP is filled with detail and is a fascinating look at life in the 1930s especially in the horse country of the East Coast. It tells the story of Marion duPont Somerville Scott who was a fascinating woman who routinely listed herself as a home maker on her travels but who was a horse breeder and horse trainer who, along with her brother Will, did much to set the landscape for American horse racing. 

It is also the story of a horse. Battleship is the descendant of Man o'War who made his mark by winning the Grand National at Aintree. He was an unlikely winner because of his small size and his advanced age but he was a spectacular horse.

Finally, it is the story of the jockey - Bruce Hobbs - who rode Battleship in his historic victory. We meet him as a child and watch him grow as a rider under the tutelage of his horse trainer father Reg. The picture of the riding and racing scene in England between the wars was well described.

The book is filled with detail and, because of Marion's second marriage to actor Randolph Scott, Hollywood celebrities. It is also filled with other horse loving socialites who were friends of Marion. I liked the details about her friendship with Neil Laing and Carroll Bassett.

Readers with an interest in horseracing, the 1930s, or the lives of the rich and famous will enjoy this well-researched and documented story. 

Favorite Quote:
Perhaps problems can be useful. Perhaps it was good to learn how to handle difficulties and know that you could survive the bumps. Perhaps it was good to understand, when you looked across the big sky, that you were fortunate to have come this far and also might need to be ready for something worse.
I got this eARC through St. Martin's Press Early Reviewers program. You can buy your copy here

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