Battleship: A Daring Heiress, A Teenage Jockey, and America’s Horse by Dorothy Ours
E-book, 368 pages
St. Martin’s Press
April 30, 2013
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Sports History
Source: Received through Netgalley from the publisher for review
“The youngest jockey, the smallest horse, and an American heiress. Together, near Liverpool, England, they made a leap of faith on a spring day in 1938: overriding the teenage 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.” As a result, Battleship became the first American horse to win England’s monumental, century-old Grand National steeplechase—the smallest National winner ever. At age seventeen, British jockey Bruce Hobbs became the race's youngest winner.
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. She would be pulled beyond her own control by Battleship and leave her film star husband, Randolph Scott, to see this quest to its end. With its reach from Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight to Cary Grant’s Hollywood, Battleship’s story is an epic true adventure.”
This book might not have originally caught my attention except for the fact that I recognized the horse’s name from my visit to Montpelier last year and the visit left such a lasting impression on me that I immediately had to read this book that was connected to it. I loved horses as a kid, did some riding in my teen years, and before my love of historical fiction came my love for horse-themed novels. This book takes the whole horse experience that I loved to read about as a kid and made the people and animals real.
The narrative starts out with three distinct threads – one following Marion DuPont (horse lover, owner, socialite), one following the Hobbs men (the father Reginald and son Bruce who were horse trainers and jockeys respectively), and one following an unknown, Battleship (the horse at the center of the book). Through these threads you can watch the perfect storm come together as these three eventually are brought to each other and reach for the stars. You get a little bit of everything: the life of a wealth socialite in the early 1900’s, a little Hollywood glitz and glamour, and are immersed in everything horse related. Even with my knowledge about horses, I did look up quite a few things.
For the most part I think that the author did a good job of carrying off two very different types of stories – a story of both human and animal lives – and each was just as interesting as the other. I did find some strange elements – for instance, somehow the author brings references to Charles Lindberg into the story but I didn’t find that there was any purpose to it. I also thought that the ending wrapped up much too quickly following the competition at Aintree. It was one of those plot maps with a very long exposition, quick climax, and then even faster resolution. I would have liked to know a little more how they spent their days following the competition.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has a love for horses and also loves the story of an underdog. Stay tuned for some Battleship related posts later this week, including a story relating my personal connection to this book and a particular passage from it that grabbed me.
Author Dorothy Ours also has written Man O’ War: A Legend Like Lightening, who was Battleship’s father. You can visit Dorothy’s website for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
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