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Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack by G. Joyce

Joyce, Gare.  Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack.  Markham, ON:  Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012. Print.

It is not often that you find a biography of an animal, but in this case, the animal was a national icon.  According to Gare Joyce, Northern Dancer, the great racehorse “made more money as an accomplished racehorse and sire than any Canadian athlete in history – even more than Wayne Gretzky ”.  The book begins with a genealogical chart that shows that of the 19 horses starting in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, 18 were descended from Northern Dancer.

This book chronicles Northern Dancer from his birth through to his wins and standing at stud until his death at age 29.  Through his story, the reader also learns about the world of North American thoroughbred racing.  We meet the great jockeys:  Ron Turcotte, Willie Shoemaker and Bill Hardtack who all rode Northern Dancer to victories. We learn about the development of racehorses and the major races:  The Preakness, The Belmont, The Kentucky Derby and the Queen’s Plate.   

Joyce writes informally and conversationally, as though he is telling one long story.  For example, he tells us that Northern Dancer “became unruly around his stall…At least once he ripped the shirt off his trainer.” Later we are told that a trainer inadvertently let Northern Dancer run hard the day before a race and people thought that no thoroughbred could “run the equivalent of two races on two consecutive days.   As it turned out, the only ones hurting after the Florida Derby were those who hadn’t bet on the heavily favoured Northern Dancer.”  The text is accompanied by many photos of Northern Dancer, including archival images of horse and jockey in races, at the wire and in the winners’ circle.           

Overall, this is an enjoyable story of a remarkable horse.  Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack is highly recommended for junior high school libraries and public libraries everywhere.  

Highly recommended:  4 stars out of 4
Reviewer:  Sandy Campbell

Sandy is a Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Alberta, who has written hundreds of book reviews across many disciplines.  Sandy thinks that sharing books with children is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.