Bill Hartack

The Bittersweet Life of a Hall of Fame Jockey


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About the Book

Bill Hartack won the Kentucky Derby five times, and seemed to hate every moment. “If only Bill could have gotten along with people the way he got along with horses,” a trainer said. His impoverished upbringing didn’t help: his mother was killed in an automobile accident; the family home burned down; his father was murdered by a girlfriend; and he was estranged from his sisters for most of his life. Larry King, his friend, said it was just as well Hartack never married, because it wouldn’t have lasted.
Hartack was one of racing’s most accomplished jockeys. But he was an inveterate grouch and gave the press a hard time. At 26, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Whenever the media tried to bury him, he would win another Derby. At the end of his life, he was found alone in a cabin in the Texas hinterlands.
Drawn from dozens of interviews and conversations with family members, friends and enemies, this book provides a full account of Hartack’s turbulent life.

About the Author(s)

Bill Christine won nine national writing awards and shared in a Pulitzer Prize during his 25 years with the Los Angeles Times. His books include Roberto!, a biography about baseball great Roberto Clemente, and They Left Their Hearts in San Francisco: The Lives of Songwriters George Cory and Douglass Cross. He lives in Redondo Beach, California.

Bibliographic Details

Bill Christine
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 220
Bibliographic Info: 21 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6362-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2545-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface 1
1. Catching Up with Arcaro 3
2. The Triple Frown 16
3. “Get Out of the House!” 27
4. Goggles Optional 37
5. Leaky Roofs 50
6. Heads It’s Cutshaw, Tails It’s Hartack 57
7. Shoemaker’s Large Shadow 64
8. A Derby Windfall 70
9. The Split with Calumet 82
10. Cover Boys 89
11. Chick Throws in the Towel 93
12. Bill and Eddie: Don’t Invite Them to the Same Party 100
13. Put the Schadenfreude on Hold 110
14. Hard Times 116
15. What’s His Line? Winning the Derby 120
16. Peaks and Valleys with Northern Dancer 125
17. Westward Ho 131
18. Taxing Problems 137
19. Bus Stop 141
20. Any Horse in a Storm 145
21. A 4,000th Win, the Hard Way 150
22. Winding Down 155
23. 9,000, Give or Take a Mile 159
24. Quo Vadis? 169
25. Iberia 177
Chapter Notes 183
Bibliography 197
Index 203

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Christine’s recount of thoroughbred racing’s past is a must”—Price Horse Central
  • “Thankfully–for both Hartack’s legacy and as a way for us to understand an era that too often gets glossed over by the sport’s historians–we have author Bill Christine to set the story straight. His new book, reads as both an overdue homage and a cautionary tale about what it’s like for a dark, brooding athlete to try and maintain a firm grip on the pinnacle of his profession at the expense of driving off almost everybody who cared about him”—Thoroughbred Daily News
  • “This book is a nearly perfect pairing of author and subject. Bill Christine is among the very few writers who fully understand the emotional history of horse racing in America over the last half century. Bill Hartack was a living example of the chasm between the sport’s towering highs and punishing lows. Christine takes us inside Hartack’s improbable rise from poverty to his five Kentucky Derby victories to the struggles of his final years. It’s a ride as wild as any horse race and a book that belongs alongside the best ever written about the Sport of Kings.”—Tim Layden, senior writer, Sports Illustrated
  • “This is a brilliant writer writing about a complex guy. It makes for a very enjoyable read.”—Composer Burt Bacharach, an Eclipse Award winner as a horse owner and a winner of multiple Grammy, Tony and Academy Awards
  • “A great collection of interesting facts about one of the greatest Kentucky Derby jockeys of all time. I’ve been in the game over forty years and there are a lot of stories about Hartack that even I didn’t know.”—Jerry Bailey, Racing Hall of Fame jockey and horse racing analyst for NBC-TV.