Reviewed by Ian Lipke
I began to read this book with great expectations. The writer, Andrew Rule, seemed well credentialled, having grown up around horses in country regions. I sat back to enjoy the read of this, to all appearances, perfectly illustrated book. Before long I was reading a stirring account of a win by Winx at Caloundra. I was even more with the author when he made a place available for the personal touch when Larry Cassidy, the jockey on Winx, rang his wife Michelle to tell her of his afternoon at the Caloundra track (26 -27).
But then things ‘gang agley’. There were examples of sloppy compilation when pages 33 and obverse 34 were found repeated, both copies nestling side by side. Photographs after page 82 were selected to tell the extended story but also to attract the viewer, and the photographs were of excellent quality, but the captions were unimaginative and poorly placed, with the last word or two crammed against the Photo Credit, thus making the second last line appear truncated.
The book is informative e.g. wagyu cattle (33) were a breed I had not heard about before now. I was fully cognizant of the practice of combining the two personalities to settle both animals right down. I jibbed a bit at the unsupported hyperbole: “in Ireland, home of perhaps the world’s craftiest horse handlers” (34), but decided that the ’perhaps’ made the generalisation acceptable. Any truth in the assertion? I haven’t a clue.
I loved the chapter titles – the wrong O’Brien, the right Camilleri, the best mare there, the wrong stallion, the right stallion, the standing start, the winning smile – a gimmick it may be, but it makes the relationship between the ‘horse people’ and the fans more comfortable and warm.
I’m afraid that from about page 40, to choose a number, the book turned into a huge disappointment.
The narrative became irritating when the writer ventured off to another place and another time to bring someone into the book for some perfectly good reason. The book is called Winx. If we ignore the diversion into the Koolman family, then retrieving Peter O’Brien and gaining the right Camilleri took at least seventeen pages. While some of this material was informative and kept my interest, it was not about the racehorse. The question must be asked, “How can you write a biography of a horse anyway?” Answer: write about all the people remotely connected along with immediate front line troops and you’ll have substantial coverage, and not just about the horse. And that is what the author has done. To call the book ‘Winx’ is something of a misnomer, which becomes annoying when the narrative swoops away, and is gone with the wind.
Only the aficionados and the starry-eyed public, kidding themselves about a personal link with the famous name, would love this book. It wanders off topic, filling the pages with information peripheral to Winx. I’m talking about another huge block of text from about page 80 to at least page 170 when something horse related appears to be about to happen. At least the chapter sounds ‘horsey’. It’s called The Breaker.
Undoubtedly, Winx will come into his own in the remaining 250 pages of text, but I won’t be reading it. I’ve just noticed that after the text comes a section called Vital Statistics that is sixty-three pages long. These are all vital?? The last entry is called ‘Scratchings’. It is blank. The author could enter my name under that one.
In all seriousness, the issue of relevance could be solved easily by changing the title. As it stands the book is not about the horse. Yet the public will see Andrew Rule’s name and be captivated by his prose, by his literary talents that are considerable, but be gutted, I believe, by the minimal exposure given to Winx in the first half of the book. I have noticed the positive reviews in some of the major news outlets. Most of the coverage has been about Andrew Rule, not about his new book, and I have no criticism of the man.
This book will be of use to people who follow the racing trade closely. Others will buy the book, expecting that the glamour of the cover will reflect the quality of the text. I fear that they will be disappointed.
By Andrew Rule
Allen & Unwin