Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 34
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Plugged In: Author Eliza McGraw

While researching an article on a World War I era remount depot, Washington, D.C.-based author Eliza McGraw kept seeing glowing reports of a racehorse from the 1920s named Exterminator. McGraw found that the horse was an  American celebrity at the time, and one that still holds several racing records today. She went on to write “Here Comes Exterminator!” (released last month) about a horse described as “gawky and awkward” yet beloved and a champion.

After the 1970s, which was that last burst of Triple Crown winners, horse racing tapered off. Some tracks became a little bit seedier. People didn’t want to go as much. We’re seeing that change. We are seeing another era of outstanding horses.

McGraw with her 24-year-old paint mare, Sugar, in Potomac, Md.

On celebrity horses: The outpouring for horses like Smarty Jones and Barbaro and American Pharoah shows you that people need that connection to horses. People that follow California Chrome around call themselves Chromies. There’s a mare named Beholder, who just won a race May 8, that has a tremendous following. Within racing, there are these adored figures.

On coverage of the sport in the 1920s: One of the things about Exterminator becoming an American legend was that he ran during this incredible time in the 1920s: the golden age of horse racing. It was also the golden age of “turf writing.” This was a time that really expert people covered horses. They had veterinary knowledge. They understood the sport. They understood all the people that went along with it. The writing of that time really brought these horses to life for readers.

On turf writing today: A lot have some sort of background in racing. I read a great turf writer called T.D. Thornton, who writes for the Thoroughbred Daily News. I also read Teresa Genaro of Forbes and Jennie Rees [formerly] of the Louisville Courier-Journal. … Because racing isn’t as big today, these writers aren’t getting the attention they deserve.

On the Preakness, its challenges and its future: I was in Kentucky the week before the Derby and was struck with how important racing is to every single part of Louisville. Baltimore needs to bring that back. It can follow the example of Baltimore County’s Sagamore Farm, where Kevin Plank has spent a lot of time and money to invest not only in the future of this farm, but respect the history of it. Maryland has an incredibly rich racing history. We would be remiss to lose any of it.

A Preakness pick: I like Bob Baffert’s Collected. He’s a nice horse that has won some important races like the Sham and the Coolmore Lexington. He’s rested and will be ready for the Preakness.

— John Ourand