James Fisher Reviews Exciting Story of Interesting People & One Exceptional Horse
The horse is one of the largest animals one will ever likely encounter in North America, at least on land. As a recreational horseback rider over the years, I was always leery of sitting astride one. I felt bad for the horse for having me as a rider, and I was unsure of what ideas the horse might get in its head, and what it might decide to do. Would it take off, dragging me behind? Or balk and not move at all? Unless you really know horses, I can’t imagine ever feeling comfortable around one.
Nova Scotia’s Brent MacGrath is not like that; he has been around horses and harness racing all his life. A car salesman by day (and a very good one apparently), he knows a good horse when he sees one.
One day, MacGrath saw a really good horse. It turned out to be a really great horse: Somebeachsomewhere, who would become the horse of a lifetime, setting new harness racing records all over North America.
And winning hearts. “Beach,” as he was affectionately known, was a favourite of everyone who came into contact with him. “He was a very nice horse to be around,” said Reg Petipas, one of the co-owners of Schooner Stables.
In a recent interview with Beach’s biographer, Marjorie Simmins, she told The Miramichi Reader, “I was aware of harness racing before I wrote the Beach book, but I hadn’t been involved in the industry or been to a racetrack in some years. Once I realized that Somebeachsomewhere was the Secretariat of harness racing and that he was owned by six Maritimers, I couldn’t wait to get started on the story.” She also mentioned that writing Somebeachsomewhere took “over a year.”
Being totally unfamiliar with horse racing in Canada and harness racing in particular, I wasn’t really that interested in reading the book, but as I like to watch movies about thoroughbred horses like Sea Biscuit and Secretariat, I thought: “Why not read about a famous Canadian horse?”
As I was familiar with Marjorie Simmins’ previous books. I knew that a book about a horse, written by her (who is a lover of horses and an accomplished rider) would be a good read. I wasn’t disappointed.
Somebeachsomewhere held my interest all the way through, thanks to Simmins’ unbridled enthusiasm (pun intended) for the subject. Although he had a brief professional career, and a retirement to stand stud cut short by a fatal illness, Simmins not only covers Beach’s history and all his races, but his travels to Australia for stud purposes and his retirement back to Hanover Shoe Farms in Pennsylvania.
Also included are interviews with all the members of Truro’s Schooner Stables as well as Paul MacDonnell, the jockey who sat behind Beach for every one of his races. There are black-and-white as well as full-colour images of Beach in action and a helpful glossary of racing terms (even betting terminology) that Simmins thoughtfully includes for the uninitiated.
All of this: great writing, an exciting story, interesting places and people, all go into making Somebeachsomewhere an exceptional book to read, whether or not you are a fan of horse racing. Kudos go to Nimbus Publishing for wrapping Simmins’ text in a beautiful package, too.