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Monday, February 25, 2013

Guest Post: A Petri Dish for Storytelling by Steve O'Brien

A Petri Dish for Storytelling

I was hooked on horse racing at an early age.

I grew up in Grand Island, Nebraska. In the spring of each year, the five-eighths mile track, known as Fonner Park becomes the focal point of horse racing in Nebraska.

When I was four or five years old, my parents would occasionally take me to the track. I had to sit in the car (okay, usually on the roof of the car), parked along the outside rail. Kids were not allowed inside the grandstand at that time. It was fine with me. I’d rather be near the track and feel the rush of competition as jockeys muscled their mounts through the turns of that bullring.

My dad used to tell the story that on one of these trips I told him to bet the purple one. The tote board declared the purple one to be twenty-five to one. No sane person would bet the purple one. Of course, the purple one won. Dumb luck, but I was hooked.

In high school I signed up to try out for the golf team, which happened to be in the spring. Those trying out for the team were released from school early to go play a round of golf at the local country club.

Somehow my car never made it to the country club and could be found parked at the racetrack.

A friend and classmate of mine, Rob Williams, was allowed to leave school early to work. He was an apprentice jockey at Fonner Park. Rob, or as he is known on the racetrack “RD Williams,” became one of the top jockeys on the Midwestern circuit. In those early days he would laugh as he rode by in the post parade because he knew I wasn’t supposed to be trackside, I was supposed to be in school.

By just hanging around I developed an appreciation for the industry. It was more than just the breathtaking majesty of the horses or the process of divining winning wagers from the numbers in a racing form.

It was the people.

The people at a racetrack provide the greatest diversity of personalities and backgrounds imaginable—from the well heeled owners in the luxury boxes to the teenager who mucks out stalls and everyone in between—trainers, hotwalkers, stewards, vets, farriers, professional gamblers, hunch bettors--everyone. There may be no greater socioeconomic and demographic mix in any other enterprise.

And somehow these people “need” one another.

The horses cause these lives to intersect and become interdependent. The natural conflict of competition and money is heightened by the clash of these diverse and disparate characters.

I find it the perfect Petri dish for storytelling.


Steve O'Brien is the author of four novels: Elijah's Coin, Bullet Work, Redemption Day, and Dead Money. Elijah's Coin has been added to the reading curriculum in multiple secondary schools throughout the US and has been incorporated in a university ethics course. The e-book version of Redemption Day was an Bestseller. Steve is a graduate of the University of Nebraska and George Washington University Law School. He lives in Washington, DC.


You Can’t Stop It.

The stranger’s menacing, dismissive laughter echoed in attorney Dan Morgan’s head. In the heart of thoroughbred country--Churchill Downs--a major con was about to be pulled. Despite Dan’s efforts, his filly, Aly Dancer, was somehow part of the scheme. 

You Can’t Stop It. Dan’s dream as a thoroughbred owner was to run in a Grade I race—a televised stakes race. That opportunity had finally appeared. So far it had only resulted in threats, violence and death.

You Can’t Stop It.

What was the scam? Who was involved? Who could he turn to?
Post time was nearing.
The man’s sinister voice would not leave him.

You Can’t Stop It.