Fred M. Kray writes with this kind of matter-of-fact, spine-tingling suspense in his new book, Broken: The Suspicious Death of Alydar and the End of Horse Racing’s Golden Age. While horse racing is arguably not necessarily politically correct as a topic for contemporary commercial viability, Kray is able to make the subject stick because of the timeless true crime angle involved. Immediately the book becomes about more than just the horse racing era, it becomes an exposé of a singular period in history, and something of a real-life whodunnit that actually got my hackles raised on more than one occasion.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: https://fredmkray.com/
The true inhumanity and brutality of Alydar’s murder, along with the cast of characters involved on multiple sides of the scandal, is something worthy of a Martin Scorsese or Gary Ross adaptation. Yet Kray keeps things grounded emotionally in what Alydar’s death meant for the equestrian sport. Nothing in terms of the book’s formatting is more indicative of this fact, aside from the text itself, than the photograph of the stallion at the beginning of the book – along with the Brian Chambers quote, proclaiming: “He deserved better for what he achieved.”
This is also reflected in Kray’s citing a poem addressed to Alydar, part of the stanzas reading: “You will be forever in our mind’s eye, Nostrils flaring, hooves digging, dirt flying, Silver shoes gleaming in the setting sun, Thundering down the stretch into racing immortality…Run free, sweet prince.”
By keeping things grounded in the tragedy that occurred, Kray is able to inspire empathetic rage on behalf of the reader. Not just because of what it meant to the people involved, but because of the symbolism and cruelty to the animal itself. The book provides a list of suspects who may have been behind the murder of Alydar, all intriguing, juicy characters in their own right. He writes their profiles with a kind of matter-of-factness, almost akin to that of a position paper or formalized argument.
The emotionality of the story juxtaposed with this kind of slow, methodical highlighting is a potent mix. It’s clear for Kray that this story has personal significance to him, and you can feel that significance in the lining of every passage, and every passing detail. However Kray never allows any passions to get in the way of the craft. The book has a break-neck pace and a decidedly narrative format – keeping one firmly invested in the immediacies of the moments occurring.
Kray mercifully doesn’t go the David McCullough route, where there is so much educational information any sense of being shown and not told vanishes like yesterday’s smoke. He expertly does both – given some aspects of the read prove intellectually exclusive, some speaking to a decidedly wide audience. This is particularly reflected in his summarization of Alydar’s murder that cold, winter night. The passage in part reads: “…Stone panics. How could it have happened? The stall is padded and the floor is rubber. There are no kick marks on the stall door. Why would the horse kick so hard, alone in his stall late at night, and break his own leg? The veterinarians and insurance adjuster arrive and conclude that Alydar accidentally fractured his right rear cannon bone— located between the horse’s knee and ankle, comparable to the human shin bone—by directly kicking his stall door.
The only evidence is the sheared-off roller bracket. There is a small amount of blood in the hay around Alydar’s injured foot, but the hay itself is undisturbed.”