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WesternSFA
Belmont 2017
by Al Napoli and Ruth Freeman
Fireship Press, $14.50, 224pp
Release Date: August 2, 2012
I started out knowing next to nothing about the world of horse-racing, but I learned a good bit in this fast-paced, humorous, and entertaining story about a race at New York's Belmont track with The Triple Crown at stake.

The premise is this: the truly great horses, the ones who love to run and win, have the souls of dragons to go along with that look in their eyes, "the look of eagles." Most humans don't realize this, of course, but people who work with horses and love them can usually tell there's something special about a dragon-horse. A few jockeys are in on the secret, because the dragon-horses can communicate telepathically with their dragon-riders.

This lets you, the reader, get the inside story straight from the dragon-horses' points of view. Each of these magnificent creatures has a very distinct personality, and a specific style of running in a race. Some of them are even friends with each other, remembering past incarnations as dragon-horses. All of them have patrons, and I'm not just talking about wealthy backers. Horse-racing has become one of the prime entertainments enjoyed by the Olympian gods, with divine bets and side-bets spicing the pot. Zeus is backing the favorite to win, Reardon; while Mars, true to his nature, likes the meanest, wildest, most dangerous "monster" horse on the track: Bone Dancer. Hermes, who hates Mars - and it's mutual - likes the former 2-year old champion, Red Star Rising. Athena and Hera, not usually the best of friends, have the same favorite racer, a splendid roan named Chancellorville. Venus/Aphrodite is hoping the one filly to run the Belmont Stakes, Windlace, will show all the stallions a thing or two about speed. The elder gods, Cronos and Uranos, like the longshots, Grey Wolf and Frederick II. Apollo backs the Italian Stallion, Aldo, while Poseidon has chosen The Highlander. Rivalries between the gods warm things up, but no one is allowed to interfere with the running of the race itself.

As the dragon-horses run, Zeus slows down time to give backstory information on the various contenders, dragon-horse and human alike. Some of the jockeys, trainers, riders and owners have stories every bit as interesting as the runners.

Part of the excitement that builds throughout the book turns on aspects of luck: is this the right kind of track for this horse? Are the dragon-horse and the jockey a good match? What number does each horse draw, and what position does the trainer chose? And how does the media circus affect the race?

The authors have some fun poking jabs at folly and frailty, both human and divine. There's a very funny scene where Zeus and Mars go to visit a herd of wild horses, trainers take some ribbing at a posh Hampton dinner, and media figures come in for some heartfelt criticism.

This is a different kind of urban fantasy. No sexy werewolves, no brooding vampires, no heroines with improbable fighting prowess; just gods and dragons - and horses. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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