Racing for America

Racing for America

The Horse Race of the Century and the Redemption of a Sport

Horses in History

by James C. Nicholson

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

248 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in, 28 b&w photos

  • Hardcover
  • 9780813180649
  • Published: April 2021



On October 20, 1923, at New York's Belmont Park, Kentucky Derby champion Zev toed the starting line alongside Papyrus, winner of England's greatest horse race, the Epsom Derby. The $100,000 purse for the novel intercontinental showdown was the largest in the history of America's oldest sport and writers across the country were calling it the "Race of the Century." A victory for the American colt in this blockbuster event would change how the nation viewed horse racing forever.

In this book, James C. Nicholson exposes the central role of politics, money, and ballyhoo in the Jazz Age resurgence of the sport of kings. Though the Zev-Papyrus face-off was one of the most hyped sporting events of the early twentieth century, Nicholson reveals that it soon faded from American popular memory when it became known that Zev's owner, oil tycoon Harry F. Sinclair, was involved in an infamous scandal to defraud the United States of millions of barrels of publicly owned oil. As a result, Zev became an apt mascot for a nation struggling to reconcile its traditional values with the modern complexities of the Roaring Twenties, and his tainted legacy ultimately proved to be incompatible with tenets of national mythology that celebrate America as a place where hard work and fair play lead to prosperity.