On October 20, 1923, at Belmont Park in New York, Kentucky Derby champion Zev toed the starting line alongside Epsom Derby winner Papyrus, the top colt from England, to compete for a $100,000 purse. Years of Progressive reform efforts had nearly eliminated horse racing in the United States only a decade earlier. But for weeks leading up to the match race that would be officially dubbed the "International," unprecedented levels of newspaper coverage helped accelerate American horse racing's return from the brink of extinction. In this book, James C. Nicholson explores the convergent professional lives of the major players involved in the Horse Race of the Century, including Zev's oil-tycoon owner Harry Sinclair, and exposes the central role of politics, money, and ballyhoo in the Jazz Age resurgence of the sport of kings. Zev was an apt national mascot in an era marked by a humming industrial economy, great coziness between government and business interests, and reliance on national mythology as a bulwark against what seemed to be rapid social, cultural, and economic changes. Reflecting some of the contradiction and incongruity of the Roaring Twenties, Americans rallied around the horse that was, in the words of his owner, "racing for America," even as that owner was reported to have been engaged in a scheme to defraud the United States of millions of barrels of publicly owned oil. Racing for America provides a parabolic account of a nation struggling to reconcile its traditional values with the complexity of a new era in which the US had become a global superpower trending toward oligarchy, and the world's greatest consumer of commercialized spectacle.
"James C. Nicholson returns to the track, with his signature blend of compelling insight and elegant prose. In these pages, he vividly depicts 1923's international match race as an electrifying contest and as a window into the turbulent history of the United States after World War I." -- Katherine C. Mooney, author of Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack
"Jamie Nicholson's Racing for America is a captivating exploration of a critical moment in American racing and how a match race run nearly a century ago influences our era of horse racing. He weaves together the disparate forces and personalities that come together to bring post-war America the diversion of the Old World versus the New, and, in the process, creates a portrait of a sport overcoming its near-death experience to rival baseball for America's favorite sport. Come for the story of this legendary horse race and stay for an engrossing examination of how modern spectacles like the Breeder's Cup came to be." -- Jennifer S. Kelly, author of Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown
"Nicholson once again has discerned and described the many ways the sport of Thoroughbred racing can respond to, reflect, and perhaps even advance American attitudes and ambitions. He provides another highly intriguing and lively narrative which will grasp and entertain readers, whether new to the subject of racing or already familiar with the historic sport." -- Edward L. Bowen, author of 22 books on Thoroughbred racing
"Nicholson's storytelling is layered, presenting events with enough historical details and texture to reveal the players' motivations. He conveys the minute-by-minute tension of horse races and their stakes, and captures American horse racing, and the gambling and doping scandals that almost wrought its demise, showing the complex role that shady politics played in saving the sport." -- Foreword Reviews