Our next Past The Wire “Author’s Corner” offering is Dawn Leferve’s exciting new novel Racecourse thieves. Drawing on her own experiences as a horse rider, Dawn creates an exciting adventure. The protagonist of Racecourse thieves is a huge and nasty thoroughbred appointed judge from Jersey.
Editor: First of all, congratulations on your book Backstretch Girls which won the award for best horse racing fiction at the Equus Film and Arts Festival last month.
Dawn: Thank you! It was mind-blowing, to say the least. I feel so honored and delighted.
E: You now have a new horse racing fictional book called Racetrack Rogues. What is it about?
D: It takes place in the 1990s and tells the story of a student named Dahlia and her difficult relationship with her mother Marilyn, who is a jockey at Garden State Park. Dahlia dreams of becoming an equine orthopedic surgeon but after Marilyn’s sudden death, she returns home to her grandparents’ horse farm. There she finds herself helping rogue racehorses and by healing them, she in turn heals herself.
E: Racecourse thieves has several unsuitable racehorses; can you tell us more about them?
D: The star of the book is a huge, evil thoroughbred named Judge Jersey. He sent grooms to the hospital and even attacked Dahlia’s grandfather. Dahlia jokingly nicknames the Carnivorous Horse and in an explosive scene, the two bond through their mutual pain. Carnivore is based on a real racehorse that I had groomed named Judge’s Air who shares the same nickname and affinity for marathon starting handicaps. Dahlia ends up facing off against a nervous filly named Moonlight Maiden who refuses to eat, a gate-flipper named Super Monarch, and Sugar Muffin, a pony-sized neglect victim. All of them were inspired by the horses I had worked with during my days at the racetrack.
Dawn Lefevre with Katy C. (Photo courtesy of Dawn Lefevre)
E: What was your biggest challenge as a coach?
D: Determine what makes a particular horse vibrate. From the start, I didn’t have a lot of “normal” horses. The first horse I trained was a little nickel claimant named Katie C. who was having her fair share of problems. She was bleeding, she had back problems and was antisocial. Two of the three that I was able to handle but never could find a way to make it “social”. You look down at any shed and every horse has its head sticking out of the straps, checking out what’s going on. Until you got to Katie’s stall all you saw was her red butt. She stood there facing the back wall of her 24/7 booth and didn’t care about the outside world. I tried to give her some toys and extra attention but in the end she just wanted to be left alone. I have had more success preventing him from bleeding by limiting his exposure to dust, wetting his hay, daily nebulization treatments, and pre-race Lasix injections. I found out that Katie had a pain in her back the first time I tried to gallop her – I put on the exercise rider and she fell to her knees. So I put her on a regimen of daily massages and acupuncture treatments. So as not to weigh on her back pain, I put her on the pony instead of galloping her. She responded by winning the first time I led her, smashing my young daughter as a coach. She never won another race but she was consistent – I nicknamed her “Katie Three” because she had a ton of thirds.
E: Have you trained rascals?
D: I prefer to consider them as “problem children”. The key to helping a difficult horse is to understand the cause of his unwanted behavior. Sometimes it can be a physical problem that causes them to react – for example, a bad tooth can cause a horse or duck to drag itself outward. I had a filly who worked the balls in the morning but during the races she sucked the other horses. It turned out that she was half blind in her right eye, so we had a special pair of blinders made to cover her evil eye and she won several races. Mental problems are more difficult to manage and require more time and patience to help the horse overcome his fear. We had a horse that was claustrophobic to the point of overturning in the starting grid. So we started taking him for rides in a small two-horse trailer to help him overcome his claustrophobia. Between that and many training sessions at the gate, he not only got over his fear, but he became an honest runner. It’s always rewarding every time you win a race, but it’s especially rewarding when you win with one of your “problem kids”.
E: Was there a particular horse that made you lose sleep?
D: I had a horse which kept freeing itself from its lead pony during the post parade and which ran away and was scratched by the stewards. He was about to be banned for life, so I said, “Alright, I’m going to take him out the door myself.” ” And I did. The stewards gave us permission to leave the paddock early and I had to lead my horse and jockey to the six-stadium toboggan. The first time I did this, the starting assistants bet on whether or not I would get there with my horse! When I got to the gate and handed my horse over to the Starter Assistant, he actually congratulated me! It’s a pretty long walk to the waterfall and the paramedics took pity on me so they brought me back. I will never forget the unique perspective of seeing my horse win while riding in the ambulance that follows the terrain around the track. For the rest of the time spent with this horse with me, I always accompanied him to the starting gate. It was a great weight loss program. (Laughs)
E: What inspired you to write this book?
D: The unexpected death of my mother, Anne Bradshaw, who was an avid horse racing fan and a two dollar show bettor. She went to Saratoga every year, kept albums of her favorite horses, and recorded all the major horse races. I was overwhelmed by the amount of memorabilia she had collected – from running programs and books and magazines to Secretariat’s tail hairs. Like my main character Dahlia, I struggled to cope with my mother’s passing. It was my mother’s passion for horse racing that inspired me to become coach. She passed away in March 2018 and to this day I cannot watch a horse race on TV without waiting for the phone to ring the second the horses cross the wire and I hear my mom’s comment on the results . It was only by writing this book that I was finally able to overcome my pain.
E: What part of the book was the most fun to write?
D: I love the scene where Serena goes out with Dahlia to celebrate her twenty-first birthday and forces her to ride the Clockwork Bull in a casino. Dahlia clashing with Bill Bassett is my favorite scene overall and there are parts with Crazy Cory where I laughed as I wrote them.
E: What’s the next step on your agenda?
D: I’m currently working on another novel which features Crazy Cory, the landmark character of Racecourse thieves. It was the comedic relief of this book and elicited such a positive response from my readers that I just have to run with it. It’s so much fun writing a character like Cory and right now I think we could all use a little more fun.
E: Thank you, Aurore. We all can’t wait to read your book!
Racecourse thieves and Girls stretched in the back can be purchased at Amazon and other online and physical booksellers.
Dawn is also a contributor to Past The Wire. Click here to read Dawn’s articles.