Cover Image: Lexington


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A horse called Darley was born on a farm in Kentucky a decade before the Civil War; under the name Lexington, he broke the world record for speed and left an imprint on the world of American horse racing that persists to this very day.

I was never a horse girl, but in elementary school I had a phase in which I read a great deal of Marguerite Henry and Walter Farley. As such, I’ve probably seen about four horses close up throughout my life, but I’m always ready for a good horse story, and the tale of Lexington, a half blind stallion who changed American horse racing forever, is one.

Wickens weaves the story of Lexington with the turbulent times he lived through. Horse racing in the South was reaching a peak at the time of his career, and the days on which he raced could bring New Orleans to a standstill. Later on, the Civil War reaches out to touch even the idyllic farm where he lived as a stud stallion when a violent band of guerillas repeatedly raid it. The author’s clear adoration of horses and the intensity with which she tells the story had me racing through the book.

However, I did wonder if the story got a little disjointed at times. The Civil War section, while fascinating, has more to do with Lexington’s children than with him, and he doesn’t make much of an appearance. You rather feel that the colorful guerillas overshadow the horses. And then we lurch forward in time to the story of his skeleton – a convoluted one, to be sure, but it left me feeling a little like I was careening through so many exhibits that in places you lose sight of Lexington himself. But it all makes such a rollicking yarn that you can’t really complain.
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In the early days of American horse racing, Lexington, a stallion born in Kentucky, emerged as a symbol of stamina and speed. Breaking the world speed record for a four-mile race, he showcased the extraordinary amid war-torn times. Lexington's illustrious racing career eventually transitioned to a prolific role as a sire, with his bloodline dominating Thoroughbred winnings. However, during the Civil War, his years at a Kentucky stud farm faced challenges as Confederate soldiers targeted the prized stallion and his valuable progeny amid the chaos of the conflict.

I don’t know much about horse racing or horse lineage, but this book caught my attention. I’ve read about Secretariat and Seabiscuit before, though it has been some time. I was intrigued to know about the horse that became a champion despite deteriorating eyesight, and then survived the Civil War.

At times, the narrative gets a bit bogged down with details of the time and the backstory of the owners of Lexington was tedious to get through. And the kidnapping of one of Lexington’s off-spring felt like it didn’t fit the story.

However, for the most part, this was an interesting look at the early days of American horse racing. My heart went out to Lexington, racing while going blind. This is a book I would recommend to readers who have an interest in horse racing.
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The author gives the reader a history of horse racing in the United States.  It became the first sport that everyone was in one way or another participated in.  Some might be the breeders, the owners of the horses and the general public betting and watching the horses race.  Lexington was a horse that fully embodied spirit, stamina, and courage.  He became the ideal racehorse.  Sadly someone gave Lexington the wrong feed before a race which gave the horse an illness that made one eye go blind.  Lexington was put out to pasture to become a stud.  He sired many great racehorses and also had females that gave many of the horses the best bloodline to its foals.  There is so much more to this life of a spectacular racehorse given in the writing of this biography.   At the end of Lexington’s life his skeleton was in the attic of the Smithsonian and then transferred to the International Museum of the Horse in Lwexington, Kentucky.  Fans of racehorses and American history will definitely enjoy reading this book.  This book was my first introduction to racehorses.  I found myself immersed in the life of Lexington and know now I will not take horse racing as not important.  I think that anyone horserace fan or not will find this an amazing life during a time where much happened the United States history period of 1850 to 1875.
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Such a different story for me, but I loved it. A look at early days of horseracing and then an interesting look at horse racing during the Civil War. Danger, bravery, thievery. I so enjoyed reading about the horse that started an awesome lineage, and the characters who worked with him.
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I am not a "horsey" person, yet still found Lexington an interesting read. Plenty of history of Kentucky and the Lexington region, and some of the families who made it the city it is today. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.
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This is a voluntary review for a complimentary ARC kindly provided by NetGalley and the author/publisher.

Lexington is full of fascinating information about the world of horses. To really enjoy this book I think it would help to be in or at least familiar with that world. It was difficult to stay engaged as I was expecting more of a story akin to Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit which this is not.
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What a fascinating book about Lexington and horse-racing during the Civil-War era. I came to this after reading Geraldine Brooks' Horse. I thirsted for more information and found it here. This is non-fiction at its best. Highly recommended.
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Kim Wickens’s book Lexington tells the story, not only of one immensely famous, popular race horse, but of horse racing in general during a bygone era in the U.S. My thanks go to Net Galley and Random House Ballantine for the review copy. This book is for sale now. 

From 1780 to 1860, horse racing was the most popular spectator sport in the United States, and almost a religion in the South. Great fortunes rose and fell with the purchase, training, performing, and procreating of prize horses, and Lexington was the greatest of them all. Kim Wickens has done an astounding amount of research. This is probably the best documented work on equestrian history on the market today. If you love horses, and especially if you love horse racing, then this book is for you. 

This reviewer knows little about either subject; I read it because it was different from most history books I’ve seen. My particular interest is the American Civil War; the synopsis mentioned General Grant and Abraham Lincoln, and I was all in. One of Lexington’s progenies was gifted to Grant by a supporter during the war, and he prized it greatly. The horse, Cincinnati, carried its new owner into at least three major battles. Grant allowed no one else to ride it, except, on a single occasion, President Abraham Lincoln. 

Sadly for me, that’s about all we see of Lincoln, Grant, or the Union Army. It’s done in about four pages, which left me with 412 other pages. There are additional aspects here that are of interest to me, in particular the role of Lexington and his descendants in the crime spree by a bushwhacker named Sue Mundy, a name the man took on in order to throw lawmen off his trail. In fact, I found the second half of this meaty story to be much more interesting than the first half. Of course, although I like horses well enough from a distance, I have never been a rider or had any active interest in them. I am a city dweller, urban to my bones. For horse lovers, perhaps the first half will be as interesting or even more so. 

One thing that I must mention has to do with the difficult material. This is nonfiction, and sometimes Lexington and other horses were mistreated by those responsible for their care. Whereas some race horse owners genuinely loved their steeds, ultimately they were investments. What to do with a horse, whether to race it or rest it, keep it or sell it, was governed mostly by the bottom line. Doubtless they would be appalled, were they alive today, to see the vast amount of coddling and spoiling we in the twenty-first century devote to our various fur babies. If you were to make a Venn diagram between us, about the only item that would occupy the shared bubble in the middle would be that we all own animals. That’s it. Whereas there is never any gratuitous description of the violence and other cruelties visited on the horses Wickens discusses, it’s in there, and if you can’t stand it, don’t read it. 

I have rated Lexington four stars for a general readership, but for those with a strong, particular interest in horses, racing, and the history of both, this is most likely a five star read. Wickens is off and running!
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What a beautiful, unexpected read! Wickens threaded deep research and a heart for the racehorse into an exciting non-fiction telling. I have no experience with breeding or racing, but that was unnecessary. I was educated throughout with no tedium. And the historical race scenes! So well done!

Thank you NetGalley for a copy of this great book!
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This story was fascinating and I appreciate the meticulous research by the author.  It is rich in historical detail.  
Many thanks to Random House and to Netgalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.
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I don’t usually read nonfiction, but the vintage-looking cover of the book drew me in. I’m so glad it did, this was such an interesting book.

This is the story of Lexington, a famous horse, that I had never heard of before! It is meticulously researched, filled with an abundance of facts, and still manages to be both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

This is as much a story of the history of horse racing, the men who developed the growing sport in the US (and to an extent Britain) and a good portion of the story takes place during the civil war.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, because there is a lot of detail in this story. Really, she packs so much information into this book and yet it never feels like an encyclopedia like some nonfiction can feel like. I truly cared about Lexington, the men who took care of him, the jockeys. The civil war portions were difficult to read because I cared so much about everyone in the story, I didn’t want anyone or any horse to get hurt.

The only place the story dragged was towards the end when Lexington’s bones are assembled for a museum display. It was interesting but went into a lot of detail. Then the whole struggle to get Lexington’s bones from the Smithsonian to Kentucky (where most people felt they belonged) was also fascinating.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for this Advanced Readers Copy of Lexington by Kim Wickens!
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Lexington is a must-read for horse lovers and anyone interested in the evolution of the horse racing industry. I devoured Geraldine Brooks' book Horse when it came out and this book offers such an interesting history lesson in a compulsively readable way. Highly recommend!

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine for this ARC.
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Horses haven't ever been my thing. But lately, my interest has been piqued, and Kim Wickens' book Lexington: The Extraordinary Life and Turbulent Times of America's Legendary Racehorse provided a wealth of information that places this particular horse in the context not only of his time, but all time. Lexington was the father of a dynasty!

A fulsome account of all things Lexington and most things horsy, this author has done herself proud! It is clear she is passionate and beyond knowledgeable on her subject. Never one to look on purpose for horse books, she's got me perusing the "animals / horse" section at Powell's.

If you are even slightly interested in horses, horse racing, horse breeding, Civil War, museum practices, jockeys, history of any of the aforementioned, or Lexington himself - pre- or post-life of Lexington or his progeny . . .I highly recommend you add it to your personal library or TBR list.

*A sincere thank you to Kim Wickens, Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine, and NetGalley for an ARC to read and review.* #Lexington #NetGalley
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"It can therefore safely be said that Lexington's contribution to the American Thoroughbred has been beyond extraordinary. In that sense, he enters the pedigree, in varying degrees, of nearly every American horse who ran after him, or will ever run."

Now, this is a horse story. Painstakingly researched and rich in historical context; read THIS book to see the story of Lexington. His blood and "bottom" have given wings to twelve of the thirteen winners of the Triple Crown since 1919. Only Citation in 1948 is an exception. As noted in the Epilogue, although races are all about speed now rather than distance; to run and win the three races of the Triple Crown requires a secret sauce, a quality the thoroughbred world calls "bottom." This book ranks up there with Seabiscuit: An American Legend and The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation as books I would recommend to folks who want a rich story based on historical facts.

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.
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Lexington, the greatest racehorse of all time, was unknown to me until reading Horse by Geraldine Brooks.  After that, I looked forward to learning more about this horse and the horse racing industry during the mid 1800s.  The requirements of these Thouroughbreds to run multiple 4 mile races in a day just astounds me.  Lexington not only competed but ended up shattering the world record time.  Lexington lives on in his bloodline which is traced to TWELVE of the THIRTEEN triple crown winners including Secretariat!  There are larger than life owners, trainers, and riders to help round out the story.
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I’ve read several books featuring horses, so naturally, I was drawn to Lexington.  I loved it!  This was so much more than I was expecting.  I knew it was about a race horse, but I didn’t realize Lexington was living prior to the civil war and for some years afterward.

He proved himself a champion early on, but was plagued by blindness in one eye and eventually the other.  Even with near blindness as a handicap, he still won races.  It’s as if all his other senses were heightened and enabled him to function as needed.

Because of his eyes, Lexington was retired early and lived a life of leisure and reproduction.  He was a prolific sire, with many of his descendants going on to become champions, many of whom I had previously heard about within the racing world.

What was fascinating about the story was not only the information about early horse racing, but what happened to the horses during and immediately following the civil war.  His owner had several stolen, eventually going to great lengths to keep them safe.  

Bands of marauders traveled through the area, robbing from people, killing and stealing anything they could, especially fresh horses.  Luckily, Lexington was not stolen and went on to live a good long life.

He definitely left his mark on the great state of Kentucky and the world of horse racing.  This book was so informative and I looked forward to reading each night.  I hope Kim Wickens brings more horse stories in the future.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for allowing me to read an advance copy.  I am happy to offer my honest review and recommend this to other readers.
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This was a miracle of a story and I'm so grateful Kim Wickens told it to the world. I don't love horse racing, but my husband does. This gave us so much to talk about and I want to read much more by Wickens now and about Lexington!
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Lexington: The Extraordinary Life and Turbulent Times of America's Legendary Racehorse
Author Kim Wickens
(This review is from an ARC sent to me from NetGalley)

“The powerful true story of the champion Thoroughbred racehorse who gained international fame in the tumultuous Civil War–era South, and became the most successful sire in American racing history”
Every horse running in the 2023 Kentucky Derby descends from a mighty stallion named Lexington, the most renowned thoroughbred of the 19th century. “Best Time ever Made” declared the headline in the Louisville Daily Courier on April 4, 1855.
Horse racing in the United States dates back to 1665, which saw the establishment of the Newmarket course in Salisbury, New York, a section of what is now known as the Hempstead Plains of Long Island, New York. 
Robert A. Alexander was the first to establish a systematic design method for horse breeding. Woodburn Stud was home to the stallion Lexington (1850–1875), America's leading sire for sixteen years. Lexington sired numerous champions and winners of major races including, Duke of Magenta, Kentucky and Preakness, for whom the Preakness Stakes is named. Woodburn breeding yielded 18 winners of US Triple Crown winners and other major winners including Lexington's grandson Foxhall.
Lexington was the fastest runner of his time, but more important: he was the greatest sire of his time, producing more champion offspring than any other stallion. Beginning in 1861 he led America's sire list 14 consecutive years until he died in 1875 and then headed the list twice more posthumously.
Kim Wickens spent years researching the horse Lexington and his legacy and takes us back to the beginning of American horse racing.
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This book is a definite must read for anyone with a love for horses or track racing, I found the writing engaging and easy to read.
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