• 224 pages

Down the Backstretch

Racing and the American Dream

Carole Case

Horseracing—the sport of kings—has fed imaginations for centuries. The romance of the striving horse, the dauntless rider, and the "pot of gold" at the finish has rendered the remote possibility of success as inconsequential. Carole Case joined the racetrack world, working as a groom and a walker, in order to understand the culture of horseracing from behind the scenes. The backstretch is an area not readily accessible to the average fan where trainers, grooms, jockeys, and other workers prepare the thoroughbred for a fleeting moment of success against great odds. The strenuous, sometimes dangerous, poorly paid, and lowly nature of that work seems to have little bearing on the dedication and enthusiasm of these workers. In Down the Backstretch, Case explores the motivation for such a career, its tenuous rewards, and its links to the American Dream.

Case analyzes the culture that persists through its rituals, beliefs, and magical practices, all of which center around the thoroughbred horse. The community adheres through a shared sense of risk, ceremonial activities such as the paddock ritual, the racetrackers' argot, informal patterns of exchange, and a strange litany of proverbs, such as "Chickens today, feathers tomorrow." With fascinating detail, Case reveals the vivid contrast between the pomp and circumstance of the grandstand and the sweat and manure of the backstretch.

About the Author(s)

Carole Case is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a Research Associate at the Tufts University Center for Animals and Public Policy.

In the Series

Labor and Social Change

No longer active. Labor and Social Change, edited by Paula Rayman and Carmen Sirianni, includes books on workplace issues like worker participation, quality of work life, shorter hours, technological change, and productivity, as well as union and community organizing and ethnographies of particular occupations.