Book Review: Alydar's Chief Counsel

Broken: The Suspicions Death of Alydar and the End of Horse Racing's Golden Age

Live Oak Press


If there was a Thoroughbred who ever needed legal counsel to mount an adequate defense of his life, then perhaps it would be Calumet Farm's MGISW Alydar.

His battles with rival Affirmed as both a juvenile, and of course, through the 1978 Triple Crown are now the stuff of legend. However, what has clouded all those spectacular past performances came during his stallion career when he tragically died from an injury which was sustained while he was in his Calumet stall on a November night in 1990. Officially chalked up as an accident, his sudden and shocking death has remained shrouded in conjecture ever since.

What happened to Alydar? That is the central question that Fred M. Kray attempts to tackle in his ambitiously titled new book, Broken: The Suspicious Death of Alydar and the End of Horse Racing's Golden Age.

There is nothing quite like a tenacious true crime writer. Plucky isn't a descriptor that goes far enough. It's one's dogged determination, coupled with an ability to stare deep into the abyss that demands sterner stuff. Kray has all of that and more. His passion for this topic is evident, and he possesses the requisite skills to follow a labyrinth of clues and misstatements that go back forty-plus years.

A former animal-rights attorney who was on hand to witness the John M. Veitch trainee when he won the 1978 GI Flamingo S. at Hialeah Park and the GI Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, Kray began to delve into the case in 2018. He tried to track down those involved, performed seemingly countless interviews and attempted to weave together a story chock full of contradiction.

But has Kray actually uncovered a smoking gun or is this just a series of red herrings? Where exactly is the conspiracy to commit murder?

Broken flows rather like a true crime memoir. It's Kray's defense laid bare on behalf of the Thoroughbred in question. Committing the cardinal sin if we skip to the end of this mystery, the author mythically knots his favorite Windsor tie and strides to the same courtroom in Houston, Texas where the security guard who was on duty that fateful night was tried and sentenced. There, he gives his own account of why he believes Alydar was murdered. It's heartfelt, but somehow it falls just short of compelling drama à la Raymond Burr.

Still, what makes this work a worthy read is the journey. Kray starts with the initial, all-too-brief insurance investigation. He then moves briskly through a composite of Alydar's racing and breeding shed exploits and delves into the questionable economic practices of Calumet's J.T. Lundy & Co. After painstakingly wading through the ensuing trials which fingered less than a handful of Calumet figures, Kray opens the curtain for the final act in which he becomes the lead. Perched on his shoulder like a GoPro Camera, we watch as he sits in front of many a horse farm gate, chides a reluctant private detective who didn't deliver and relates a number of emotional moments with key witnesses.

Alydar visiting Lucille Gene Markey on Blue Grass S. Day in 1978 | Keeneland

The relationship he forms with Tom Dixon, the equine insurance agent who was the first on the scene at Calumet, is particularly poignant. Dixon is a no-nonsense umpire that calls them like he sees them, and Kray has to steadily battle for the former agent's uneasy trust in order to access key photographs and notes. 'Deep Throat', Dixon is not, but the back-and-forth between the pair as they argue points of view on several occasions is quite a chess match.

Speaking of emotional moments, Kray's interview with Alydar's groom, Michael Coulter is both enlightening to his case, but we also find a man who hasn't returned to the scene mentally in quite some time. Though a witness in one of the trials, Coulter's perspective was underutilized and from Kray's questions, we get a window into the relationship the groom built with this superb equine athlete. Coulter explains how tired Alydar was from over-breeding and addresses the horse's psychological state. This is important because there were constant questions throughout the different trials about Alydar's penchant for kicking stall doors.

What Kray finds is a trail of dead ends and memories which are parsed with a few nuggets of remembrance. The author leads us to the assumption that key players that do not want to talk are clinging to something deeper. His mission to ask everyone connected why there were no marks on the paint in Alydar's stall, and why the latch was not disturbed becomes an indelible part of the script. A tense section relates an interview with the well-known Dr. Larry Bramlage. It is particularly excruciating to plow through, but it also shows how resolute Kray is when it comes to defending Alydar. You feel both men's frustration bearing out and it makes for good theater in the Rood & Riddle waiting room where the interview was conducted.

There is something very Citizen Kane about Broken. Like the reporter who is sent to find out what Charles Foster Kane meant when he said 'Rosebud' on his deathbed, we may never know what happened to Alydar that night at Calumet in 1990. Was his leg hit with something? Was more than one person involved? Who knew about the coverup at Calumet? Who knows something right now? Questions will continue to float. While we are on a roll, did Kray prove that this was the end of horse racing's 'Golden Age' as the book's subtitle suggests? That answer seems even more amorphous.

Instead, maybe we can take a sliver of comfort in knowing that there are some things we just can't uncover about a tragedy. If you read Broken as an homage to this Thoroughbred, then we need to thank the author for his contribution and determination. What we can say is that if Fred Kray had defended Alydar, at the very least, he might have had his day in court.

Broken: The Suspicions Death of Alydar and the End of Horse Racing's Golden Age by Live Oak Press, 348 pages, photos, May 2023.

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