Falling in love with the sport of kings: Kevin Chong’s My Year of the Racehorse

Kevin Chong's My Year of the RacehorseI originally reviewed My Year of the Racehorse by Kevin Chong in 2012, shortly after it was published. Nearly three years later, it remains one of my favourite non-fiction reads.

As the title suggests, My Year of the Racehorse spans a year of Chong’s life. He is an unapologetic narrator, and starts the year off like so many New Years: drunk and making a list of things to accomplish. But facing the items soberly the next morning, it hits him that he’s reaching a stage in his life where he should probably start checking them off. Become a home owner. Find true love. Settle down and start a family. See the world. Learn another language. Start a retirement plan. Get a tattoo.

None of these goals are going to be completed in an afternoon, so Chong resigns himself to his fate and starts at the top of the list. As he reluctantly admits to the reader, he should see about owning a house. Maybe it’s about time to settle down and stop renting. So Chong gathers up his modest savings and buys a chunk of property.

The kicker? Chong doesn’t buy a house, a condo or even a boat.

He invests in a racehorse.

“Why make a U-turn in my life,” Chong reasons, “When a couple of left turns around the park would do?”

And thus Chong meets Mocha Time, a mare with respectable standings in both speed and profit. This new-found connection to the racetrack leads Chong to a cast of characters: Randi, the profane mail-carrier/horse trainer with a heart of gold, and Charlene, a woman who communes with animals through a spirit named Sean. It’s a journey too weird to be anything but true and a journey too true to be anything but weird – full of strange tangents and unexpected twists. This is the power of non-fiction; while the events of the book are hardly earth-shattering, they remain gripping.

kevin chong the straight

And over the course of the book, the typical life goals that Chong has set out for himself begin to evolve. He doesn’t find true love, or learn another language, or start a retirement plan – but checks items off his list nonetheless. It’s part cop-out and part artistic liberty, but Chong ultimately closes out the list without technically completing anything on it.

“I accomplished everything I wanted by not accomplishing these things,” Chong writes, a mere four or five pages left in the book. “Instead, I bought a racehorse. From her example, I learned to see persistence as its own success. You might win some and lose others, but you prove yourself every time you run honestly.”

It’s sentimental, but it’s true.

Hop on over to Abe Books (your favourite global conglomerate of independent bookstores) to get yourself a copy, or you can read my original review over at The Cascade (and check out some of their other book reviews while you’re there, if you’re so inclined).

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