I admit my choice of May 11 as a release date for Death by Equine was a deliberate move. First, for sentimental reasons. I had a pony who was foaled decades ago on May 11. She was such a sweetheart—more of a pet really—so the date has always stuck with me. Second, my next novel is set for release on May 10, 2022, with subsequent Zoe Chambers mysteries dropping that same week over the following years. It made sense to set up the second Tuesday in May as my launch date.
The main reason, however, was the timing of the Triple Crown. I figured releasing a book set in the world of Thoroughbred racing between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes would put me in the heart of the Triple Crown excitement. I could ride the wave of horseracing enthusiasm.
I never anticipated the real-life crime drama that came out of the Derby.
If you haven’t heard the news, Medina Spirit, a moderate longshot trained by Bob Baffert, one of the winningest trainers on earth, battled off all challengers and crossed the finish line first. Instantly, racing fans’ hopes of a Triple Crown winner in 2021 were pinned on the horse.
Those hopes came crashing down when it was announced days later that Medina Spirit had failed the drug test routinely run on the top placing horses. Those tests showed the presence of betamethasone, a banned corticosteroid. At first, Baffert denied ever having treated the horse with the medication. There were hints of sabotage.
My husband and I immediately started spinning out plots for a mystery novel. How easy would it be for someone to slip the drug to the horse? In truth, easier than you might think.
I could also imagine the trainer trying to get away with something that happens all the time. Especially since this wasn’t Baffert’s first offense.
After another couple of days, his story changed. The horse had developed a skin condition and the ointment to treat it contained—you guessed it—betamethasone. A small amount that likely had no effect on the outcome of the race, but that’s not the point. The substance is banned. No amount is too small to count.
The immediate problem was the Preakness was less than a week away at this point, and the investigation, which may result in Medina Spirit being disqualified as the Kentucky Derby winner, could take weeks or months to complete. After administering multiple drug tests showing the horse was clean, the Maryland Racing Commission cleared Medina Spirit to run in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
I needn’t have worried. Medina Spirit fought valiantly but lost to Rombauer and ended up third.
Baffert, by the way, wasn’t present at Pimlico for the race. Instead, his assistant trainer saddled his two entries.
There will be no such controversy for the June 5 running of the Belmont. This past week, it was announced that the New York Racing Association had suspended Baffert and disqualified him from entering any horse in the race.
As a racing fan, I completely agree with the decision.
As a mystery writer with a new release set in that world, I’m eager to learn how this investigation plays out. I also find myself nodding my head and thinking, “See? All those greedy and corrupt characters in my book are entirely realistic.”
Writers, have you ever had a book come out about a subject that unexpectedly became a hot topic? Readers, have you ever read a book that just happened to reflect a major news event?