A MODERN MASTERPIECE

 

The primary topic of Racing Time is not horses but rather male love.  It is dedicated to the late Tom Voss, Racing Hall of Fame trainer. Tom, and Patrick’s challenge of accepting his mortality, stand at the centre of Racing Time. Teasing out the subtleties of their relationship, Smithwick ventures into contemplating the role of other men in his life as he makes his own progress as a man. 
 
Racing Time arrives just as western culture is preoccupying itself with the quest to redefine masculinities, in all their plurality. The book is about male bonding—between friend and friend, between family members, between colours, between classes, between father and son, mentor and pupil. It goes beyond naming these bonds: it enters into the heart of them. To be fair, Smithwick also explores the love of man and wife, man and mother, man and daughter. He is full of love. 

Any novelist who created a character as original, as compelling as Speedy Kiniel—Smithwick’s ‘blind Tiresias’, inconvenient savant—would be hailed as a genius.  Speedy Kiniel, the one-time stable groom, musician and boxer, approaches the late years of his life as obese, demanding, ungrateful—yet wise, deeply wise, endlessly wise. Speedy has healing hands, for the damaged legs of horses, for the bruised limbs of jockeys. He spreads that balm over the pain that makes its presence felt throughout this remarkable memoir. 

America, Patrick Smithwick might just have given you a modern masterpiece, if you have the eyes to see it.  

 

- Dr Andrew Lemon, author of the three-volume History of Australian Thoroughbred Racing.
 

SMITHWICK'S YOKNAPATAWPHA COUNTY

Just as you don't have to grow up in rural Mississippi to appreciate William Faulkner, you don't have to know the little world of American steeplechasing to appreciate Patrick Smithwick. Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County forms the vivid background for entwined tales of family, landscape, love, lifelong friendships, fear, courage, and the pitiless passage of time—all concepts that transcend the Mississippi setting without in any sense diminishing it. That's why Norwegians or Alaskans can relate to Faulkner, and it's also why Smithwick is so poignantly readable even to those who don't know or perhaps don't even care about the science and art of racing horses over fences. (To those who do know that world, it should be added, his writing rings especially true.)

 

John Masefield's long poem "Right Royal," about a steeplechase, ends with horse and jockey enjoying retirement in the green fields of England—and then notes, a little darkly, that whether it is glorious or grim, this life we live is only momentary, "and then it must pass, like the stars sweeping westward and the wind on the grass." Patrick Smithwick, with this new memoir, reminds us of that hard reality, and writes about it very well.

 

- Peter Jay, former Washington Post editor

A SWEET AND POIGNANT RIDE!

Only 20 pages into Racing Time and already many rich delights were already upon me. The chapter “Just Perfect” did me in. Here the author and his wife, Ansley, do what is ostensibly the simple task of building a new fence. But in Smithwick's telling, the reader sees that within this task is everything important to the story and to life itself. 

There is his compelling affection for the rolling woods and pastures of Maryland in front of him. Here, place really matters. There is his intimate connection, affection and knowledge, with the horses in the paddock. They are characters every bit as full and engaging as the people in the book. In the meditative sweat of the fence building work, there is the opportunity to recall friends, remember several small details and pleasures of life, and the quiet to examine himself with honest scrutiny. 

But most of all, there is his deep appreciation and love for Ansley, her work ethic, beauty, sense of humor, forgiveness, and devotion to their life. This made me weep. He had brought me to this wonderful place of getting truly inside the story and its characters by exposing his own vulnerabilities and the fragility and sweetness of life, and this personal, emotional, universal story reverberated deep in my bones.

And so the story continues, sometimes at a gallop, sometimes at the slow pace of a change in the season, but always it is told with reflection, great attention to love and friendships, and a sense that time is slipping away – these are the eyes of a mature traveler. From the beautiful way that he portrays his friendships and adventures with Speedy Kiniel, Tom Voss, and Dickie Small, mourns the loss of friends and horses, and is humbled by age, Smithwick has created a masterful portrait of a man leaving the race to find the deepest meaning in the smaller, sweeter, less heroic things in life. What a wonderful place to land.

- Steven Engelhart, Executive Director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage

LOVE NEVER DIES

 

Racing Time tells the stories of four horsemen, their triumphs, adventures, horses, families, and most of all, the camaraderie of their lifelong friendships. Their lives are so vividly described that it seems as if the emotion, excitement, and exhilarating moments are unfolding in real time. 

 

What happens, however, when three of them pass away?  How does the one that is left cope with the loss, honor their great bond, yet continue forward with life? Racing Time shows how you can integrate the pain of loss into the joy of the moment; how you can live with happy memories—not grieving ones—as the legacy of lost friends.

 

Racing Time will make you laugh, will make you cry, and will leave you with the comfort of three little words . . . love never dies.

 

- Cynthia McGinness, owner and breeder of 2018 Maryland Broodmare of the Year Casual Kiss

A MATURE EVALUATION OF GRIEF

I couldn't put it down!  Racing Time is tremendously moving. Smithwick’s new memoir is a riveting: a mature journal of exultation and grief.  While lovingly recollecting three life-long friendships, Smithwick infuses the pages with his ongoing love of learning and teaching literature to his students.  The result is a humane, but also sorrowful, tour of Smithwick-land, enchanted and gritty, glamorous but at times impoverished, joyous and downcast, full of love for the beauty and mystery of the world while also bedeviled by lonesomeness and a never-absent intimation of one more tragedy to come.

 

- Jamie MacGuire, author of Real Lace Revisited, Inside the Hidden World of America’s Irish Aristocracy

HOW TO LOVE DEEPLY - TOLD BY A POET​

What a story! What an amazing accomplishment to thread together so many lives, years, horses, people, places and to deliver it all in an experience that celebrates what it means to be human—to love deeply, to experience loss and grief that becomes a part of who we are, and to come out on the other side, hearts open, ready to make the most of it. Beautiful memoir and how lucky they all were (and are)—the people and horses—to be loved by Patrick Smithwick. He is a fantastic storyteller, a poet, and that comes through in his language. He takes us on a journey that weaves past and present effortlessly, and we feel like we are with him every step/ stride of the way.

- Aynsley Fisher, award-winning magazine feature writer

PROLOGUE HAS TOUCHES OF ROBERT FROST​

Smithwick’s new memoir is a story of time…life's time, speeding so quickly before the author’s eyes. In truth, Smithwick is a poet, and readers will feel this from the Prologue that brings to mind Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” to the poignant language of the last chapter, a personal elegy to his best friend Tom Voss. Indeed, Racing Time is filled with emotion and the book will grab your heart.

 

- Margaret Worrall, author of 100 Runnings of the Maryland Hunt Cup

A MASTERFUL MEMOIR CAPTURING THE TRANSCENDENT MOMENTS OF LIFE

Racing Time by Patrick Smithwick is a masterful memoir, a tour de force account of the world of horses and racing.  Crafting a testament to the persistence of love as it makes its way through marriage, friendship, and work, Patrick weaves his story vividly and seamlessly.  

There are many chapters of absolutely wonderful writing, giving the reader a true “lift and ring.”  I had tears in my eyes as I read the chapter entitled Nothing Gold Can Stay, which includes an excellent combination of memory and present to flesh out the ties between man and horse.  Great stuff. 

The characters and events in Racing Time, some tragic and sorrowful, move the reader deeply.  Patrick’s tapestry is also filled with scenes equally joyful and humorous which connect the reader with shared understanding.  

The Prologue—The Reality of Sisyphus—is the best opening chapter of any memoir I’ve read. It is terrific, evocative, and beautifully rendered.  Patrick ties in so many essential themes and eternals, and along the way captures those transcendent moments that are along the lines of the "sublime" in Romantic poetry.   

    RacingTime addresses the age-old questions of “how to live and how to be.”  A horse race encompasses a very short period of time as does a human life.  Patrick Smithwick’s memoir brilliantly captures the beauty, intensity, and complexity of each. 

- Jeffrey Christ,  Former Chair of the English Department at Gilman School, Balto., MD

AN APPRECIATION

There are many facets to Patrick, the person.  Some readers might think that the center of this author is Thoroughbred racing and that vast culture.  Almost all of the persons, places, and things in the three memoirs revolve around his life with horses.  Yet, there are other just as important aspects to Patrick’s life —such as being a father and husband, being a prep school teacher of literature, being a writer, and being a man of good will, who believes “in love and goodness, the power of love and good—which is God,” as Patrick says to the grieving widow of his best friend in his newest book, Racing Time. 

Racing My Father, the first book in Patrick’s now completed trilogy, is about establishing himself as a jockey in the shadow of his legendary, Hall of Fame father, and then breaking away to become a writer.  The second book, Flying Change, is about Patrick in mid-life, giving the young man’s job (jockeying) one last hurrah.  His third book, Racing Time, is Patrick in his sixties—looking back on his life: the people, places, and adventures.  “Some are dead and some are living,” as the Beatles used to sing, and Patrick, like John Lennon, “loves them all.” 

The combined affect of having read the entire trilogy reminds me of my delayed reaction when reading the classics in prep school.  At the time, I didn’t see the importance of them, the meaning—how they could be guides to steer me through life. Then, in my mid-twenties I found myself waking up in the early morning, remembering and rethinking passages from those authors.

Racing Time is written in the manner of two authors.  One, is James Joyce, who writes in a stream of consciousness style in his famous and controversial novel, Ulysses.  In Racing Time there is a non-stop flow or phantasmagoria of the people, places, and adventures from Patrick’s life.  

Racing Time is also like The Perfect Storm.  After reading Sebastian Junger’s bestseller, my wife asked me what I thought of it.  I told her, “I feel as if I have been in the shower the entire time I read it.” I was “drenched” by Junger’s vivid account of the storms buffeting the ill-fated Gloucester fishing boat.   I feel “drenched” with the life of Patrick Smithwick. The book is a near 500-page parade of Patrick’s 68 years. I am certain I could walk into his farm and be right at home. Say “hi” to his wife Ansley, talk to his kids about their lives, be familiar with his horses, help out with a fence post, enjoy a drink before and after dinner, and pull up a chair in his “converted milking parlor” office, and talk with insatiable curiosity, enthusiasm, and respect about literature, history, current events—the whole gamut.   

Patrick is a man, and a writer, who rejoices in the sensuality of life in its many forms, as shown in his vivid and visceral descriptions of life on the racetrack in all three books, and through his allusions to the Odyssey in Flying Change.  I made a point of mentioning this when I reviewed Flying Change a few years ago.  Let me add here, I have discovered after finishing the trilogy (which began with the strong influence of Patrick’s Christian Science grandmothers on his family) that he is also a man of spirituality.  

There are many striking passages in these three books, but especially in Racing Time, that resonate with the tenants of Christianity. There are uproariously uplifting conversations with his Bible-quoting friend Speedy Kiniel.  And there are more serious meditatons on concepts such as forgiveness that come to the fore through his teaching of medieval history, and the Christian theology that had such a powerful influence on the Middle Ages.  Lastly, on this topic of spirituality, Patrick doesn’t shy away from communicating with the deceased, namely the three central characters of the book: friend of a life time, and Racing Hall of Famer, Tom Voss; Green Beret veteran of the Vietnam War, and renowned trainer and iconoclast, Dickie Small (Gilman Class of ’63); and the fast-talking, gospel and Motown singing, skilled pugilist, and Merlin-like horse whisperer, Speedy Kiniel.

Racing Time is about the ups and downs of the author’s life, which he is holding on to, preserving in the form of a memoir for one reason: because he loves it.  Patrick has created and lived something beautiful, something magical. He is doing in book form what Stevie Wonder did in song in 1976 with his little known masterpiece, “If It’s Magic”:

         If it’s magic

         Then why can’t it be everlasting?

         Like the Sun that always shines

         Like the Poet’s endless rhyme

         Like the galaxies in time

Poems—some by world famous authors; others by Patrick—often appear throughout Racing Time, making intriguing introductions, nice conclusions, and at times, interesting segues to chapters.  They are an effective touch to the book and add to its aesthetic appeal.  

This is an artistically designed and physically beautiful volume.  Very well made. Nice heavy feel to it. Everything is right about it—from the fonts to the paper it is printed on. I collect books and notice these things.  It contains thirteen stunning full-page color illustrations of the racing life by the talented equine artist Sam Robinson, each work of art appearing beside the scene it depicts. I can get lost in them.  I look forward to seeing the original oil prints hanging proudly in Baltimore homes.  

I do not think Racing Time will be Patrick’s greatest book.  That memoir or novel is coming—when he writes about his son, Andrew. The parts of Racing Time about Andrew, a two-tour Marine veteran of the Iraqi War now in the throes of PTSD, are riveting, heartbreaking. memorable.  

Over the years, I have learned deeply from Patrick’s books, those of the Racing Trilogy especially.  I always had older siblings—much older. As they entered adulthood, I took notes on what they did. Pat is nine years older than I am.  

Racing My Father helped me to understand being a child and establishing myself as a young man.  Flying Change taught me about mid-life and how to navigate that challenge.  And Racing Time?  I can relate to loves, losses and how to live life to the fullest in these upcoming years. It is a rare soul who can be so independent that he can blaze his own path and be right.  Patrick often does. That is why I consider him very much worth reading. In tuo lumine lumen—in Patrick’s light I have always seen light—to paraphrase the Gilman School motto.  Because of his writings I am a better father, husband, person. His books are my “heads up” of what to expect in life and my example of how to live with class, dignity, and style. 

- Christopher Russo,  Educator, lecturer, senior vice president of Facts Tuition Management

* All art by Sam Robinson *
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