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Jane Smiley: 'A Year at the Races'

Cover for Jane Smiley's <i>A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck</i> (Knopf, 2004)
Cover for Jane Smiley's A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck (Knopf, 2004)

Pulitzer prize-winning author Jane Smiley is best known for her novels A Thousand Acres and Moo. But she's also an avid owner and breeder of thoroughbred horses -- beautiful and intimidating creatures raised to run fast.

Smiley's new nonfiction book A Year at the Races chronicles her lifelong love affair with horses. NPR's Lynn Neary met with Smiley at Chuchill Downs -- the site of Saturday's 131th running of the Kentucky Derby -- for a behind-the-scenes look at the two-legged and four-legged athletes preparing for the biggest horse race of the year.

Smiley doesn't have a horse running in the derby, but she loves wandering around the backside of any track. As Smiley writes in her new book, the backside is a place for "keeping and divining secrets."

The secrets that interest Smiley the most are not the intrigues between owners and trainers, or the gossip of the jockeys. What interests Smiley are the secrets that lie within the horses.

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