This Winter, Anne Hambleton, former eventer, steeplechase rider, pony clubber and now devoted fox-hunter, published her first novel, drawing on her life-long love of horses and riding. Anne’s book, Raja, the Story of a Racehorse, begins at a stud farm where the handsome, black foal with aristocratic genes stands out among the others. With a Kentucky Derby winner as his sire, a great name is needed to seal great expectations; he is named “Raja”, meaning “hope” in Arabic, and “king” in India, by the owner’s daughter.
As is the case of many modern thoroughbreds, his life is marked by changes, both minute and catastrophic, that take him from a safe, caring and respectful environment where he is “special,” to places where he is but one of many and “not so special”. Woven through this “first-horse” narrative are the voices of his dam and the Arabic princess who had named him but who is pulled from his life by the exigencies of the 911 attacks. His dam told him, “Remember this always; even when life is hard, never, ever give up.” Princess Ayesha told him, “You’re the most perfect thing in the universe and I will always love you.” He will need the strength of these memories to pull him through because, as the farm manager reminds us, “racing is a business, plain and simple. It’s a beautiful sport, but you can’t be sentimental if you want to win at the highest levels.”
Anne Hambleton’s commitment to riding and horses has continued unabated throughout her varied academic and business lives. During the years that she was a steeplechase jockey she was working full-time at her home in Vermont and commuting to the Delaware Valley of Pennsylvania on weekends to race horses. When she left steeplechasing, she picked up three day eventing and continued the commute. These days she is still commuting from her farm to foxhunt with Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds. She has taken the sum of these experiences to author Raja.
In 2002, she rode her horse Holtzman, who is the model for one of the characters in Raja, at Mr. Lady’s Manor Races in Monkton, Maryland. The trip to the races, about two hours from the barn where Holtzman was trained in Unionville, Pennsylvania by Lilith Boucher, brought along fellow jockey, Don Cochran, as friend, as well as two grooms, brother and sister Gina and Brian Korrell. When a horse goes to the races, or any other event for that matter, there are many more people behind the success of the horse than just the rider.
I was struck, as I prepared these photographs ten years later, that every person who made an appearance in this photo-essay is still active in steeplechase, still supporting each other in the pre-race paddock and most importantly, imparting the love of the sport to the next generation.
With the publication of Raja, Anne has synthesized the details of her rich life in horse sports with the elements of a terrific and engrossing story. As in the book, the same people appear and re-appear in her life providing continuity and community. She has lived the life she conjures in the book and continues to come to the races as spectator and mentor.
Her novel is so well crafted it is appropriate for a young reader and captivating enough for an adult. I couldn’t put it down.
For More information, or to order a copy of Raja, please visit the website: