For many people both in and out of the horse industry, there were simply too many coincidences to be ignored when Alydar was euthanized on November 15, 1990, after having been found with a broken right hind leg two days earlier. From the threatened cancellation of one of Alydar’s insurance policies due to non-payment of premiums, to the conflicting accounts given of how the injury was discovered and how it could have occurred, to the revelations of how the stallion and his services had been leveraged and over-leveraged as the farm accumulated US$120 million in debt, the circumstantial case that Alydar had been killed deliberately to collect the insurance on his life appeared strong. Yet, in spite of extensive fraud investigations surrounding Calumet and one of its major creditors, First City National Bank of Houston—investigations that led to federal prison terms for Calumet president J. T. Lundy and his chief financial officer, Gary Matthews—many questions regarding Alydar’s death remained unanswered.
Broken: The Suspicious Death of Alydar and the End of Horse Racing’s Golden Age (2023, Live Oak Press) recounts the personal quest of author Fred M. Kray, a specialist in animal law and an experienced trial attorney, to uncover the truth regarding Alydar’s demise. “Fan” is a light word to apply to Kray’s obvious personal attachment to the horse; as he recounts the development of his appreciation for Alydar during the horse’s racing days and the meaning that Alydar has lent to him during his own life journey, one gains a sense of Kray’s emotional connection to a magnificent racehorse, a connection that has fueled his determination to discover what truly happened.
Kray’s quest in some ways raises more questions than it answers, as Kray soberly reports the questions asked, the testimony given, and the evidence presented during the course of the federal investigations and trials concerning Calumet. The tone is impersonal compared to that of the opening section of the book, but this shift is appropriate given the subject matter. Nonetheless, there are ghosts that haunt Kray’s account of the legal proceedings—those of the questions that were never asked, often because the attorneys involved lacked the experience regarding horses and the horse industry to recognize their importance. Others were deflected by early assumptions that began steering the narrative toward a presumption of accidental death.
Following Kray’s recounting of the evidence and testimonies found in court records, he then turns to his interviews with the witnesses whom he hoped might shed light on Alydar’s story and the injury that ultimately killed him. Over twenty-five people ultimately talked with Kray, including Alydar’s trainer, John Veitch; his stud groom, Michael Coulter; nationally known veterinarian Larry Bramlage, who performed the emergency surgery in the failed attempt to save Alydar’s life; and Frank Cihak, who held Calumet’s financial lifeblood in his hands while he was the senior credit officer at First City National Bank of Houston. These talks are presented at a more intimate, emotional level than the court testimony, and one can sense the tension between Fred Kray, the attorney seeking facts, and Fred Kray, the man seeking a resolution to a loss that had haunted him for nearly three decades.
Kray concludes with a “courtroom of the mind,” presenting his own answer to the mystery of Alydar’s death but allowing the reader to render personal judgment as to its validity. Some may find this rather contrived. For me, it was a logical resolution to a story framed by its author’s experiences and life journey, one that is both a true-crime drama and a testimony to one man’s love of a horse. Broken is not an easy read; those looking for a pat “happy ending” or who are uncomfortable with looking at the dark underbellies of the horse world and human nature should look elsewhere for their next book. Nonetheless, for those willing to follow the evidence where it leads, the story told is compelling and worthy of a place on the bookshelf of both students of horse racing history and fans of the true crime genre. It will certainly have an honored place on mine.