That being the case, selection of the right story to tell is just as critical for the historian as for the fiction writer, if not more so; a fiction writer is at liberty to craft character, plot and action to suit the story to be told, but the historian must work with the material supplied by reality. Thus, in writing Dream Derby: The Myth and Legend of Black Gold, the dramatis personae and the events of the story were already set; the question was not what would happen and to whom, but how I would present Al and Rosa Hoots, Useeit, Hanley Webb, J. D. Mooney, and Black Gold himself as individuals who both acted in and were acted upon by the events of the time they lived in.
When the purpose of writing is to entertain at least as much as to inform, nonfiction and fiction writers must consider similar elements if readers are to be attracted and held. The protagonist(s) must be appealing to the audience in some way; even an antihero must resonate with the reader somehow, such as by becoming the instrument of justice against the truly despicable or by displaying some distinct virtue in spite of being badly flawed. Heroes must have a dream or a goal toward which they are moving, and obstacles—preferably both internal and external—that must be overcome in order to reach the desired end. The unlikely, the unpredictable, and the unusual spark and hold interest as they drive twists and turns in the characters’ behavior and in their responses to events. A story of unbroken successes, however true and admirable, soon palls to all but the most devoted fans; a struggle with which readers can identify keeps them hooked until a satisfactory closure is reached.
Horse racing holds many great stories, but it is no coincidence that the Thoroughbreds with the greatest bodies of literature built around them—Seabiscuit, Exterminator, Phar Lap—have been outsiders who became great champions against the odds. In my own small way, I hope I have made a contribution to that tradition, telling the true-life story of a little black horse and an unlikely owner, trainer, and jockey who, for one golden moment, stood atop the racing world.