The Cowboys Came With A Good Horse

Bob Baffert is one of those trainers who is fun to interview. He always gives a reporter a line to hang a story on.

Perhaps he summed up the 2009 Kentucky Derby best of anyone when he said, “Those cowboys. They came with a good horse.”

Sometimes, like an unknown trainer, we feel like the odds are stacked against us.

Of course they are.

It doesn’t matter if you’re racing horses or writing a book. You put out your best effort against all odds of succeeding. You change course along the way according to how things are progressing or not.

Mine That Bird was pointed to the Lone Star Derby in Texas, but as his earnings grew, he went up in the rankings. He was ranked in the mid-twenties when the cowboys started thinking the Kentucky Derby might be a possibility.

Woolley was born and raised in a small Texas town. He started exercising race horses to get back in condition after a rodeo accident and got hooked on racing. For years he trained Quarter Horses in New Mexico. I’ve spoken him several times, and he always took time out of a busy schedule to give me a good interview.

So, when someone whines about all the restrictive “rules” in publishing, stop and think a bit. The rules are not written in stone in publishing. It’s more of a ten suggestions thing. However, they are there to help you beat the odds.

In writing, you create your entrant in the field of publishing. You shape it up, condition it, test it, go back to the beginning and finally pronounce it ready to compete. The odds of even getting a invitation are against you, so you do everything you can to improve them. The chances of hitting the market with just the right book at just the right time aren’t good, but you bite your lip and hit the send button. You keep entering the race even though you get sick to death of feeling like an also ran.

There are people out there who have all the breaks. They have the education and experience. Maybe they don’t have to work and can just write all day long. Maybe they have all the right connections. Maybe they have an amazing platform.

Sometimes, though, the cowboys come with a good horse, and that’s all that matters.


  1. Great post. Dalhart is about 70 miles north of me so I was really pulling for him though I’ll admit I didn’t give them much of a chance. My money was on Hold Me Back.

  2. Last night I was chatting with dh about how everything hot now is vampires and zombies, and how poor Dominion didn’t have a chance. Then I said, “well, it does start with a woman waking up in a tomb…” {laughs} Thanks for an encouraging post!

  3. Yeah, yeah, yeah — sure, bet on the long shot, bet on the heart shot.

    In the meantime, there are poor saps like me. If the cowboys’ horse hadn’t come out of nowhere, I’d have won half the pot at our Derby Party on Saturday. Granted, that wouldn’t have put me on a beach in the South Pacific, sipping banana daiquiris while fair maidens in grass skirts— well, you get the idea. But it might have bought the banana daiquiri, with change for some beer nuts.

    Of course you very cleverly tied this into a discussion of writing, which makes it hard to disagree with you even though I’m all of $20 poorer. (There’s probably a writing metaphor in that, too.)

    If we think we could be a Mine That Bird, how do we find the right cowboy(s) to shepherd us (or punch us, or whatever the jargon) to the finish line? Not any old cowboy(s), but the right one(s)?

  4. Deleyna,

    I had this discussion with Rachel Vater in the bar. Pondering how a person deals with trends. She said no one can predict what will be popular by the time your book publishes. Write what you love.

    I’m going to stick with that bit of wisdom.

    Besides, Dominion is such a beautiful story it will make its own trend.

  5. *comforts John*

    Sometimes a horse, or writer, is so great they succeed in spite of the trainer or agent.

    Winalotta Cash was a little no name horse who trained in the barrow ditch beside the highway here in Odessa. A trainer I don’t care much for got him and the horse went on to win the All American Futurity and become a champion and a legendary runner. He did this because he truly was a great horse, not because the trainer made him great.

    Back in the ’40’s, there were two Quarter stallions being trained. A new trainer watched them and said they were training them for the wrong thing. One should be cutting and the other should be roping. The horses went on to become legends because someone recognized their natural talents.

    And so it is for most of us. We have the stories and the skills to bring them to life, but under the hand of a good agent, they start to shine. We start to shine. They recognize our strengths and help us overcome our weaknesses.

    How do we find these good ones? I wish I knew the secret. I think finding one a writer meshes with personally as well as professionally is important. Research is imperative and at some point you have to go with your gut and place the heart bet.

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