Patrick Smithwick chronicles his return to the races
Steeplechasing is a generational sport. One generation learns from a prior generation and passes along a love of the sport and the exhilaration of horses flying over fences to the next. Similarly, one generation learns the skill set needed to succeed in a demanding sport and passes those talents to a younger generation.
A. Patrick Smithwick Jr. learned those skills from the very best. His father, A. P. “Paddy” Smithwick Sr., was regarded as the finest rider of his generation, and his plaque resides in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The younger Smithwick’s uncle, D. Michael “Mikey” Smithwick, was an outstanding rider and trainer. He too has a plaque in the Hall of Fame.
Both are gone now. Paddy Smithwick died much too young, at age 46 in 1973. Mikey Smithwick died in 2006 at age 77. Patrick Smithwick, who went from being a steeplechase jockey to a writer and teacher, told the story of growing up with his father in the steeplechase world in Racing My Father, which was published a few days before his uncle’s death.
Patrick Smithwick returned to his writing den to craft Flying Change: A Year of Racing and Family and Steeplechasing, which was published in May. It too is a generational tale, about how the love of steeplechasing and horsemanship never really fades as one generation grows older.
After his career as a young rider ended, Smithwick found new challenges and succeeded as writer, marketer, and educator. But he also rediscovered the siren’s call of steeplechase race riding after a 30-year absence, culminating with his mount aboard Florida Law in the 1999 Maryland Hunt Cup. (They finished fourth.)
“Flying Change” contains 22 chapters, one for each Hunt Cup fence, and begins with his uncle—who rode six Hunt Cup winners—describing how to ride each fence. One piece of advice was, when in the air over the first fence, to look toward the next one.
It was a piece of advice that the younger Smithwick took to heart. He found he could balance the steeplechase life with the demands of being a husband, father, author, and bread-winner. (Now 61, he heads the English department at Harford Day School.)
Smithwick has been conducting book signings since the release of Flying Change, which is available from online booksellers and through the book’s website, http://www.flyingchangememoir.com. He hopes to arrange book signings in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., over the summer.