The Great Match Race
On May 27, 1823, 60,000 people crammed into the Union Course on Long Island, New York, eager to see a thrilling horse race settle the burning issue of which region had the fastest horse: North or South? Insulted by his horse’s earlier loss to the Northern champion Eclipse at the National Course in Washington, prideful Virginia horse enthusiast William Ransom “Napoleon” Johnson challenged Eclipse’s owner, New York businessman Cornelius Van Ranst, to a match race between Eclipse and a horse of Johnson’s choice. The prize purse would be a staggering $20,000, and the horses would run a grueling series of three four-mile heats. This major racing event, between the older, established Eclipse and Johnson’s young upstart Southern hopeful, Sir Henry, drew such enthusiastic spectators and supporters as President Andrew Jackson, Aaron Burr, John Randolph of Roanoke, and millionaire John Cox Stevens.
Written with great energy, absorbing detail, and first-rate storytelling, Eisenberg manages to infuse suspense and excitement in his narrative, effectively using this first-of-its-kind sports spectacle to illustrate the already deep divisions in the nation and as a foreshadowing of the tragic conflict to come. Accessible, informative, and grand entertainment.