MISSIONVILLE

The front cover for Alex Brown's "Missionville," available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.com

FAIR HILL — Alex Brown wants to spark dialogue.

A former Cecil Whig contributor and lifelong horseman, Brown, who for years covered the Fair Hill Training Center and penned stories on national horse racing, has published his first novel, “Missionville.”

The story, set in the fictional Pennsylvania town of Missionville, exposes the often-forgotten backside of racetracks, where the pageantry of modern horse racing is overshadowed by an ugly truth.

“I wanted to illustrate what life is like at the sort of lower rung of horse racing, rather than the Kentucky Derbies of this world, which people see and it’s glamorized on TV. The majority of horse racing isn’t like that,” said Brown, who likened the racetrack in Missionville to the common horse track found all across the United States. “A lot of people on the backside ... basically live paycheck to paycheck. Anything that I addressed in the book, like the pressure to keep your horse running or you lose your stall—which is a big part of the theme of the book—that’s prevalent to every racetrack.”

The story itself took only six weeks to write, the inspiration coming from his own experiences working at several racetracks across the country, including Penn National and Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania. Brown tipped his hat to Fair Hill in the postscript, but based Missionville on other tracks where he was employed.

He did, however, include several items familiar to Cecil County. Missonville’s fictional bar “Jessup’s” features a shuffleboard table straight out of Wesley’s in Elkton, while the “Missionville Times,” the fictional local newspaper that prints three days a week, pays homage to the Cecil Whig.

Brown even based his main character, a trainer, off several close friends who’ve worked at Fair Hill.

“Pete’s character is basically based off two or three friends that I know. I won’t tell you exactly who they are, but they’ve all trained at Fair Hill. His character is based on my own experience, as well. I’ve trained one or two horses over the years at Fair Hill,” Brown said. “As his character evolves—I think Pete was sucked up in the racetrack way of life, had to make money and exploit it, [but] realizes that this is really no good, becomes a much better person and does some very good things. There’s some people that I know at Fair Hill that can relate to Pete and will hopefully read the book and say ‘yeah, there’s a piece of me in that character.’

“The idea of running a four horse stable, doing your own thing, is quite familiar territory to me, personally, as well as my own friends. And then he has to have a hot girlfriend.”

While “Missionville” marks Brown’s first attempt at a novel, it’s not his first published work. In 2011, he published “Greatness and goodness: Barbaro and his legacy,” a biography of the famous racehorse who won the Kentucky Derby, suffered injury at the Preakness Stakes and raised awareness about racehorse retirement and slaughter.

“If you look at the work I’ve done over the years, maybe since I had an epiphany through the Barabaro experience, it’s been how do we do better by the horse?” Brown said. “I wrote the Barabaro book and I think that does a good job addressing some issues. I also have a video series that faces the horse slaughter issue head on, and I think that was quite good. [Now], I’m trying to use fiction as a different medium to get some of the same messages across.”

“Missionville” excels in painting life at the modern racetrack, inviting readers to meet the men and women whose lives revolve around the sport. Characters range from the track and horse owners to the trainers, jockeys, backside workers and more.

“I wanted to show that not everybody in racing is either good or bad, and how their environment sort of dictates their behavior,” Brown said. “In the case of racing at Missionville, how the claiming system and the liberal use of drugs is maybe not so good for a horse, and the temptations that’s put in place for some of the characters. I don’t think they’re deliberately bad people. I think those that took bad action, some of them did it because that was their only option in the environment that Missionville presents.”

Brown currently resides in England, where he is semi-retired. During the construction of “Missionville,” the author averaged nearly 4,000 words a day. He called the process “intense,” but noted that it allowed him to truly enter the world of Missionville.

“Hopefully, people read the book and they see what reality truly is like at these racetracks,” he said. “Whether that means we should change our behavior a little bit or not [is the question, but], hopefully I’ve addressed the situation in such a fashion that people might say ‘perhaps that should be a good thing to change.’”

Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig

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