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Backstretch Girls

by Dawn LeFevre

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Print ISBN: 978-1-54398-431-6 | 347 pages

eBook ISBN: 978-1-54398-432-3


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A rebellious ponygirl. 

A jockey tested by tragedy.

A rejected racehorse. 

A three million dollar race.

Teagan Sullivan is a golden disappointment in the show ring. To make matters worse, her family are big deal Olympic equestrians, so she skulks off to pony Thoroughbreds at a rundown racetrack. But while she excels at equine relations, she sucks at human ones—just ask her sexy blacksmith/sleepover buddy Screaming Wolf. And if she hadn't gone and rescued that stupid jockey wannabe Anne Simmons, she wouldn't be saddled with a new roommate, a broken down racehorse and a chance to prove herself to her family at last.

Born two months premature to an anorexic mother, Anne was a longshot just to survive. Now eighteen, she arrives on the backstretch with nothing but a duffel bag and Derby dreams. But the horsemen don't trust the naïve newcomer, so she's stuck ponying horses instead of riding races. She is still chasing their respect when a near-fatal accident shatters her body—and her spirit.

As Anne struggles to find the courage to ride again, Teagan wrestles with her feelings for Screaming Wolf. Horse racing's richest race, the Breeder's Cup Classic, offers them both a chance at redemption. Will Teagan and Anne conquer their fears in time to claim the things that they love most?

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Book Reviews

Diana Hurlburt - Readers Up

I was immediately enamored of LeFevre's heartfelt Jersey girls

Cape May Magazine - Spring 2020 issue

A thoroughly engrossing read

Author Sara Kjeldsen  rated it 5 Stars on Goodreads

Gripping read about the realities of horse racing

I thoroughly enjoyed this book about the realities of horse track racing life. I enjoyed reading about Anne, the brave protagonist who dreams of being a jockey. The relationship between Anne and her mother who struggles with anorexia is authentic and it really adds character to the story. The story also brings to life the dark side of racing and the dangers that surround it. I loved this book!

Ellison Hartley

This is a great story with very well developed characters, both horse and human! You should read it


5 Stars for Backstretch Girls

Reviewed by Christian Sia for Readers' Favorite

Backstretch Girls: A Novel by Dawn LeFevre is a wonderful novel for sports fans, especially horse racing. They meet in the most dramatic of ways: "Two seconds later, the horse blew past and Teagan caught a glimpse of the rider’s face. No one she knew, just a young pretty girl, probably some jockey wannabe who landed at the stable gate with nothing but a headful of Derby dreams." They are two girls with two different, distinct backgrounds and personalities, but sharing the same dream. While Teagan Sullivan comes from a big family of Olympic equestrians to whom she has been a huge disappointment in the show ring, she craves one thing now: redemption. When she first meets Anne Simmons, Anne is riding one of the fiercest and most unforgiving horses. Teagan is there to save her from a devastating moment. Anne finds herself ponying horses instead of riding races while Teagan must work herself up to redeem herself for her past failures. A moment does come for the two girls to face their deepest fears. Will horse racing’s richest race, the Breeder’s Cup Classic, be their chance at redemption or another moment of humiliation?

This is a stellar novel. Brilliantly written, the plot is ingenious. The characters are exceptional and I fell in love with Teagan and Anne from the very moment I met them. I wanted to see how they would evolve in the story. Teagan is an experienced rider and it is interesting how her relationship with her roommate develops. The prose is excellent and the vividness in the descriptions gives it a cinematic quality that makes it enjoyable. The action is intense and the scenes are emotionally charged. The tension builds up steadily until the decisive moment, culminating in an explosive climax. Backstretch Girls: A Novel has strong and well-developed characters, a gripping plot, and a conflict that drives the story forward in powerful ways. Dawn LeFevre is a master entertainer, a writer who keeps it very real.

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with Nick D'Agostino



Backstretch Girls is set at Atlantic City Racecourse in the 1980’s and tells the story of a friendship between a rebellious ponygirl named Teagan and Anne, a naïve jockey wannabe. Teagan is the black sheep in her Olympic equestrian family; Anne grew up in a trailer park and had to play stable slave to ride yet they bond over their love of horses. The novel chronicles Teagan’s quest for redemption and Anne’s journey to become a jockey and the wonderful horses they come to know along the way.

What makes BACKSTRETCH GIRLS different from other horse racing novels?

My book celebrates the people of the backstretch – the hotwalkers, grooms, exercise riders, ponypeople, etc. Most horse racing books romanticize the track, spinning tales of millionaires in fancy hats, immaculate stables, and perfect horses. BACKSTRETCH GIRLS is an authentic portrayal of the track life – the whacky hours, the flies, the mud, the danger, and the greed. Yet it accentuates the love that the backstretch workers have for their horses and their sport. It shares in the elation of watching your horse turn for home five lengths in front of the field.

Who inspired your love of horses?

My mother, Anne Bradshaw who passed away in 2018. She started taking me to the track at the age of eleven. For my high school graduation present, she took me to the stud farms of Kentucky and I got to meet Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. She was so proud when I got my trainer’s license and came to almost every race.

Who are your favorite racehorses?

I was too young to remember Secretariat but whenever I see his races, I can’t help but salute his brilliance. Seattle Slew is very special to me; my mom took me to “watch” his Belmont. Thank God for Jean Cruguet standing up and waving his stick; his arm was the only thing I was able to see and that’s how I knew he’d won. I also loved Affirmed but whenever he raced against Slew, I rooted for Slew. I’m a sucker for “underdog” horses like John Henry, Cigar, California Chrome, Lava Man, Wise Dan, Forego, etc. I love mares, especially when they beat the boys. I’m a huge fan of Zenyatta, Ruffian, Goldikova, Xtra Heat, Miesque, Lady’s Secret, Personal Ensign, Azeri, Rachel Alexandra, Davona Dale, etc.

All the racehorse names in my book are cobbled together from Thoroughbreds that I’d worked with during my years at the track. Lucky All Over honors two wonderful fillies – Plain All Over (a stakes winner voted champion New Jersey bred two year old filly in 1989) and Luckey Lipco (a game claimer known for her win streaks at AC) Haunting Melody is the only real name I kept, although she was a dark bay filly I owned back in 1999 and not a gray gelding like the horse in my novel.

What are your favorite racetracks?

Atlantic City Racecourse was where I first started out so it will always be special to me. Garden State Park was my winter palace and I enjoyed shipping into Delaware Park, they were always so friendly. As a racing spectator, Belmont and Saratoga are my favorites but I hope to someday check out the west coast tracks.

Will there be any more horse racing novels from you?

Definitely. I’m currently working on one now, this time it will be set at Garden State Park and tells a more intimate story – a woman dealing with the loss of her mother while training a stable of misfit racehorses.

with Natalie Keller Reinert, author of the Eventing and Show Barn Blues Book Series :

Dawn, thanks so much for joining me at my blog! You've just published a new horse racing novel, and we want to hear all about it. But first, tell us a little bit about your background. You've got some first-hand racing experience, right?


I worked at Atlantic City Racecourse every summer from the age of 16 until I graduated from Cook College.  After graduation, I became an assistant trainer for Walter Medio, aka, the King of AC and spent 13 years owning and training racehorses at AC, Garden State Park, Monmouth, Meadowlands, Delaware and Philly Park (now Parx).


Tell us a little about your new book and the inspiration for Backstretch Girls.


Backstretch Girls is about the friendship between a hardheaded ponygirl, Teagan, and Anne, a naïve jockey wannabe and is set in the late 1980’s at Atlantic City Racecourse. Teagan is the black sheep in her Olympic equestrian family; Anne grew up in a trailer park and had to play stable slave to ride yet they bond over their love of horses.

My inspiration for Backstretch Girls is all those wonderful Thoroughbreds I knew and loved. All the racehorse names in my book are cobbled together from real racehorses. Lucky All Over is a tribute to two wonderful fillies – Plain All Over (a stakes winner voted champion New Jersey bred two year old filly in 1989) and Luckey Lipco (a game claimer known for her win streaks at AC)

Haunting Melody is the only actual name I kept, although the real horse was a dark bay filly I owned back in 1999.


What's your writing process like? Did the idea for Backstretch Girls come slowly to you over the years, or all at once?


My writing “process” is just me scribbling incoherently in a notebook then trying to read my handwriting while I edit and type it up. First, I create my main characters and their backgrounds then figure out how I’m going to “ruin their lives”.

While Backstretch Girls is my first published novel, I’ve actually written two others prior to it, one of which was also set on the track. My goal with Backstretch Girls was to provide an unflinching look at the racing industry – the sexism, the unethical veterinary practices, and the owners who put profit ahead of their horse’s welfare. On the flip side, you have those unsung workers who will sacrifice everything for their horses, the grooms, hotwalkers, trainers, ponypeople, etc.


What's coming next for you? Are there more racing stories on the horizon?


I’m currently working on my next novel which will also be set in the racing world but is a more personal story - the main character trying to cope with the loss of her mother while training a ragtag stable of claimers.

My mother was the reason I fell in love with horse racing; we’d watch all the major races on TV together as well as the New York racing show every Saturday when I was growing up. For my high school graduation gift, she took me to Kentucky where we visited Claiborne and Spendthrift farm and I had the pleasure of meeting Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. My mother passed away suddenly in 2018 and it devastated me. I stopped writing for over a year. Finally, I decided that this book would be a tribute to her and Garden State Park.


I love to know what everyone's reading, so tell us about some of your favorite reads of 2019. What do we need to get on our reading lists ASAP?


The last horse racing book I read was Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure by Shelley Riley. I always wondered what had happened to her after the 1992 Triple Crown; she’d done an amazing job with this horse and yet, was never given another big horse to train. The book is a double love story – between Shelley and her husband, Jim and then between Shelley and Stanley, aka, Casual Lies. It’s a funny, sad, entertaining read and a must for any woman thinking about becoming a trainer. It saddens and angers me that still no woman trainer or jockey has won the Kentucky Derby and few even are even given the chance to compete.

I just finished reading When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer. I was originally drawn to it because of the ongoing debate of whether animals should be kept in zoos and circuses. Right now a lot of those same animal rights questions tackled by this book are being thrown at the horse racing industry. Activists are quick to cry “Ban it!” without realizing the repercussions, such as what are you going to do with all these animals after you shut down the circus or racetrack? I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the subplot regarding the main character’s struggle with mental illness was handled.

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