The Federal Anti-Corruption in Sports Agency (FACSA) doesn’t exist, as Felix Francis states on the first page of his new mystery, Triple Crown. But he makes a good case that there should be a federal agency in the U.S. to provide oversight for misdeeds in the world of sports, particularly in horse racing. For those who are not yet hooked on Francis’ novels, Triple Crown will pull you in. Francis takes us behind the scenes of the three races that a thoroughbred must win to earn that coveted title.
Tony Andretti, a former NYPD cop who is now FACSA’s deputy director, suspects there’s a mole in his organization. That person is tipping off owners and trainers about the timing of FACSA inspections. Oftentimes horses are moved to different stables or out of state to avoid drug testing. Andretti wants British racing investigator Jefferson Roosevelt Hinkley to come to the U.S. and find the mole. Hinkley’s forte is undercover work (he boasts about his cleverness with disguises) and he’s tired of sitting being a desk. Even the news that Andretti’s previous spy, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, met an untimely death, fails to discourage Hinkley. He accepts Andretti’s challenge.
When Hinkley arrives in Washington, he learns that the FACSA has more than 800 federal agents and employs more than 2,000 other people, a workforce that dwarfs the British Horseracing Authority. Hinkley’s cover story is that he’s on an exchange program for law enforcement agencies to observe how FACSA operates. Hinkley, a former intelligence officer for the British Army in Afghanistan, takes steps to preserve his real mission, including buying two burner phones that will be the only way he and Andretti communicate. Knowing that FACSA agents are armed with Glocks, and knowing that one of these agents might be the mole, certainly keeps Hinkley on guard.
Hinkley’s excitement about attending the Kentucky Derby soon turns to dread when a FACSA raid on one of the stables results in the shooting death of a trainer, Hayden Ryder. Since Ryder was one of the trainers suspected of paying the mole, his death makes Hinkley’s job that much harder. The second shoe drops when three Derby horses that might have challenged the favorite, Fire Point, are felled with equine influenza, “a much-feared disease in the racing world and for good reason.” Besides scratching the horses from the race, the illness reduces their value to shire future winners.
After Ryder’s death, Hinkley realizes that he must truly go undercover, working as a groom for Fire Point’s trainer, George Raworth. Hinkley’s job becomes even more difficult when he’s first threatened and then physically attacked by another groom. Francis keeps us guessing until the end about the mole’s identity.
Francis has successfully picked up the mantle from his father, Dick Francis, a jockey whose mysteries about the racing world were consistent bestsellers. Those who enjoy watching the Triple Crown races – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes – will find Felix Francis’ inside knowledge fascinating. He’s obviously done his research on this side of the pond, telling us how the races are run, the pecking order of the trainers and the horses, and exactly what’s at stake for nabbing that equine crown. We’re also left with some questions, troubling questions. Some of the drugs not permitted in Britain are allowed in the U.S., raising the question of whether there are some drug cheats out there. Perhaps Francis is right. We do need an agency like FACSA to weed out the cheaters who are fixing races and harming these beautiful animals.