All right, I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for books. I probably have more books in my library than I’ll ever be able to read in a lifetime and my pile of books on horses and horse racing is taller than I am. Books will always be among my favorite gifts to give and receive. If you are as fond of the written word as I am, this gift guide is for you!
The 2019 Tony Ryan Book Award
A couple of weeks ago, Castleton-Lyons and the Tony Ryan Book Award committee announced their winner for 2019. The three finalists for this year’s award included Justify: 111 Days to Triple Crown Glory by Lenny Shulman, The Triumph of Henry Cecil by Tony Rushmer, and Better Lucky Than Good from the Louisville Story Program. The winner for 2019 was Better Lucky Than Good, a collection of stories from those who make up the backside of Churchill Downs, the type of people and personalities we find at one of the nation’s most famous and historic racetracks. The book is a masterful portrait of real life, the nitty gritty of the sport we all love. I definitely recommend checking it out.
New Books for 2020
These books are new for 2020 and include a look at a jockey who broke through the glass ceiling, a gambling coup in the modern era, and an exploration of an unexpected mecca for vice. I’ve added all of these to my wish list!
Diane Crump: A Horse-Racing Pioneer’s Life in the Saddle by Mark Shrager. Shrager’s look at the career of one of America’s first female jockeys chronicles her journey from exercise rider to crusader, seeking the same respect for her skills on horseback that were granted to the men who had dominated the sport for centuries. It was Diane’s perseverence that made her the first woman to ride two winners in a day, to ride in the Kentucky Derby, and much, much more. She paved the way for women like Julie Krone, Rosie Napravnik, and more to build on her pioneering efforts and carve out successful careers of their own.
The Greatest Gambling Story Ever Told: A True Tale of Three Gamblers, The Kentucky Derby, and the Mexican Cartel by Mark Paul. Paul’s book tells the story of his seven-figure bet on America’s biggest race and the risks he and his partners took to collect their winnings. Read the story of the last filly to win the Kentucky Derby as Paul recounts the exciting turn of events that led him and his friends into dangerous territory. A mixture of the pageantry of America’s biggest race and an action movie, this story will have you asking when you can see this play out on the big screen.
The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice by David Hill. I heard about this book first on Steve Byk’s show, and the more I read about it, the more I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Visit Hot Springs, Arkansas to find how “gangsters, gamblers, and gamines” came together to create this forgotten capital of vice. Before Vegas was Vegas, there was the collision of genteel manners and sordid soirees in this most unexpected place.
I Got the Horse Right Here: Damon Runyon on Horse Racing edited by Jim Reisler. This collection of Runyon’s columns on horse racing offers more than decade’s worth of the iconic writer’s thoughts on the horses of his era. Covering 1922-1936, read Runyon’s observations on horses like Gallant Fox, Omaha, and more as he also profiles the human personalities of that moment, including E.R. Bradley, Harry Payne Whitney, and Colonel Matt Winn. This is an essential collection for any racing fan, especially those enchanted by the 20s and 30s.
The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse that Couldn’t. Zippy Chippy might be best known for his record of 100 starts with zero wins, but Artie Bennett and Dave Szalay remind us of the lessons inherent in the story of this “little horse that couldn’t:” a horse does not have to win on the track to win the hearts of the people around him. Share this story of this erstwhile racehorse with the kids in your life and show them how winning doesn’t always mean finishing first.
2020 was an interesting year to put out a new book. I hope you will check out these new titles and then follow their authors on social media.
This coming spring, the story of Zev versus Papyrus will grace the pages of the newest Horses in History title, Racing for America. Published by the University Press of Kentucky, Jamie Nicholson’s newest book will cover the people and horses that make the story of this first great international event in American racing. I cannot wait for this book to come out.
Before Racing for America comes out, pick up some of Jamie’s other titles, including:
Amidst the social turmoil of 1968 — protests, assassinations, unrest — came a year of memorable sporting moments. Nicholson weaves together events like the disqualification of the Kentucky Derby winner and war protests into the story of a year unlike any other. Explore how society and sports are irrevocably interwoven in our modern era.
In 1954, a Kentucky bred colt brought together a series of influential individuals from an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune to the Aga Khan and helped make music history in the process. Nicholson masterfully weaves the story of this Epsom Derby with the history of the Singer family and the influence of the Aga Kahn on thoroughbred racing worldwide.
How does a professional boxer become a politician and the founder of one of America’s premier racetracks? John Morrissey brought together forces that helped bring horse racing back to prominence as one of America’s favorite pastimes. Nicholson explores the life of this Irish immigrant and his rags-to-riches story in an era that set the stage for the modern sport of horse racing.
How did Meriwether Clark’s big idea become America’s greatest horse race? How did the Twin Spires come to join other essential American sites on the list of the country’s historic places?
Jamie’s work is well researched and deeply engrossing. Come for the horses and stay for all of the stories!
An Author to Check Out
In addition to exploring Jamie’s portfolio, I wanted to feature an author who has a long catalog of wonderful equine fiction and a fun social media presence. Natalie Keller Reinert wrote the award-winning The Hidden Horses of New York , a book that I have in my queue for this winter, as well as several series of books set in the world of eventing and more. If you enjoy all things equine, I recommend checking Natalie’s catalog of books out.
Natalie also has a neat Christmas freebie for you guys. Check out Claiming Christmas and warm up your holiday season with some warm and fuzzy stories.
Horses in History
The Horses in History imprint from the University Press of Kentucky features three of the 20th century’s most famous names and explores a couple of mysteries that linger in the sport today. What really happened to Epsom and Irish Derby winner Shergar? Was there really a safety pin lodged in Spectacular Bid’s hoof on Belmont Stakes day? Horses in History is also home to the story of how Sir Barton became the pioneer of one of America’s greatest and most elusive feats in racing.
Brien Bouyea and Michael Veitch published their chronicle of the rich history of the Travers Stakes in 2019. The Travers: 150 Years of Saratoga’s Greatest Race is a beautiful, full color exploration of the history of the Midsummer Derby, one of America’s most prestigious races, and includes rare photographs and more. Even better, from now until December 15th, the authors will donate $10 from each sale to Old Friends!
I have this gorgeous book and refer to it whenever I write about a Travers winner. This is a must for any horse racing fan’s library!
What books will you be adding to your wish list? Do you have some suggestions for this guide? Drop your suggestions in the comments, and, of course, let me know what books you find under the tree this year.