A Gift Guide for Horse Book Lovers

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!

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.

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.

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.


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.

Get Excited!

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:

1968: A Pivotal Moment in American Sports

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.

Never Say Die: A Kentucky Colt, the Epsom Derby, and the Rise of the Modern Thoroughbred Industry

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.

The Notorious John Morrissey: How a Bare-Knuckle Brawler Became a Congressman and Founded Saratoga Race Course

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.

The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America’s Premier Sporting Event

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.

Taking Shergar: Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case

Spectacular Bid: The Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century

Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown

One More!

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.

The Degenerates’ Gift-Giving Guide!

Pete Fornatale and Jonathon Kinchen have a brilliant podcast called the In the Money Podcast, where they talk about handicapping, racing previews, and more. I recently appeared on the show to talk about books, artwork, and other gift ideas for the horse racing person in your life. Here are the books that I recommended!

Continue reading “The Degenerates’ Gift-Giving Guide!”

Books of Note: Celebrate Travers 150 With THIS!

The 150th edition of the Travers Stakes, the Midsummer Derby for three-year-olds, will be run at Saratoga Race Course this Saturday. The Travers trophy has legendary origins of its own, as I discussed here, but 2019 features something new for racing fans: an epic book on the history of the Travers Stakes, written by Brien Bouyea and Michael Veitch.

Continue reading “Books of Note: Celebrate Travers 150 With THIS!”

Author Answers: Milt Toby

shergarbookThis weekend, both Milt Toby and I will be at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Milt will be there to talk about Taking Shergar, his book on the kidnapping of Shergar, 1981 Epsom Derby winner, and the mystery surrounding the horse’s ultimate fate. I can’t wait for the chance to talk to Milt in person about his latest book, which I profiled here earlier this month. To follow up my profile of Taking Shergar, here are Milt Toby’s Author Answers!

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Books of Note: Taking Shergar

shergarbookFor my final Books of Note prior to the publication of Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown, I wanted to spotlight Taking Shergar, the first book published under the Horses in History imprint from the University Press of Kentucky. Much like Jamie Nicholson’s book Never Say Die, Milt Toby tells the story that starts with a horse and ends with a story woven together from unexpected threads, a mystery that only a storyteller like Toby can truly tell.

I knew of Shergar as racing’s most famous cold case, a horse kidnapped for ransom and never recovered. However, like most mysteries, I discovered that this one has so much more to it than I thought.

Continue reading “Books of Note: Taking Shergar”

Author Answers: Jamie Nicholson

neversaydiebookMy Book of Note for March is Never Say Die by Jamie Nicholson, a book about the winner of the 1954 Epsom Derby. Never Say Die’s victory marked the swing in how the thoroughbred industry regarded American breeding versus that of their European counterparts. The story of Never Say Die’s Derby win weaves together disparate threads of a story, from the genesis of the Beatles to the controversial figure behind the Singer Manufacturing Company.

Author Jamie Nicholson was kind enough to answer some questions about the book and his family’s Jonabell Farm (now part of Darley America), where Never Say Die was bred. Here are Jamie’s Author Answers!

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Books of Note: Never Say Die

neversaydiebookIf you have read Seabiscuit or Man o’ War or any other book on a horse, you know that the races are the focal point and the narrative builds around what happens between them: the decisions, the challenges, and the interactions between horses and humans that color any career. Jamie Nicholson’s book Never Say Die takes its title from the 1954 Epsom Derby winner bred in the United States and raced in England, but the title belies the story beneath. Not only does the title refer to the horse in question, but also to the state of American racing and breeding within its global context. This is a horse book unlike any other I have read, weaving together the various threads of pedigrees and persons necessary to make American thoroughbreds the gold standard for racing globally.

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Author Answers: Phil Dandrea

shamRecently, I had the joy of reading and writing about Phil Dandrea’s book Sham: Great Was Second Best here on the blog. Sham had a great career of his own, winning races like the Santa Anita Derby, but happened to be born in the same year as the second-best horse of the 20th century. Now, let’s hear from the author himself and find out a little bit more about writing this book on the horse that pushed Secretariat during his 1973 Triple Crown run.

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Books of Note: Sham: Great Was Second Best

The 20th century had two Big Reds: Man o’ War and Secretariat, both horses so dominant that they topped the list of the century’s greatest horses at numbers one and two. Both red chestnuts captured the hearts and imaginations of the people who watched them. Both inspired writers and verse to encapsulate their equine greatness, with multiple books devoted to their stories. These Big Reds stood at the top, their brilliant performances their legacy to the sport of horse racing. Behind those thrilling moments, though, lie their catalysts, the horses who might have finished second but drove those Big Reds to bigger and better. Among those were horses like Sir Barton and Sham.

Continue reading “Books of Note: Sham: Great Was Second Best”