16 March 2008

On the trail of the 2007 Castleton Lyons-Thoroughbred Times Book Award

At last -- spring! OK, it's still cold and blustery here in the 'Burgh, but nonetheless, here at the Castle, we're awakening from our long winter's nap to pay some attention to our virtual stables. While my sentimental choices have led to many a week in the cellar of the TBA's League in the Road to the Roses contest, they're faring a tad better in the Take Ten! intramural contest being tracked at Brooklyn Backstretch.

Still, I'm optimistic about my virtual stable for the Monograph Mile, otherwise known as the 2007 Castleton Lyons-Thoroughbred Times Book Award. Nominations closed Dec 31, and I expect the semi-finalists to be named any day now, with the prize to be awarded in April.

So, here's who I see going to the gate for the 2nd running of the Monograph Mile, along with the Turf Luck odds:

The favorites:
These are those runners from the big stables who are almost certain to make it to the semi-finalists list:

  • Sean Clancy's Barbaro: The Horse That Captured America's Heart looks to be a sentimental favorite, and if the Friends of Barbaro had accounts at Turf Luck Wagering, Inc., the book would go off at something like 1-20. I'm a true fan of Clancy's writing, and the many photographs complement the text quite well. Since judges will consider "content, plus design, layout, and artwork, when relevant," the pics should be of great help down to the stretch. (Judge for yourself; an excerpt is still up on Blood-Horse's Exclusively Equine site.) TL odds: 2-1.

  • The tale of another beloved champion -- Ruffian: A Racetrack Romance by Bill Nack -- is a formidable contender. While there was a bit of a fuss when ABC aired its Ruffian movie last June, questioning the accuracy of Nack's depiction of certain events -- no one questioned his sumptuous descriptions of the fleet-footed filly. While it's possible that there may be too much Nack, too little Ruffian, for some readers, Nack understands the emotions of the railbird. (You can see what I mean in the excerpt posted at ESPN.) There are no illustrations in the book, but with the experienced Nack in the saddle, I can't see this one going off at more than 3-1.

  • More Old Friends: A Visit with My Favorite Thoroughbreds by Barbara Livingston pays homage to retirees -- some obscure, some not but all beloved. While the essays about each of the "Old Friends" are fine, it is undoubtedly the gorgeous photographs that make the book. Though I believe the Award was designed to focus on text, the artwork here is definitely "relevant" and might give this one the edge in the judging. You can take a peek at some of Livingston's work on her website, though this book isn't mentioned there yet.) TL odds: 4-1.
Possible upsets
I'm rather fond of these titles, and I think the betting bibliophile might find a value wager here:
  • Not by a Longshot by T.D. Thornton. This look at a season at Suffolk Downs resonated deeply with this small track patron. Though this is Thornton's first book, it's a good one, highlighting much of what's wonderful about the sport, yet never shying away from the shadier side of racing. I suspect his job in Suffolk's pr department was often a thankless one, but he's turned those memories into an engaging, thoughtful look at our sport. (You might glean more from Thornton's "Talking Horses" interview on Blood-Horse .) TL odds: 6-1.

  • Kelso: The Horse of Gold by newcomer Linda Kennedy is a tad uneven, but the subject is mythical: Kelso, horse of the year at three, four, five, six, and seven! Five Jockey Club Gold Cups! Winner of 24 major stakes! Truly the stuff of legend to someone like myself, who's followed racing for little more than two years. The book is extensively researched (more than 25 pages of notes), and Kennedy's description of races from the 1960's are superb -- she gets points in my book for depictions so clear and lively that I sometimes felt as if I'd actually seen the races she recounts. TL odds: 8-1.
Strictly sprinters:
Some fine books here, but it's unlikely they'll be able to hang with the favorites around the far turn:
  • Masters of the Turf: Ten Trainers Who Dominated Horse Racing's Golden Age is an enjoyable read, but I'm not sure this one can go the classic distances, even though the subject matter covers some pretty classic trainers: Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Max Hirsch, Hirsch Jacobs, John Madden, Ben & Jimmy Jones, James Rowe Sr., Sam Hildreth, Guy Bedwell, Derby Dick Thompson, and Preston Burch. While Bowen might jockey this one to finish in the money, I just don't see it winning the prize. TL odds: 9-1.

  • The Greatest Kentucky Derby Upsets authored by a stable of Blood-Horse writers, looks at ten upsets, including my favorite, Canonero II. It's perfect reading for this time of year -- as we dream of cashing that Derby futures ticket on Giant Moon. While it's a well-crafted, well-bred book, I think this one's a little light on the literary merit side of things. TL odds: 9-1.

  • May the Horse Be With You, a memoir from Saratoga fixture, Harvey Pack, is full of great tales of the track from a true horseplayer's vantage point. A quick and fun read , but ultimately, not built for the long haul. TL odds: 15-1.

  • Merryland: Two Years in the Life of a Racing Stable by Josh Pons. The author of Country Life Diary and a former reporter/columnist for Blood-Horse, Pons uses his diary entries to launch reflections on breeding, training and suburban sprawl -- all pertinent this year as Maryland considers adding slots. TL odds: 13-1.
Shippers from other lands
I'm at a loss on these possible runners. It's much like trying to decode a major turf race with all those foreign entrants and nothing to go on but a finish and those darn Racing Post/Timeform speed figures.
  • The Art of Losing by Keith Dixon comes from the strange land of fiction. Fast-paced, gritty tale of a film maker who gets in too deep while trying to score a big hit at the track. 30-1.

  • Dead Heat by Dick Francis and Felix Francis. Another fiction entry, this one from the King of Horse Racing Mystery and his son. Too much cooking, too little racing to fare well in this race. TL odds: 40-1.

  • The Gambler and the Bug Boy: 1939 Los Angeles and the Untold Story of a Horse Racing Fix by John Christagu. Here the foreign land is that of the academic press, as the publisher is the University of Nebraska Press. From the title we can tell it's about scandal in the 1930's, and Publisher's Weekly says, "Though inconsistent, history-minded handicappers will find much to appreciate." Still, I'm betting that the topic is not one the judges want to focus on. TL odds: 25-1.

  • Horse People: Thoroughbred Culture in Lexington and Newmarket by Rebecca Louise Cassidy. Another contender from an academic publisher, this time Johns Hopkins University Press. Perhaps that explains why it's the most expensive title ($50) on this list. It sounds pretty fascinating: "This engaging original study demystifies this complex world by comparing centers of excellence in Britain and North America. Drawing from intensive field work in Suffolk's Newmarket and Kentucky's Lexington, Rebecca Cassidy gives us the inside track on all players in the industry -- from the elite breeders and owners to the stable boys, racetrack workers, and veterinarians. She leads us through horse farms, breeding barns, and yearling sales; explains rigorous training regimens; and brings us trackside on race day.... Cassidy reveals the ethical, cultural, political and economic factors that have shaped racing tradition." All that in 224 pages! Sounds like something that might appeal to the judges. TL odds: 18-1.

  • Saratoga Stories: Gangsters, Gamblers, and Racing Legends by Jon Bartels. Though I'm notoriously bad with maidens, after my "summer of Saratoga" reading for Alan's Racing Saratoga 2006 blog, I think I could handicap this first book pretty well -- but since then, I've haven't been able to pick up a book with "Saratoga" in the title. Maybe I'll get around to it in August when the TBA's New York contingent start regaling us with their Saratoga stories. At any rate, considering the competition, I'd be surprised to see a win first time out of the gate for Bartels. TL odds: 25-1.

  • Ouija Board by Lord Edward Stanley Derby. British publisher Highdown brings us this portrait of the fabulous racemare told by her exuberant owner. Can Lord Derby write? I wish I knew. All I know is that I miss Ouija Board. TL odds: 15-1.

  • Dubai Millennium by Rachel Pagones. Another entry from Highdown, this portrait of the 2000 World Cup winner looks pretty interesting. And heaven knows we could use a decent book about Sheikh Mohammed. Apparently Pagones is bloodstock editor for the Racing Post, so this might prove to be the one. Still, it's hard to judge how this might appeal to the judges. TL odds: 18-1.

  • Memoirs of a Longshot by Cot Campbell. Here at Turf Luck, we tend to pass by the self-published titles, as we struggle to find a way to cope with so many books and so little time. So it's likely I'll not get to this title anytime soon. However, this autobiography from Dogwood Stable's president has possibly the only book review ever by Todd Pletcher on its Amazon record, and thus, gets a mention. TL odds: 50-1.
Turf Luck picks:
I'm putting $2 on this trifecta:
  • Ruffian: A Racetrack Romance - Bill Nack
  • Not by a Longshot - T.D. Thornton
  • Kelso: Horse of Gold - Linda Kennedy
No matter who makes it to the post in the Castleton-Lyons Thoroughbred Times Book Award, I think it's safe to say that 2007 was a pretty good year for race track reading.


Teresa said...

This post saves me the trouble of making a list of racing books to buy...I need only check here to get recommendations.

I am currently finishing May the Horse Be With You, which I wish I liked more than I do.

And feel no guilt at giving the Bartels book a pass; it's not worth it.