17 March 2009

Handicapping the Monograph Mile

With only days before the three finalists are named for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, the wagering is hot and heavy here at Turf Luck, where I'm betting two weeks of doing the laundry (down 4 flights of stairs!) that I've got the winner in this year's Monograph Mile. I've studied the conditions:

One of the richest book awards in the world, the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award honors the best books published about Thoroughbred racing. ...Nominees for the Book Award can be in any category: fiction, non-fiction, handicapping, training, children’s, health care, photography, etc., as long as it pertains to an aspect dealing with Thoroughbreds. Judges selected by Thoroughbred Times will critique books on content, plus design, layout, and artwork, when relevant, to select the 2008 winner. (Thoroughbred Times)
Now let's take a look at the field:

The favorites
A couple of big horses lead the entries:
  • My Guy Barbaro by Edgar Prado with John Eisenberg brings together a great jockey and a beloved racehorse -- there's no better combination in a two-turn race. Mix in the skills of John Eisenberg, author of The Great Match Race, Native Dancer, The Grey Ghost: Hero of a Golden Age and The Longest Shot: Lil E. Tee and the Kentucky Derby and Barbaro, in literature as in life, is once again the one to beat. As one commentor noted, this contender might not be in the same league as last year's winner, but My Guy Barbaro remains a strong entrant from the HarperCollins barn, nonetheless. For a peek into shedrow, you might check out Eisenberg's description of working with Prado at last year's New York Times blog, The Rail , and you can peek in the paddock by browsing inside the book over at the HarperCollins site. TL odds: 3-1.

  • The History and Art of 25 Travers by Vic Zast featuring the art and posters of Greg Montgomery is this year's coffee-table entry. A visually stunning book, with impeccable breeding: author Zast, whose writing graces Blood-Horse,HorseRaceInsider.com, and MSNBC.com brings deep knowledge and literary craftsmanship; Mongomery's "British Railway Art style" posters take you right to the best of Saratoga: the paddock, the starting gate, the rail, the stretch. It's the most expensive of those going to the gate, which is fitting since it's the kind of book the Sheik would own. And its homage to the long tradition of Saratoga's premier race shows it can go the distance. Really, this one has all the makings of a winner. But ... with 100 of its 144 pages devoted to graphics, is 25 Travers game enough? Judge for yourself with a look at Montgomery's Travers artwork and the book's website. TL odds: 5-2.
The juveniles
Two youthful runners go to the gate in this year's race:
  • The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby: The Story of Jimmy Winkfield by Crystal Hubbard captures the thrill of racing in this an accurate telling of the legendary jockey in language that's accessible to the mid-elementary school set. The illustrations by Robert McGuire are a tad muddy, but beguiling, especially when depicting quiet moments, such as Wink and his 1900 mount, Thrive, alone in front of Churchill's famous spires. The judges may appreciate the book's frankness when dealing with racism in the 1900s, as well as this entrant's ability to reach a new generation. TL odds: 10-1.

  • The tiny barn of Mitten Press sends out Twoey and the Goat by Robbie Timmons. Written for readers in grades 3-6, the book tells the story of Two Links Back, "Twoey," and his companion, a goat named Kidd. Though the facts of the story are true -- Two Links Back was an Illinois-bred who raced 59 times (8-10-4) before being rescued by CANTER -- Timmons has fictionalized the thoroughbred's tale with Twoey's thoughts as he learns to be a racehorse, is injured, and eventually finds a new home. All while accompanied by his dear friend, Kidd. More information about the story is available at CANTER, and you can watch this one warm up by checking out the excerpt at Mitten Press (pdf). TL odds: 10-1.
The sprinter
A solid runner tries to go the distance:
  • Beyond the Track: Retraining the Thoroughbred from Racehorse to Riding Horse by Anna Morgan Ford with Amber Heintzberger fulfills the promise of its title: explaining how to deal with leg injuries, hoof problems, aftereffects from steroid use, and gastric ulcers. It offers a step-by-step training program that she's honed in her work at New Vocations Racehorse Adoption. It does this all very, very well; it really is a wonderful guide. And I'm sure the judges will give consideration to the dearth of books on the topic of retired racehorses, but -- I'm thinking the track bias is towards something a tad more ... literary. Others more likely. TL odds: 15-1.
The shipper
It seems as if there's always at least one runner that is a total mystery to me. 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. This year's mystery entry:

  • The Untold Story of Joe Hernandez: The Voice of Santa Anita by Rudolph Valier Alvarado. From the apparently one-horse barn of Caballo Press of Ann Arbor comes this tale of a most fascinating racetracker: Joe Hernandez, long-time announcer at Santa Anita. Hernandez called a phenomenal 15,587 consecutive races at Santa Anita, from the day the track opened until 1972 when internal bleeding caused him to faint at the mic. Along the way, he was a trainer, auctioneer, bloodstock agent, and turf writer. All during a time when few Mexican-Americans enjoyed much success at all. It is a fascinating life. Meticulous research and competent writing give this one a chance to hit the wire. And -- it comes with a CD of Hernandez's actual calls! I have no idea of what to do with this equipment change. A visit to the paddock reveals that excerpts from both the text and the CD are available on the author's website. TL odds: 7-1.
The aging veteran
The old favorite we love to cheer, still in the running:
  • Silks by Dick Francis and Felix Francis. Francis has ridden more than forty mysteries featuring thoroughbreds and racetracks to the bestseller lists, and he is by far the most established author in this race. And still he keeps on writing, a deft hand on the pen, handily bringing home another winner. While I wasn't particularly fond of his entry last year, as I fond it to have "too much cooking, not enough racing", this year, he's brought us a fine tale of murder in the jockey's quarters and an amateur steeplechaser who sets out to find the murderer. The racing scenes are vivid, the plot is engrossing, and all in all, I expect this one to turn in a solid performance. TL odds: 6-1.
Though I have a suspicion that the track bias favors important non-fiction works for grown-ups, I believe this might be the year a novel finishes first. That cagey paperback rider, Dick Francis, has saved one of his best tales for late in his career, and at the age of 88, it's likely there won't be many more opportunities for racing to honor the contribution this jockey to the Queen has made to the sport. When racing fans talk about furlongs and irons with those who've never seen a track, and they seem to understand -- it's because of Dick Francis. He's the Kelso, the Evening Attire, of this field, and he's certainly proven he can go the distance and then some.

Beyond that, I think it's a toss-up, with contenders of such diverse strengths. I'm terribly fond of children's books, and by reaching the semi-finals, the two juvenile entries have shown that the stewards (judges Audrey Korotkin, Bill Mooney, and T.D. Thornton) are open to reading books geared to younger readers. Of the two, I'd give the edge to Twoey and the Goat for its answer to the question, "How does a horse become a race horse?" along with its focus on the current hot topic of horse rescue.

Likewise, I'm giving Edgar and his guy Barbaro the edge over the other biography going to the post. His genuine affection for the horse, his adept co-author, and the competency of the big-time stable seem more likely than the CD-equipped story of Joe Hernandez.

Turf Luck picks:
  • Silks by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
  • Twoey and the Goat by Robbie Timmons
  • My Guy Barbaro by Edgar Prado with John Eisenberg
Wish me luck on the trifecta!


Robbie said...

As the author of Twoey and the Goat I am honored that Twoey's story is among great books being considered for this prestigious award. Twoey still enjoys his favorite treat, carrots, at his thoroughbred retirement farm in Missouri. Proceeds from book sales help other horses like Twoey find a winners circle they never have to leave! Thanks for the honor! Robbie Timmons

Madeleine Pickens said...

Can you help us stop the mass murder and imprisonment of 33,000 wild horses and burros! The Wild Horse Foundation has a plan that offers a solution, but we need your help! Please stop this trail of carnage and public waste by contacting Ken Salazar at the Bureau of Land Management at the link below:


QQ said...

@Robbie - Don't thank me; I'm only the handicapper. Thank the fine folks at Thoroughbred Times and Castleton Lyons for presenting the award! That said, I think you should give yourself a pat on the back for your contribution to kids' lit! And thanks for stopping by!

@Madelaine Pickens - I am pretty impressed with your plan to save taxpayers money and save the lives of wild horses and burros. I'm not a whiz with financials, but it seems like a win-win to me. Readers can check out your site to learn more and decide for themselves. Thanks much for stopping by.