The 2013 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award competition has drawn the strongest slate of semi-finalists in its eight year history to date, an impressive assortment of well-penned histories, fiction, biography, and autobiographies—both human and equine. In the end, the underdog theme ruled the day in this cycle of uniquely award-worthy entries.
Launched in 2006 by the late Dr. Ryan, the award, worth $10,000 to the winner, was the industry’s first to honor full-length literary work focusing on racing. Dr. Ryan loved good writing as much as he loved a good Thoroughbred, and thus placed few parameters on his concept other than skill with the written word.
Three 2013 finalists will be revealed via press release on March 17 (see: http://www.castletonlyons.com/). The winner will be announced during an invitation-only reception at the Ryan family’s historic Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington on April 9.
Book Award Semifinalists:
Battleship: A Daring Heiress, A Teenage Jockey, and America’s Horse
Author: Dorothy Ours
A character-driven work based in the early decades of the 20th century.Battleship centers on enigmatic Marion DuPont of the famed chemical manufacturing family … her battles against the gender limitations of her time, her marriage to a Hollywood movie star, and most importantly, her undying love for horses—most specifically her faith in a pint-sized son of Man o’ War, who, in 1938, packed her colors to victory in the world’s most heart-testing race: England’s Grand National Steeplechase.
Casual Lies: A Triple Crown Adventure
Author: Shelley Lee Riley
The feel-good narrative of a woman trainer who sees potential in a small, nondescript bay colt and runs with it—literally—parlaying a meager $7,500 purchase price into $795,991 in career earnings. Under the name Casual Lies, the colt took Shelley Riley on the ride of a lifetime, winning in graded company and, more importantly, placing in both the 1992 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National’s Biggest Upset
Author: David Owen
Another with the Grand National as a backdrop, this one provides an account of the 1967 renewal, unimaginably upset by the 100-to-1 title character, Foinavon. Owen details how the winner and his companion, a white nanny goat named Susie, thereafter charmed the British masses as they traveled the country on a "victory tour,” while reminding one and all of the true meaning and glory of the Grand National itself.
Jack: From Grit to Glory
Author: Chris Kotulak
The story of a living American legend, told via anecdotal material, interviews of those who know him best, and through memories from the man himself. The down-to-earth Nebraskan is a Hall of Fame horseman and himself the son of a Hall of Fame trainer; and in the course of his nearly 60 years—and counting—on the track, Van Berg has remarkably developed both racehorses and other trainers of Hall of Fame caliber.
Other People’s Horses
Author: Natalie Keller Reinert
The only fiction entry among the finalists, this one brings back a pair of married trainers, Alex and Alexander, from 2012’s Head and Not the Heart. In this one, the husband is abroad on family business, leaving Alex at Saratoga running the stable, battling sexism, dealing with a naïve assistant, and falling hard for a crazy filly she thinks she can fix.
Ride the White Horse: A Checkered Jockey’s Story of Racing, Rage, and Redemption
Author: Eddie Donnally
Gut-wrenching autobiography of a jockey on a road straight to hell, replete with race-fixing schemes, batteries, and squandered dreams. Stalked by alcoholism, drug and sex-addiction, and mental illness, we follow Donnally’s life as it descends from nascent talent into hopelessness, homelessness, and total despair. Donnally’s gritty mea culpa of a life not well lived may be a tough read, but is ultimately, one of hope and redemption.