on 03/18/2014 6:54 AM

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All three finalists for the 2013 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award are tales of unexpected equine stars who grabbed racing’s headlines in their respective eras—with two being set against the dramatic backdrop of England’s Grand National Steeplechase, and two featuring strong, barrier-breaking women.

 As with the prestigious National Book Award, the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award annually offers a $10,000 winner’s prize, with $1,000 going to each of two finalists. It was launched in 2006 by the late Dr. Ryan to recognize high-quality full-length literary work that focused on all things thoroughbred. Since Dr. Ryan’s passing in 2007, the award has continued on in his memory under the guidance of his son, Shane.

 Judges for 2013 were: Kay Coyte, managing editor of the Washington Post-Bloomberg News Service; Caton Bredar, broadcaster and producer for HRTV; and Patrick Smithwick, winner of the 2012 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for his autobiographical Flying Change: A Year of Racing and Family and Steeplechasing.

 This year’s winner will be announced during an invitation-only reception at the Ryan family’s historic Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington on April 9.


Battleship: A Daring Heiress, A Teenage Jockey, and America’s Horse

Author: Dorothy Ours

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Battleship, the tale of a strong-willed, enigmatic woman and the tiny but well-bred stallion she believed in, takes us on a literary gallop from historic Montpelier in Virginia, to Aintree, England, to Randolph Scott’s Hollywood. Ours’ character-driven work, based in the first half of the 20th century, centers on Marion du Pont—a woman of wealth and privilege, who nonetheless had to battle the strict limitations placed on women of her time. A supreme horsewoman, she acquires little Battleship, in whose veins flows the fiery blood of Man o’ War, then points him for the world’s toughest race, England’s Grand National, where the fences are taller than the horse himself. She then pairs him up with an inexperienced 17-year-old jockey … and the rest, as they say, is history    

 Casual Lies: A Triple Crown Adventure

Author/Publisher: Shelley Lee Riley

A story of true inspiration, Casual Liesproves emphatically that lightning can, indeed, strike anywhere. Trainer and part-time newspaper journalist Shelley Riley guides us with joy and humor down her own life path from horse-obsessed girl to history-making woman—who in 1992 up-ended a male-dominated sport by becoming the first of her gender to saddle a starter in all three American Triple Crown races. The history-making horse who took her there was Casual Lies, an undersized $7,500 auction bargain, whose outsized heart and extraordinary character was slowly revealed under Riley’s patient, loving care. This feel-good narrative may not be a fairytale in the truest sense of the word … but it’s close enough.

 Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National’s Biggest Upset

Author: David Owen

Publisher: Wisden Sports Writing

On April 7, 1967, the author witnessed this greatest of Grand National upsets on black-and-white television, as a seven-year-old boy from his home in Taunton, England. Now a retired sports editor for the London-based Financial Times, David Owen never forgot the chaos and wreckage … the almost slow-motion victory of a hopeless 100-to-1 shot that ignited within him a life-long passion for the world’s most demanding—and dangerous—horse race. In Foinavon, he pens a detailed account of the underdog winner that day 47 years ago, tracing the protagonist’s life from its beginnings, through his post-victory travels with a white nanny-goat companion, and ultimately defines what he came to mean to the sport he represented so sensationally. 

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