on 02/27/2015 5:06 AM

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Book Award Semi-finalists

 Now in its ninth year, the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award again drew a broad assortment of well-penned entries, from scholarly histories and biographical works—both human and equine—to fast-paced novels, witty short stories, and vintage photo collections.

 The contest, which offers a $10,000 winner’s prize equal to that of the famed National Book Award, was the brainchild of the later Dr. Tony Ryan, founder of Ryanair airline and owner of Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington, Kentucky. Ryan’s twin passions were top flight horse racing and great literature. When he conceived the award in 2006, his intent was to honor the best full-length work published in the previous calendar year and written with a horse racing focus or backdrop. The list of winners has since included books and authors recognized on a national and even international level.

 Following are semi-finalists for the 2014 Award. Finalists will be announced March 17, with the winner revealed at an April 15 invitation-only cocktail reception in Castleton Lyons’ historic stallion barn—home today to triple Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti and exciting young stallion Justin Phillip.

 For further information, contact Betsy Hager at

 Canonero II: The Rags to Riches Story of the Kentucky Derby’s Most Improbable Winner

Author: Milton C. Toby

A previous Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award winner follows the improbable story of a $1,200 yearling’s epic climb to the very apex of his sport. Toby chronicles how a crooked legged colt emerged from Venezuelan obscurity in 1971 to take North American racing by storm, capturing hearts of racing fans worldwide with victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness—and along the way, proving emphatically that even the most unlikely of dreams can come true.


Everywhere Spirit

Author: Stephen Halstead

 Engaging novel tracing the late 1960s career of a troubled young reinsman named Jock Travers, this is a fast-paced adventure filled to the rafters with earthquakes, mobsters, and romance. The protagonist’s story is superimposed over that of his recurring "dream partner" and apparent alter-ego—a 19th century Native American named Strong Eagle—as the two embark on parallel journeys to overcome fear and their unhappy pasts.


Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel

Author: Maryjean Wall

By a two-time Pulitzer Prize-nominee, multiple Eclipse winner and a previous

Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award finalist , Madam Belle tells of Kentucky’s most famous "madam,” set against the backdrop of horse racing’s soaring 19th century rise in popularity. Belle Breezing, said to have inspired Gone With the Wind’s Belle Watling, rose from troubled girl on the streets of Lexington to sophisticated, hard-nosed businesswoman, running a thriving bawdy house in the heart of blue grass horse country. Her patrons numbered among the most powerful in the region—including plenty of racing men.


Northern Dancer: The Legendary Horse That Inspired a Nation

Author: Kevin Chong

 An in-depth study of Northern Dancer’s 1964 classic campaign when the famously undersized champ with outsized heart captured the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, only to fall just short of Triple Crown immortality. Chong focuses as well on the future leading sire’s flamboyant connections: Canadian industrialist owner, E. P. Taylor, debonair South American trainer Horatio Luro, and fiery tempered but supremely talented jockey, Bill Hartack.         


Offerings from a Rust Belt Jockey

Author: Andy Plattner

Flannery O’ Connor Award-winning author Andy Plattner, previously a Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award finalist with his clever 2008 coffee table history Kentucky Derby Vault, has returned with the fictional tale of a frustrated, small-time journeyman jockey named Carl Arvo. It is a short, but well-crafted novel about love, ambition, gambling, risk, and luck in the often unforgiving world of horse racing, alternately funny and poignant, and packed with powerful dialogue.


RaceLens: Vintage Thoroughbred Racing Images

Author: Philip Von Borries

 This artistic volume was compiled over two decades by an Eclipse Award winning historian. Utilizing the archival collection from Keeneland’s renowned library and featuring the work of legendary racing photographers of past to near-present, RaceLens showcases some of the sport’s most iconic images along with never-before-seen shots of old-time champs, early jockeys, and long-defunct racetracks. Photos are accompanied by well-articulated captioned text, with forward by past Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award winner Bill Mooney. 

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