2015 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award semi-finalists announced

on 03/11/2016 5:38 AM

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There is a dominant theme in this, the tenth anniversary of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, with five of the six semi-finalists focusing on jockeys and backstretch workers.

This impressive group includes two novels, an artistic coffee table book, work from a noted folklorist, and a peek inside the mind of a jockey, written by leading Turf journalists. 

The Book Award was the 2006 brainchild of the late Dr. Tony Ryan, for whom it is now named. He launched the competition to recognize and honor full-length books written with a horse racing background and offered a $10,000 prize—equal to that of the famed National Book Award. Since Dr. Ryan’s passing in 2007, the contest has been continued annually by his son, Shane Ryan, President of Castleton Lyons, and winners have included some of the best writers both in and out of the thoroughbred industry.

The three 2015 finalists will be revealed via press release later this month, with the winner being announced during an April 13 invitation-only reception at the Ryan family’s Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington. For more information contact Betsy Hager at

Following are semi-finalists for the 2015 Award in alphabetical order:

A Brush With Greatness—The Art of Thoroughbred Racing from 2000 to  

Triple Crown

Artist/Author: Robert Clark and Edward L. Bowen

A collaboration between a noted equine artist and an award-winning writer, this small coffee-table style book was published on the heels of American Pharoah’s Triple Crown. It celebrates 79 of North America’s top racehorses of recent years, from Afleet Alex to Zenyatta. Clark’s artwork—dramatic action scenes—is featured on left-hand pages, accompanied by Bowen’s insightful story-telling on the right. 

If Wishes Were Horses

Author: John Perrotta

One of two novels among the semi-finalists, Wishes is an early 1970s story of 16-year-old runaway Hamilton Greer, who leaves home only to find a new family at the racetrack. Early on, "Ham” meets an elderly groom named Willie, who becomes both friend and mentor through an emotional jaunt that follows him through the peaks and valleys of the Sport of Kings. Ultimately, everyday racetrackers are the stars of this tale.

Ride to Win—An Inside Look at the Jockey’s Craft

Authors: Bob Fortus and Gary West.

An authoritative work on the craft of jockeyship, Ride to Win was penned to perfection by a pair of renowned turf writers. Together, Bob Fortus and Gary West examine the hows and whys of race riding, venturing inside a jockey’s mind before, during, and after a race, while also addressing issues like weight management, fitness, and how to keep owners and trainers happy. More than 50 riders were interviewed by longtime Times-Picayune turf writer Fortus and former Dallas Morning News journalist West—both award-winning scribes. 

Stable Views—Stories and Voices from the Thoroughbred Racetrack

Author: Ellen E. McHale

Author McHale, a noted New York-based folklorist and documentarian, takes a scholarly view of life behind the scenes at Thoroughbred racetracks. She traveled the country from New York to Florida to Kentucky, conducting numerous interviews with trainers, grooms, and exercise riders—the human heartbeat of any backstretch—on such topics as race and gender, love of sport, and the hardships of racetrack life.

Turning for Home

Author: Natalie Keller Reinert

This year’s second novel, Turning for Home touches upon a currently red-hot topic: re-training ex-racehorses. Author Reinert was a semi-finalist in 2014 with Other People’s Horses. In Turning for Home a Thoroughbred once schooled by protagonist Alex is found starving, and though she is faultless, Alex becomes a target of animal rights activists. The story follows her leave of absence from racing to re-school the horse for a new career … and to fight for her own reputation.

Warriors on Horseback—The Inside Story of the Professional Jockey

Author: John Carter

Another volume on jockeys, this one has a European point-of-view—although the tale is universal. Carter writes of riders past and present, celebrating such notables as Frankie Dettori, Bob Champion, and top female jock Hayley Turner. While the focus is largely on those who attained the heights, Warriors also explores day-to-day regimens while describing the struggles required to make it in the profession—the injuries, suspensions, constant travel, and often meager earnings. 

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