2016 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award
Eliza McGraw has won the 11th annual Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for her masterful equine biography “Here Comes Exterminator! The Longshot Horse, the Great War, and the Making of an American Hero.” McGraw, who has written for the New York Times and Washington Post, and who previously authored two acclaimed academic books, received a $10,000 winner’s check and Tipperary crystal trophy from Shane Ryan during an April 20 reception at Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington, Kentucky. Nearly a hundred aficionados of horse racing and good literature were on hand for the celebratory event, first hosted in 2006 by the late Dr. Tony Ryan.
In her award-winning work, McGraw chronicled the life of early 20th century champion Exterminator and the broader world in which he lived. It was the Cinderella story of an unlikely hero—an off-bred, unattractive gelding nicknamed “Old Bones” for his gaunt, leggy appearance, who burst from nowhere to win 50 races, including the 1918 Kentucky Derby. Much like Zenyatta and California Chrome a century later, Exterminator became a fan favorite, drawing enthusiastic crowds wherever he went, and even appearing in early film newsreels.
“McGraw is an elegant, accessible writer, and a thorough historian,” said lead judge Kay Coyte, former Washington Post-Bloomberg News Service managing editor and Eclipse Award-winning photographer. “Exterminator reads as smoothly as fiction and is a book that both racing fans and neophytes to the sport would enjoy.”
John Carter, last year’s Dr. Ryan honoree for “Warriors on Horseback,” noted that he was “hooked” from the start by the “highly skilled writing … that not only informed and educated, but warmed the heart.”
Judge Caton Bredar, also an award-winning writer and a broadcaster with TVG, called the winner “enchanting” and “clearly a labor of love.”
McGraw became the second female author to take top honors in this competition, following 2010 winner Jaimy Gordon, whose “Lord of Misrule” went on to win that year’s prestigious National Book Award.
Finalists for 2016 were: Barbara D. Livingston’s “Old and New Friends,” a beautifully-illustrated and -written coffee table volume by racing’s premier photographer; and Mark Shrager’s well-researched history “The Great Sweepstakes of 1877, A True Story of Southern Grit, Gilded Age Tycoons, and a Race That Galvanized the Nation.” Both authors received $1,000 checks along with crystal replicas of Castleton Lyons’ stone tower.
A near-record number of entries were submitted for 2016, what lead judge Coyte referred to as a “bumper crop of great racing books.” Despite some reports to the contrary, racing—at least on the literary front--appears to be very much alive in the 21st century.
Past winners of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award
2015- John Carter, “Warriors on Horseback: The Inside Story of the Professional Jockey”
2014 – Andy Plattner, “Offerings from a Rust Belt Jockey”
2013 – David Owen, “Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National's Biggest Upset”
2012 – Patrick Smithwick, “Flying Change: A Year of Racing and Family and Steeplechasing”
2011 – Milton Toby, “Dancer's Image: The Forgotten Story”
2010 – Jaimy Gordon, “Lord of Misrule”
2009 – James E. “Ted” Bassett & Bill Mooney, “Keeneland's Ted Bassett: My Life”
2008 – Rudy Alvarado, “The Untold Story of Joe Hernandez: The Voice of Santa Anita”
2007 – T.D. Thornton, “Not By a Long Shot: A Season at a Hard Luck Horse Track”
2006 – Joe Drape, “Black Maestro”
Here Comes Exterminator! The Longshot Horse, the Great War, and the Making of an American Hero
Author: Eliza McGraw
The remarkable story of one of racing’s most beloved celebrities, 1918 Kentucky Derby winner Exterminator. “Old Bones,” as he was fondly known, was all heart, with legs of iron, winning 50 races during a lengthy career—often under crushing weights unheard of today—while becoming a sporting hero of his age. The gangly gelding owned America’s collective heart from the closing months of World War I well into the Roaring Twenties.
Old and New Friends
Author: Barbara D. Livingston
The latest in photo-journalism by Thoroughbred racing’s premier photographer. In this edition, Livingston chronicles the lives of 100 retired racehorses, including fan favorites from A.P. Indy and American Pharoah to Xtra Heat. This handsome volume is filled cover-to-cover with lush color photography by a multi-Eclipse Award winner, as well as Livingston’s written first-person experiences with many of these extraordinary animals.
The Great Sweepstakes of 1877: A True Story of Southern Grit, Gilded Age Tycoons, and a Race That Galvanized the Nation
Author: Mark Shrager
America’s divisive post-Civil War era is brought vividly to life in this historic tale, culminating in an afternoon 140 years ago when even Congress adjourned to attend a horse race. It was truly an event for the ages, a North vs. South match-up between a trio of future Hall of Fame Thoroughbreds, with ramifications far exceeding that particular day, time, and place.
Old and New Friends – I found this to be a charming book with heart-warming subject matter. Barbara Livingston clearly has a deep-rooted emotional connection with the horses she has photographed and that comes across to readers through the images and also the personal accompanying words. The fact that this is the latest in a series confirms that there is a continuing appetite for this kind of equine nostalgia. Barbara has excelled in catching up with yesterday’s headline makers and celebrating their achievements and longevity.
The Great Sweepstakes of 1877 –Mark Shrager’s book impressed me in the way that it so comprehensively captured a fascinating time in American social history. His diligent and painstaking research, plus an ability to view the subject from so many different perspectives gave the book an academic gravitas, depth and context. Perhaps because of this it is best savoured slowly and a chunk at a time. Certainly there is a whole lot more to this book than one historic horse race.
Here Comes Exterminator – As a British reader I was less familiar with Exterminator’s exploits than some, but Eliza McGraw hooked me in with a highly skilled piece of writing that not only chronicled Exterminator’s career but added insights that embellished the legend. … The book not only informed and educated but warmed the heart. The book has been thoroughly researched so that other, broader aspects of this golden era of racing can form a backcloth to the central story.
Here Comes Exterminator: An enchanting look back at the life and adventures of the great race horse, Exterminator. Eliza McGraw funneled her passion and interest in a horse known primarily through a long ago children’s book and, through a lot of research that was clearly a labor of love, showed readers a whole new side of the horse known best as “Old Bones”.
The Great Sweepstakes of 1877: Mark Shrager provides an engaging and thoroughly researched look at the historic horse race held in Maryland that actually caused Congress to close up shop so some of the most important politicians could spend the day at the races. The author not only documents the race itself, but also the horses, horsemen and influencers who made it happen and the myriad ways it impacted the people and the times.
Old and New Friends: One of horse racing’s foremost photographers, Barbara Livingston, takes us up close and personal with some of her favorite equine subjects. Through her amazing pictures and concise, moving and very personal prose, Livingston lets us all join her on a magical ride through the sport of horse racing and introduces us to some amazing horses.
Overall: 2016 yielded a bumper crop of great racing books. We had outstanding candidates that placed a specific racing accomplishment – a longshot Derby win, a truly national three-way match, a genetic freak – into a snapshot of history; we had some outstanding fiction, including a beautifully written young-adult novel that didn’t even make the top six; books that tackled tough subjects such as the reclusive Bill Hartack and perennial loser Zippy Chippy; and gorgeous coffee table works of art and tech advances.
Here Comes Exterminator!, by Eliza McGraw
Like last year’s winning author, John Carter, Eliza McGraw in her preface bares a personal motivation to research the story of Exterminator, and the heartfelt link between a children’s book on the Kentucky Derby-winning darkhorse and her own champion, horses who shared a deep, dark, patient eye. For me, like many horse-loving girls of a certain age, “Old Bones” was beautifully illustrated underdog tale, a well-worn staple of our bookshelves. From that and any number of Derby history books, we thought we knew the story. But “Here Comes Exterminator!" fleshes out a story that we only grasped the basic bones of. McGraw is a thorough historian, studying not only the horse’s connections, but placing Exterminator’s significance in the context of world events. She deftly weaves into Exterminator’s story the little-known history of American war horses, the golden age of racing and the improbable role that upstate New York small-town Binghamton played in the lives of Exterminator and his flamboyant owner.
McGraw is an accessible and elegant writer; her book has details that would delight any stickler for accuracy, yet reads as smoothly as fiction.
It’s never easy to simplify the arcane language and complicated rules of the racing game for the average audience, but McGraw has written a book that both racing fans and neophytes to the sport would enjoy.
“Here Comes Exterminator!” also is nicely illustrated with racing photos, but also some sweet moments captured after his retirement. Its footnotes and resources are extensive and its index comprehensive.
The Great Sweepstakes of 1877, by Mark Shrager
… a well-researched, entertaining slice of history that put racing and its horse and human heroes of the era in perspective with the times during which their feats were achieved. The setup of Congress abandoning its duties to travel almost en masse to watch a horse race was a priceless hook. As was the unexpected twist of a disputed electoral college presidential victory that had almost caused a Civil War redux. If only history didn’t repeat itself …
Those events set up the context of the times, and Mark Shrager left that starting gate running. With great clarity and style, he wrote flesh and blood, detailed portraits of famous thoroughbreds Ten Broeck and Tom Ochiltree and lesser-known Parole, and their owners, trainers and riders. In particular, the owners’ stories stood out. The horseman Frank Harper was a study in the no-frills Kentucky hardboot, but his relationship with his African-American trainer (the hands-on Harper co-trained his horses) and jockey was a surprisingly complicated interracial relationship. The Lorillard brothers were fascinating in their fortune and misfortunes.
One joy of “Great Sweepstakes” is that almost every storyline took a detour, a delight as Shrager’s exhaustive research revealed each twist and turn. The unheralded longshot Parole wins the big race, then conquers the best in Britain, returns to the United States and eventually retires as the richest racehorse in history. The Lorillard brothers, born into wealth as tobacco barons, also saw tragedy. Parole’s owner, George, suffered from painful rheumatism and died relatively young. Two Lorillard women committed suicide. Pierre, owner of Tom Ochiltree, built the fabulous stable Rancocas, then willed it to woman other than his widow – scandalous.
Old and New Friends, by Barbara D. Livingston
Barbara Livingston is best known as a photographer, and has more than a few gorgeous coffee table books to attest to her talent. But “Old and New Friends” also is a testament to her writing ability. She captures the love of aged retiree, the equine perfection of a champion. Then there was the plain brown horse who was difficult to photograph because he simply wanted to be with his humans. And this passage: “… if ever a horse said, ‘You do not impress me’ – while being unfailingly polite – it was Unusual Heat.”
Livingston clearly loves horses, and more important, respects them, their personalities, quirks, inner and outer beauty. She may travel for hours to visit one horse, then wait more hours to get a perfect, ears-up shot. Each horse determines the final image. As for people, Livingston’s reporting skills draw just the right quote and keen observations from the horse’s owners, and grooms and farm staff who help her.
“Old and New Friends” is wonderful in that it also honors claimers along with champions, mares and stallions, paddock pals. Another group of photos warm your heart with the horse-human bonds they represent.