on 09/09/2020 9:59 AM

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Three wonderful but very different books have been selected by a panel of industry judges as finalists for the 14th annual Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, honoring titles published in 2019. These include a unique collaboration of stories told by members of the racing community; an insider’s look at the career of America’s most recent Triple Crown winner; and the roller-coaster life story of a legendary European trainer.

The finalists are: "Better Lucky Than Good: Tall Tales and Straight Talk from the Backside of the Track," by various authors, from Louisville Story Program, edited by Joe Manning; "Justify: 111 Days to Triple Crown Glory," by Lenny Shulman, and "The Triumph of Henry Cecil: The Authorised Biography," by Tony Rushmer.

These three exceptional books were selected from 15 high quality submissions and were evaluated based on “clarity and elegance” of writing, ability to entertain, and as always, with regard to what the late Dr. Ryan himself might have liked.

In a normal year, the Book Award process would have culminated this past April with a ceremony in the historic stallion barn at the Ryan family’s Castleton Lyons, near Lexington, Ky. But this is not a normal year. From necessity, the Award timeline was altered and ultimately delayed in hopes that the global Covid-19 pandemic would ease, thus making an in-person winner’s reception possible later in the year. That scenario looks increasingly doubtful. As of mid-August, plans for how to reveal and celebrate the winner remain in limbo. But whether done in person, in a Zoom-type setting, or by other means, announcement of the winner will likely be made sometime in November.

The Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award was established by the noted businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist in 2006 to honor the best books published in a given year on the subject of horse racing. Dr. Ryan attached to it a $10,000 winner’s prize, making it one of the world’s most lucrative literary awards. Winners have since included beautifully penned fictional novels and short story collections; well-researched biographies, both human and equine; in-depth sporting histories; and even a National Book Award recipient.

Stay tuned for further announcements. For additional information, contact Betsy Hager at


Below are brief synopses of the three 2020 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award finalists, presented in alphabetical order by title.


Better Lucky Than Good: Tall Tales and Straight Talk from the Backside of the Track, by Louisville Story Program


A collaboration between the Louisville Story Program and members of the racing community, Better Lucky Than Good focuses on the citizens of Churchill Downs. LSP, founded in 2013 to tell previously unheard stories and oral histories, pulled together 32 self-told tales from often unseen and/or overlooked backstretch personnel—the all-important supporting cast that brings any racetrack to life. This unique soft-cover collection includes stories from a clocker, a security guard, a silks maker, a gap attendant, and a hotwalker, among many others, providing a seldom seen inside perspective of our sport.



Justify: 111 Days to Triple Crown Glory, by Lenny Shulman


Penned by a respected turf writer with a behind-the-scenes view, Justify chronicles in detail the meteoric rise of American racing’s 13th and most recent Triple Crown hero, while also telling the stories of those who made him who he was—breeders John and Tanya Gunther, trainer Bob Baffert, and jockey Mike Smith. The Blood-Horse’s Lenny Schulman had extensive inside access as he followed the story of the big red colt from early days to glory, and the result is masterful.



The Triumph of Henry Cecil, The Authorised Biography by Tony Rushmer


Sports journalist Tony Rushmer has penned a splendid biography of his friend, legendary British trainer Henry Cecil. Rushmer, who had years of personal access, focuses largely on the latter part of Cecil’s storied life including good times and bad. The ten-time champion English trainer saddled 25 British classic winners and won important races all over the globe, but when diagnosed with cancer in 2006 he was written off by many as finished. Instead, in 2010-2011 Cecil unveiled the crowning achievement of his career in brilliant, unbeatable Frankel. This is the story of a life … of tragedy and scandals, honors and triumphs, and of a remarkable comeback by one of racing’s rare talents.   

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