2020 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award Finalists Announced

on 04/22/2021 11:28 AM

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Three finalists have been selected for the 15th annual Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award from more than a dozen quality submissions published in 2020. These include two comprehensive biographies about barrier-breaking women and an engaging novel of hope and heartbreak.

“This was the year of debut authors, including the fiction finalist," said judge Kay Coyte, a former Washington Post and racing publications editor. “Part of the mission of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award is to encourage new writers to cover the sport he so loved. To have this many in 2020 would have delighted him."

The award, founded by the late Dr. Ryan in 2006, has annually honored the best in longform writing about a topic or tale related to horse racing. Its $10,000 winner’s prize remains among the largest in the literary world, matching that of the prestigious National Book Award. Following Dr. Ryan’s 2007 passing, this celebration of racing literature has been continued each year by his son, Shane, current president of the Ryan family’s Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington.

Past winners have represented a broad range of genres reflecting the breadth and width of this great sport—including fiction, short story collections, histories, and biographies. In addition to the $10,000 winner’s prize, two additional finalists receive checks for $1,000, while all three take home Tipperary crystal statuettes of the farm’s iconic stone tower.

Due to pandemic precautions, for the second straight year the winner’s announcement cannot follow the traditional format of an in-person reception at Castleton Lyons, but will instead be announced via Zoom conference—scheduled during the heart of America’s classic season, on May 10 at 5 p.m.

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Below are the three finalists for the 2020 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award honoring excellence in Thoroughbred racing literature (in alphabetical order):


Diane Crump, A Horse-Racing Pioneer’s Life in the Saddle, by Mark Shrager.

This exceptional biography follows the life path of Diane Crump from a horse-crazy child to the courageous young woman who forever altered the course of racing. Crump’s dream was to be a jockey at a time when that was not considered possible for a female. She fought back hard against discrimination while enduring boycotts, insults, and even threats of violence. In 1969 Crump became the first woman to ride in a pari-mutuel race in the U.S., the first to win a stakes, and the first to compete in the Kentucky Derby. Crump blew doors wide open for future generations of horse-loving girls to live their dreams at the racetrack.


Good Things Come, by Linda Shantz.

Mixing together optimism, heartbreak, and romance, a dash of rivalry, and a great deal of excitement, Good Things Come delivers all the goods in terms of top-notch fiction. Set in the world of Canadian racing, the story is that of an intense young woman, a troubled young man, and the quirky but talented filly that brought them together. This is the first book written by an accomplished equine artist and former backside worker who knows her subject well and tells it with a master’s hand.


Sylvia Rideoutt Bishop Had a Way With Horses, by Vicky Moon.

Sylvia Rideoutt Bishop is not a widely familiar name, but she was a true racing pioneer. She climbed a mountain of adversity growing up in the Jim Crow South, and later fought relentless battles against sexism and racism to become the first black woman in the United States to obtain a trainer’s license. Journalist Vicky Moon’s meticulously researched work tells the story of America while tracing the life of this most remarkable woman—from her blue-collar childhood in West Virginia, to her start as a racetrack groom during the Great Depression, to the saddling of her final winner at age 80.

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