Veteran turf writer Mark Shrager has won the 15th Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, presented by Castleton Lyons, for Diane Crump, A Horse-Racing Pioneer’s Life in the Saddle. The winner was announced on May 10 via Zoom conference for the second straight year due to pandemic concerns. Previously, the by-invitation winner’s reception had been held on-site at the Ryan family’s Lexington-based farm, and hopes are that it will return to that venue in the future.
Shrager, a previous Book Award finalist for The Great Sweepstakes of 1877, took top honors for his beautifully written and comprehensively researched biography of one of racing’s great trail blazers. During the late 1960s, Diane Crump represented the face of hope for aspiring young women in the Sport of Kings. Though diminutive in size, she boldly blew open doors and shattered glass ceilings while defying threats, jeers, and boycotts to achieve her goal of becoming a professional jockey. Along the way, she would be the first of her gender to ride in a sanctioned North American pari-mutuel race, the first to compete in the Kentucky Derby, and the first to win a stakes event. Hers was a story long overdue to be told, and Shrager did it with a master’s touch.
“The author chronicles Diane's historic firsts,” noted judge Kay Coyte, “including her 1970 Kentucky Derby ride, with a wonderful chapter on her brother listening to the radio broadcast from Vietnam. Shrager also mines biographical gold in the all-but-unknown aspects of Diane's life: her mother's special ‘gift,’ her daughter's unique perspective and service to others, particularly with therapy dogs, during her post-racing career. It's a beautiful telling of a remarkable life."
Shrager, a native of Southern California, caught the racing bug in his teens at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar. The UCLA graduate went on to a long career in education finance with the Los Angeles Unified School District, but never lost his love for racing and the fascinating stories the sport routinely produces. For nearly 50 years Shrager has written freelance for various trade publications including Turf and Sport Digest and American Turf Monthly, and his story, 1,000 Surefire Ways to Lose a Horse Race, was published in a 1974 Best Sports Stories anthology.
As winner of the 2020 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, Shrager will receive a check for $10,000, along with a Tipperary crystal replica of Castleton Lyons’ iconic stone tower.
Other finalists were: Linda Shantz for her novel Good Things Come, and Vicky Moon for the biography Sylvia Rideoutt Bishop Had a Way With Horses, both of whom will receive $1,000 and a crystal trophy.
The winner and finalists were selected from more than a dozen submissions published in 2020, representing a broad range of style and genre.
"In addition to many books by debut authors,” said Coyte, “this year's class had an international flavor, with literary trips around the globe—from Linda Shantz's Canada, to racing in World War II-era Shanghai, to a 1988 Mexican gambling coup, to a globetrotting mystery novel."
Fellow judge Caton Bredar also noted that “In the midst of a global pandemic, it was heartening to find the quality of writing unwavering. And on a personal note, I appreciated the fact so many of the authors and/or main characters were female.”
The competition was launched in 2006 by the late Dr. Tony Ryan, to recognize the best book-length writing with horse racing as a backdrop. Past winners have included a National Book Award recipient and several Eclipse Award-winning writers. Since Dr. Ryan’s passing in 2007, his son Shane has carried on the award to honor his memory.
The recorded Zoom ceremony will be available later this spring on the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award channel on YouTube:
Submissions for the next Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award must be received no later than December 31, 2021, and all must have been published during the current calendar year.
Additional information is available at , or by contacting Betsy Hager at .