on 06/30/2022 2:18 PM

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2021 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award Finalists


The Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award competition has been held for the 16th time to honor the best of long-format race writing. Three finalists were selected by a panel of judges from nearly two-dozen submissions published during 2021. It was a year in which top-tier entries were dominated by fiction, with two finalists falling into that category—both lively tales featuring strong female protagonists. The third finalist is an inspirational true story of a one-eyed champion’s trek to the apex of his sport.

The Award was launched back in 2006 by Dr. Tony Ryan, a world-renowned businessman and philanthropist with a passion for good horse racing and great writing. It was won that first spring by two-time Eclipse and Associated Press Award winner Joe Drape for Black Maestro, a biography of early twentieth century African-American jockey Jimmy Winkfield. In the years that followed, winners and finalists would include an eclectic assortment of histories, biographies, autobiographies, anthologies, investigative reporting, and works of fiction—one of which was honored as well with the prestigious National Book Award. All had two things in common: superb writing and riveting plotlines. This year was no different.

Dr. Ryan passed away in 2007, after which his son Shane carried on the competition in his name. The 2021 winner will receive a $10,000 check—among the most lucrative prizes in all of publishing—while each runner-up receives $1,000. All three finalists will be awarded a crystal trophy constructed in the form of the iconic stone tower at the Ryan family’s Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington.

Because of Covid, the two most recent winners were announced via Zoom teleconference. The winner will be announced on November 3rd at a by-invitation winner’s cocktail reception to be held at the Ryan family’s Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington.

For additional information, contact Betsy Hager at

Following are the finalists for the 2021 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, listed alphabetically by title.

Death by Equine, by Annette Dashofy

This fictional mystery is about a young racetrack veterinarian named Jessie Cameron who fills in for her vacationing mentor, only to be faced with his sudden and startling death. On the surface, it appears a tragic accident—that he met his end when struck down by a horse he’d been treating--but Cameron believes otherwise. She launches her own investigation and long the way, uncovers an assortment of illicit activities, suspicious characters, and deceitful friends, until ultimately finding herself the target of a killer.

Racetrack Rogues, One Woman’s Story of Family, Love, and Loss in the Horse Racing World, by Dawn LeFevre

Another work of fiction, Racetrack Rogues is a story of loss, love, and redemption. The protagonist is Dahlia Leggett, a young woman whose estranged mother had spearheaded the female jockey movement of the 1960s. Following her mother’s untimely death, Dahlia renews her own passion for racing with help from her grandparents, a rag-tag stable of quirky horses, a bulimic jockey, and the handsome son of a rival trainer. Sparks fly and mystery ensues. 

Run With a Mighty Heart, by Jennifer Morrison

This is the true comeback tale of a modestly-bred, one-eyed champion and an owner recovering from life-shattering loss. In September 2020, a year stunned by Covid-19, Mighty Heart was just a maiden winner when he lined up for Canada’s classic Queen’s Plate. The aptly-named colt, who had lost his left eye due to injury as a foal, carried the dreams of owner Larry Cordes to a smashing 7 12-length victory that day, giving hope to a world in dark times that fairytales can, indeed, come true.

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