The Big Racing Read: Ten masterpieces that represent the pinnacle of Turf literature; In the last of a three-part series, John Randall, the Racing Post's resident Anorak, concludes the countdown of the best racing books ever written.
1Favourite Racehorses Phil Bull, Arthur Shaw and others (1997) Timeform annuals have set a benchmark of excellence for all racing books since 1947, becoming the definitive record of the racing year and the most authoritative source of reference for subsequent historians, and this lavishly produced anthology of essays from Racehorses and Chasers & Hurdlers is a fascinating, erudite and entertaining record of half a century of racing.
The essays have stood the test of time, and the roll-call of horses they celebrate includes not just Tudor Minstrel, Ribot, Sea-Bird, Arkle (from the 1960s publication The Racing Week), Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Red Rum, Night Nurse, Shergar, Dancing Brave, Desert Orchid and other legends, but also handicappers like Durante and Raffingora, prolific scorers such as Soba and P rovideo, and brilliant rogues, notably Nasrullah and his son Zucchero.
The essay by Phil Bull on the brilliant but exasperating Nasrullah displays his trademark pungent prose and, like some others here, it was written before he founded Timeform, being taken from one of the Best Horses annuals that he published between 1942 and 1947. Apart from Bull's name in the early days, the Timeform essays have never carried a byline, but Arthur Shaw, Geoff Greetham, David Newton, Derek Adams, Jeremy Early and many of his other employees are unsung heroes whose work appears here.
This cornucopia's intellectual content and its glossy production, with photographs on almost every one of its 368 large pages, give coffee-table books a good name. On Desert Island Discs, any discerning racing person would choose a set of Timeform annuals to accompany them to their tropical retreat. Annuals are ineligible for this list but Favourite Racehorses is a magnificent substitute for the series of books that represent the pinnacle of Turf literature. JR
2The Post and the Paddock Henry Hall Dixon (1856) There is all too little in the vast store of works on racing that may be classed as literature. Henry Hall Dixon, 'The Druid', was the first truly literary writer on the sport, and he set a standard that arguably has never been matched since. That is not to say that heisan easy read for the casual 21st-century reader; he was of his time and wrote for those of his time. Considerable knowledge of the world of racing in and before his era is necessary for a thorough appreciation of his work, which is highly allusive in regard to both horses and personalities, but his immaculate prose style can only be admired. As a devotee of hunting as well as of racing, Dixon endeavoured to satisfy enthusiasts of both in three of his books; all are superb examples of his craft, and this one ranks higher than Silk
andScarlet (No. 21) and Scott and Sebright (No. 22) for no other reason than that the racing content is greater. TM
3Men and Horses I Have Known
George Lambton (1924) The sport's best and most famous autobiography is more than 80 years old but still comes up sparkling. Lambton, an aristocrat and leading amateur rider, becamea great trainer who won 12 Classics, and his 40-year partnership (1894-1933) with owner-breeders the 16th and 17th Earls of Derby was perhaps the most significant in racing history. 'The Honourable George' writes about his champions, including Swynford and Diadem, and how hepersuaded the Jockey Club toban doping in 1903, but his book is a history more than an autobiography, as he concentrates on other men and their horses.
Hebrings to life legends like Fred Archer, Ormonde, Tod Sloan and P retty Polly, and his anecdotal style is so illuminating that this is the best record we have of that era. The book repays re-reading, and it is a great pity that he never updated it to include the glory days of Hyperion. JR
4Notable English and Irish Thoroughbreds
Tony Morris and others (1983) This monumental feat of scholarship is a heavyweight work intellectually, aesthetically and physically, tipping the scales at a massive 16lb. In the first section Tony Morris discusses in detail the 340 stallions and broodmares who have contributed most to the development of the Thoroughbred since the Byerley Turk in the 17th century. The second part, written by Morris and six other historians, consists of lengthy essays on the 50 greatest racehorses ever trained in Britain or Ireland, from Eclipse to Shergar, with subsidiary articles on the 37 champions who rank just below them. The leather-bound book is produced so sumptuously, on luxury A3-sized paper with colour portraits and a presentation case, that it is a work of art as well as a definitive and hugely impressive reference work. This is the great unknown of Turf literature, as it was so expensive (pounds 350 in 1983) that very few were able to enjoy this academic treat.
5Bull: The Biography
Howard Wright (1995) A biography has a head start whenits subject is racing's most fascinating and influential character in living memory. Phil Bull, polymath and founder of Timeform in 1948, was a mathematician, schoolmaster, writer, businessman, owner, breeder, bloodstock adviser, sponsor, educator, punters' champion, outspoken critic of theracing establishment and campaigner for many reforms, and this book does full justice to the Yorkshire miner's son who became a multi-millionaire publisher and punter. It consists mainly of lengthy quotations from Bull's ownwritings, so it is really a posthumous autobiography with notes and linking passages by Howard Wright (one of his former employees), and it conveys all aspects of his chequered private life and his complex personality - he was a socialist who practised capitalism. In wisdom, logic, vision and original thinking, Bull dwarfed every other racing figure of his time, and his book is an intellectual delight. JR
6Big Red of Meadow Stable William Nack (1975) America's greatest champion, Secretariat, inspired the greatest equine biography ever written.
When journalist Bill Nack secured permission to follow the colt's team during the Triple Crown campaign in 1973, it was the scoop of a lifetime, for it gave him the inside story on 'Big Red', enabling him to quote joint-owner Penny Tweedy (of Meadow Stable), trainer Lucien Laurin, jockey RonTurcotte and stallion syndicator Seth Hancock at great length. Secretariat touched many lives, including all those who read this masterpiece. Its climax is his epoch-making 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes; between the stalls opening and the colt hitting the wire 2min 24sec later, there are seven pages of breathless description - and not a word is wasted. The paperback edition
(titled Secretariat: The Making of
a Champion) includes his stud career and death, and is published by Da Capo Press at pounds 13.50. JR
7A Century of Champions John Randall and Tony Morris (1999) There are books that are lists, and there are books of lists. Most are, frankly, dull - but A Century of Champions bucks the trend.
Theauthors appeared to set themselves an Everest of a target, but ditched the oxygen halfway up. They not only compiled a comprehensive, lucid, lavishly illustrated ledger of the most important horses and humans in 20th-century racing, centred around their World Top 200 Flat Champions, but also grasped the nettle to provide ratings, based on the Timeform scale, for all the top performers (Timeform ratings were introduced only in 1947), thus giving a seamless 100 years of figures alongside their erudite commentaries. It's a book that rewards regular revisiting by aficionado and anorak alike. Warning: readers unfamiliar with the work of King Anorak Randall should not expect their classifications to tally with these. Sea-Bird is No.1, however, and I don't think anyone would dispute that. Or would they? RG
8John Porter of Kingsclere John Porter with Edward Moorhouse (1919) Ormonde's trainer. Even if John P orter had never handled another horse, his autobiography would be worth reading solely for his account of the unbeaten 1886 Triple Crown hero, perhaps the greatest racehorse of all time. But Ormonde was one of a record seven Derby winners for this master trainer, and his other outstanding champions included three more Triple Crown winners, Common, La FlAche and Flying Fox, as well as Rosicrucian, Isonomy, Orme and William The Third during a career in which he won 23 Classics at Kingsclere between 1868 and 1900 before founding Newbury racecourse. P orter's recollections of that golden age are vividly conveyed by his ghost-writer, Derby historian Edward Moorhouse - so much so that this is far superior to his first book, Kingsclere (1896), and rivals
Men and Horses I Have Known (about a slightly later era) as the best book of racing memoirs ever written. JR
9Arkle: The Story of a Champion
Ivor Herbert (1966) Arkle had the biographer he deserved. The greatest steeplechaser won three Cheltenham Gold Cups (1964-66) and many big handicaps under 12st 7lb, reaching the pinnacle of achievement in his sphere, and the magnitude of his story would make any book about him worth reading, let alone this masterpiece. Ivor Herbert, who himself trained a Gold Cup winner (Linwell), is a perceptive and engaging writer who captures the spirit of the Irish legend, as he also did with Red Rum (see No. 18). The humans in the story are sharply delineated, including Pat Taaffe, Tom Dreaper and Anne, Duchess of Westminster, but Arkle is the one who comes across with the most vibrant personality - brave, intelligent, curious and wise, with a touch of arrogance. Reading this biography is the next-best thing to seeing him race. The first edition ended with his third Gold Cup, but the paperback edition tells the complete story and is published byAurum Press at pounds 7.99. JR
10 An Introduction to the Thoroughbred Peter Willett (1966)
There have been many books written about breeding, and plenty since this one appeared. And geneticists have lately uncovered numerous facts that were not available to Peter Willett when he wrote this book. But there is still no better primer. This is an area that has generated countless theories, most of them worthless, and until genetics gives us all the answers - with luck, a long time in the future - the breeder's safest methodology is applied commonsense. Willett does not say that in so many - or so few - words, but he runs the rule over theories and practices, and he describes, lucidly and logically, what makes sense and what doesn't. It is a shame that a lot of the books on breeding that have appeared recently have - apparently - been written by people who have not read this seminal work. Students of breeding are best advised to read this one first; they will be better informed than those who have ignored it.
11 Racing in America 1665-1979 John Hervey, Walter Vosburgh, Robert Kelley and William Rudy (6 vols 1922-80) 12 Blood Sport Dick Francis (1967) 13 Oaksey on Racing John Oaksey (1991) 14 The Badminton Library: Racing and Steeplechasing
Earl of Suffolk and others (1886) 15 Far from a Gentleman John Hislop (1960) 16 The History of Steeplechasing Michael Seth-Smith, Peter Willett, Roger Mortimer and John Lawrence (1966)
17 The Mathematics of Betting
Phil Bull (1945) 18 Red Rum Ivor Herbert (1974) 19 The World of Flat RacingBrough Scott and Gerry Cranham (1983) 20 The History of the Racing Calendar and Stud-Book
Charles Prior (1926)21 Silk and Scarlet Henry Hall Dixon (1859) 22 Scott and Sebright
Henry Hall Dixon (1862)23 Sods I Have Cut on the Turf
Jack Leach (1961) 24 Bloodstock Breeding Sir Charles Leicester (1957) 25 The Sport of Kings Rebecca Cassidy (2002)26 Hitting The Turf: A Punting Life
David Ashforth (1996) 27 Wild RideAnn Hagedorn Auerbach (1994) 28 The History of the Derby Stakes
Roger Mortimer (1962)29 The Racing World of Damon RunyonDamon Runyon (1999)30 The History of Horse Racing
Roger Longrigg (1972)31 On the Laws and Practice of Horse Racing Henry Rous (1850) 32 Encyclopedia of British Horseracing Wray Vamplew and Joyce Kay (2005)33 The Great Black JockeysEdward Hotaling (1999) 34 Banker Dick Francis (1982)
35 Un SiAcle de Galop 1900-2000 Guy Thibault (2001)
36 Neck or Nothing John Welcome (1970) 37 Talking Horses Jeffrey Bernard (1987) 38 Stud-Book Lore Charles Prior and Florence Prior (1951) 39 Steeplechasing John Hislop (1951) 40 Biographical Encyclopaedia of British Flat Racing Roger Mortimer, Richard Onslow and Peter Willett (1978) 41 McIlvanney on Horseracing Hugh McIlvanney (1995) 42 A Long Time Gone Chris Pitt (1996) 43 The Aga Khan's Racing and Breeding Studs 1922-1997 Georg Lange (1998) 44 The Druid's Lodge Confederacy Paul Mathieu (1990) 45 Second Start Bobby Beasley (1976) 46 A History of the General Stud-Book Peter Willett (1991) 47 A Licence to Print Money Jamie Reid (1992)
48 One of the Lads Susan Gallier (1988) 49 Horse Power: The Politics of the Turf
Christopher Hill (1988) 50 Seabiscuit Laura Hillenbrand (2001)
Writers: JR John Randall TM Tony Morris RG Robin Gibson
DIDwe include in the list the racing books you consider to be among the 50 best of all time?
Or are you surprised that we left your personal No.1 out? Let us know; write to the Editor (marking your envelope BigRacing Read) at 1 Canada Square, London, E14 5AP, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The best letters will be published in the Racing Post.