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Colourful account of jockey's rollercoaster ride to hell and back; CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEWS Better Than Sex - My Autobiography Mick Fitzgerald (with Donn McClean) pounds 18.99, published by Racing Post - racingpost.com/bookshop.

Byline: Jonathan Powell

GHOSTING columns or books for famous sportsmen requires a serious commitment on both sides. Ideally, a writer is hoping for someone who speaks as fluently as Ted Walsh, has vivid powers of description, a fund of entertaining anecdotes, and who is not keen to airbrush out all the tricky moments of his life. Autobiographies, in short, should include warts and all.

Working with Mick Fitzgerald on this book must have been a joy for Donn McClean. When it comes to communicating the unique appeal of jump racing to the public Mick reminds me of Richard Pitman. Their passion for the sport is so infectious and their knowledge so deep you are swept along by their enthusiasm.

A life-threatening injury in the Grand National in April brought the curtain down on Mick's riding career, but he is already fitting seamlessly into his new role as a broadcaster.

The early days are often the most interesting in a sportsman's life, as they invariably shape the years ahead.

Mick talks with pride of the support of his family as he pursued an improbable ambition to be a jockey.

His first, fumbling efforts in the saddle came on a pony bought for buttons at Christmas by his father, a car mechanic, from a passing tinker.

You couldn't make it up.

He was tiny back then, an easy target for school bullies, and when he started in racing he was so light he needed bundles of lead in the weightcloth to make up the difference. Mick soon moved to England, but proved to be the opposite of an overnight success.

He tells plenty of stories against himself, not least the one when, as a lad with Ron Hodges, he became legless after a hunt meet, fell asleep in the tack room and woke to find his shoes missing and his hair covered in marmalade and hoof oil. Shortly afterwards, worn down by his failure to pick up any decent rides, he was all set to emigrate to New Zealand.

Then he joined forces with Jackie Retter, who set him on his way with a conveyor belt of winners from her yard near Exeter.

Read this book and you will appreciate that Mick Fitzgerald has enjoyed a long and colourful journey.

Afraid of nothing and ready for anything, he squeezed every last moment from a rollercoaster ride that took him to hell and back after his last fall at Aintree in April.

Donn McClean - like Carl Evans, who ghosted the rider's initial attempt in this field for publishers Mainstream in 1999 - has served him well, although not all jockeys are as helpful as Mick. When deadlines loom and your subject's mind is elsewhere, it is amazing what you can conjure up from the briefest of conversations.

Just ask Brough Scott. Back in the days when he was making his name in this trade, Scott was given the taxing task of writing a ghosted column for Lester Piggott in the London Evening Standard. Now Lester has never been a man of many words, yet Scott's persistence and enterprise ensured that the views of the great jockey made fascinating reading each week.

Then Piggott disappeared in mid-season. After a search of bomb-scare proportions Scott finally tracked him down in the south of France. His relief was tempered by a poor line and the fear that time was running out to deliver 1,000 words for the first edition.

Piggott was even briefer than usual.

"You know what to say," he muttered before putting down the phone. His column that day was a masterpiece of invention and all the more readable for it.

Monty Court, later editor of The Sporting Life, ghosted a column in the London Evening News for the cricketing legend Sir Len Hutton in 1956. Hutton was so shy and taciturn he hardly spoke to his team on the field. You would not have known it, as Court crafted 5,000 words a day on his views during each Test and 2,500 a day during county games.

He'd type out a page at a time, then hand it to a telephonist who would phone it through to a copytaker. The pair were pretty much together all summer and long before the end Monty knew instinctively what the record-breaking batsman was going to say. Mick Fitzgerald would have been a breeze after that.

CAPTION(S):

Mick Fitzgerald: the affable, articulate Irishman must have been a joy for his ghostwriter to work with
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Dec 11, 2008
Words:749
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