Horse racing is one of the most historic sports still in existence. Dating back to Ancient civilizations, the ‘Sport of Kings’ has produced more than its fair share of stories – from uplifting tales of defying impossible odds, to scandal, mystery, and crime.
It is therefore little wonder that horse racing has been responsible for some truly astounding books over the years. Here are six that you should consider for your next read.
1. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand (1999)
One of the masters of New Journalism, Hillenbrand delivers one of the bestselling sports books of all time with Seabiscuit – a story about an undersized and crooked-legged horse who under the guidance of three men became one of the greatest racehorses in history.
Upon its release, Seabiscuit received critical and commercial acclaim, earning Hillenbrand a host of awards, millions of copies sold, and the inevitable movie deal. The motion picture was released in 2003.
Hillenbrand’s book not only sheds light on this remarkable story, but expertly transports readers back to the end of the 1930s – where Seabiscuit brought light and hope to a world darkened by economic collapse and an impending world war.
2. Out of the Clouds: The Unlikely Horseman and the Unwanted Colt Who Conquered the Sport of Kings by Linda Carroll (2018)
Another astounding rags-to-riches story, Carroll’s Out of the Clouds is set just after the Second World War and focuses on the unlikely rise of Stymie and his trainer Hirsch Jacobs.
Stymie was a discarded thoroughbred with no hope of becoming a champion horse, until Jacobs, a dirt-poor trainer from Brooklyn, bought him for $1,500 and transformed him into one of the greatest champions horseracing had ever seen – and the first horse to collect more than $700,000 in prize money ($918,000 total).
Out of the Clouds is a story of a special bond between two figures ostracized from the world of horse racing, only to become one of the sport’s most celebrated partnerships.
3. The Horse God Built: The Untold Story of Secretariat, the World’s Greatest Racehorse by Lawrence Scanlan (2008)
Ask any non-horse racing fan to name one racehorse and the first name that is likely to come to mind is Secretariat. Rightly regarded as one of the greatest racehorses in history, Secretariat landed American racing’s Holy Grail in 1973 when he became the ninth horse – and first in 25 years – to clinch the Triple Crown.
What was special was the manner in which he won it: first he added his name to the Kentucky Derby winners list with a track record time at Churchill Downs, before setting another track record at Pimlico Race Course to win the Preakness Stakes.
Needing victory in the Belmont Stakes to clinch the Crown, Secretariat won at Belmont Park by a record 31 lengths – a record that still stands today.
The Horse God Built takes readers inside Secretariat’s world and provides an insight into how this physically impressive, but slow to develop, horse became one of the most famous athletes in history.
The story is told largely from the perspective of Eddie “Shorty” Sweat, a pivotal but largely forgotten figure as Secretariat’s groom, friend, and protector throughout the horse’s legendary career.
4. The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts (2012)
From the racetrack to the showjumping arena, The Eighty-Dollar Champion is the New York Times bestselling book about Snowman – a plough horse destined for the slaughterhouse before Harry de Leyer, a New York riding instructor, purchased him for $80 to be used as a lesson horse for children.
De Leyer soon recognized Snowman’s ability as a showjumper and modelled the horse into a champion, winning the United States Open Jumper Championship in 1958 and 1959. Snowman, nicknamed ‘The Cinderella Horse’, became an American celebrity and provided an inspirational story of hope and overcoming insurmountable odds at a time of great Cold War tension.
Letts’ The Eighty-Dollar Champion beautifully tells Snowman’s story and rightly earned many plaudits and awards for the book.
5. Taking Shergar: Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case by Milton C. Toby (2018)
Shergar was considered the best racehorse in the world. After competing for just two highly successful and lucrative seasons – in 1980 and 1981 – he was sent out to stud by his owner, the Aga Khan, and had an estimated value of $15 million.
However, Shergar’s racing accomplishments have been completely overshadowed as the stallion is also the subject of the most famous crime in horse racing history when, in 1983 at the height of The Troubles, he was stolen from his stud farm by an armed gang who demanded a £2 million ransom.
After negotiations collapsed, the kidnappers killed Shergar and his body was never found. To this day, the exact culprits have never been caught, although a former IRA member-turned-informant claimed the organisation were involved in his theft. The IRA have always denied the claim.
Taking Shergar is more mystery thriller than horseracing tale as Toby presents a narrative based on a new body of evidence, addresses the many conspiracy theories, and uncovers the profile of a man who may have been the last person to help finally solve the mystery.
No crime in horse racing has generated more intrigue than the disappearance of Shergar and this book will only leave you delving further down the rabbit hole.
Here you have our picks for best horse racing related books. Also, don’t forget the Kentucky Derby happens in September 5th this year. You can see the odds for the race in detail here: https://www.twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/odds