Racing books for Christmas – a bumper field
After a couple of lean years, it’s a bumper field of racing books for Christmas and we provide a guide to the pick of the best
The 1974 Derby was third one I’d witnessed live at Epsom. Nineteen-years-old and I thought I knew it all. And that included a 50-1 runner who couldn’t possibly win.
A friend thought otherwise but was unable get to the course and would I put a bet on for him. I decided to lay Snow Knight.
Also at Epsom that day was Victor Chandler, who’d been told by trainer Peter Nelson’s son John that the only thing which could prevent Snow Knight winning was if he boiled over in the preliminaries.
If he got upset, John would warn Victor not to back him. And Snow Knight did get upset, with the result that Nelson junior was told to accompany the horse down to the start. That meant the warning could not be communicated.
Hearing nothing from John Nelson and with little time to spare, Chandler rushed to put £250, all he had on him, on Snow Knight, just missing 66/1.
Having thrown jockey Brian Taylor going down to the start, Snow Knight won by two lengths. The SP 50/1.
I’ve never laid a horse since. The opposite is true of Chandler, who won £12,000 that day.
Now Victor Chandler, who became one of the most recognisable faces in bookmaking, tells his remarkable life story in the long-distance title Put Your Life On It: Staying At The Top in the Cut-throat World of Gambling.
In this authorised biography written by Jamie Reid, Chandler reveals how gambling was in his blood from birth. How his grandfather dealt with Darby Sabini’s Italian mob, Alfie Solomons and the real Peaky Blinders.
How his father, Victor senior, built up the firm only for illness to force ‘Young Victor’ into the fray at the age of 23 – the start of a high life and fast times.
To begin with, he found the going tough. He almost accepted an offer to sell up from Playboy Bookmakers. But fortunately, he stuck with it just in time to enjoy his first profitable Royal Ascot and from then on there was no going back.
In the face of the UK recession in the 1990s he went out to the Far East and began duelling audaciously with colossal Asian punters while dodging the attentions of the Triads in Hong Kong and Macau.
Then at the end of the decade he sparked a revolution by moving his entire business offshore to Gibraltar; he is often credited with being the first to take gambling online.
Victor shares his often-hilarious memories of 40 years of a high-octane racing and bookmaking life, populated by a huge cast of colourful characters including the artist Lucian Freud, who painted ‘VC’ as well as betting with him.
review by Mike Deasy
♦ Victor Chandler – Put Your Life On It: Staying At The Top In The Cut-Throat World Of Gambling: Reach Sport £20
Legendary jockey, Frankie Dettori, shares his remarkable life story in an intimate autobiography Frankie Dettori: Leap of Faith
When Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori arrived on British shores in 1985, aged just 14, he couldn’t speak a word of English.
Having left school just a year earlier and following in the footsteps of his father, he was eager to become a stable boy and apprentice jockey, willing to do everything it took to make it. This was his first, but certainly not his last, leap of faith.
Despite his slight size, Frankie’s impact upon the British racing scene was immediate and significant. Brimming with confidence, charisma and personality, and with what was clearly a precocious talent, in 1990 he became the first teenager since Lester Piggot to win over 100 races in a single season.
By 1996, Frankie was already established as a celebrity in the sport and an adopted national treasure, but it was his extraordinary achievement of winning all seven races in a single day at Ascot that cemented his reputation as the greatest rider of his generation.
Nearly 25 years later, and having won the Longines World’s Best Jockey for three consecutive years running, Frankie has demonstrated an unparalleled level of longevity at the pinnacle of his sport.
But his story is not simply one of uninterrupted success, but also of personal anguish, recovery and restoration – both in and out of the saddle.
Now, in Leap of Faith, he reveals the lows to his highs, the plane crash that nearly killed him, the drugs ban that nearly made him quit the sport, and the acrimonious split from Godolphin that threatened his future.
But Leap of Faith is also a story of love – for the sport he continues to dominate to this day, the great horses of his era (Stradivarius, Golden Horn, and of course Enable), and most importantly for his family, who have supported him every step of the way.
♦ Frankie Dettori: Leap of Faith: Harper Collins £20
In the stratified and often secretive world of racehorse training, Mark Johnston has always been different: forthright, combative, provocative, and candid – a man who delights in questioning convention.
Anyone who heard his interview on Desert Island Disks can testify to that, when he admitted he was happy to play devil’s advocate.
Over more than three decades, he has gone from being a vet from a thoroughly working-class Scottish background to, mathematically, the most successful trainer in the history of British horse racing.
In Mark Johnston: Phenomenon, an authorised biography with a title that demonstrates little false modesty, author Nick Townsend provides a unique insight into the world of Johnston and his phenomenally successful operation.
With unparalleled access to Mark and those closest to him, the book digs into his storied career, his strong and passionate views on the sport of horse racing, and how he’s planning for the future in unprecedented times, offering a fascinating portrait of one of horse racing’s most singular figures.
♦ Mark Johnston: Phenomenon by Nick Townsend: Wellbeck £20
From racing’s earliest organised blossoming in the 16th century to its most modern technological advances The History of Racing in 100 Objects is a fact-packed ride embracing the fast sweep of a global sport.
Via the innovations that have contributed to the shape of the sport and the great horses, characters and events that have delighted and intrigued countless generations, here are the 100 objects that have made horse racing what it is.
With the first object the Winning Post, author Steve Dennis describes the sport’s journey through the ages, condensing its heart into a century of milestones that express its eternal fascination for all those who fall under its intoxicating spell.
By turns inspirational, informative, revelatory and thought-provoking, this evocation of the sounds, colours and history of horse racing will appeal to both devotees of this great sport and those discovering it for the first time.
♦ The History of Horse Racing in 100 Objects by Steve Dennis: Racing Post Books £19.99
There’s a choice of two racing quiz books to exercise the little grey cells and, judging by the success of The Racing Hub’s series of 20 Racing Questions during last year’s lockdown, they should have plenty of appeal.
Endless head scratching and entertainment for anyone who enjoys the sport is the promise of the Racing Post Puzzle Book. And, with compiler Alan Mortiboys’ mix of six different types of puzzles, it should be a challenge even for the most knowledgeable fan.
In Fill In The Blanks an account of a race is given with ten key names and other words missing. Do you know enough to fill in the blanks? In Simple Sums, do you have the racing knowledge you need to complete the calculations? In Tell Me The Answer And I’ll Tell You The Question, two questions and two answers are given – can you find which question and answer match?
In Get It In One? Or Two, Or Three, Or Four?, how many clues do you need to identify the well-known person or horse? One, two, three or four? In Time For A Rhyme a short poem describes a famous person or horse.
Can you complete the missing rhymes and identify who the poem is about? In Where’s The Logic? a logic puzzle is presented in a racing setting. Can you use logic and the clues to deduce the answer?
If some of these question types seem familiar, it’s because Mortiboys submits questions to the BBC2 hit Only Connect. And, like the programme, the variety in its format is a refreshing departure from simply reeling off a series of questions.
♦ The Racing Post Puzzle Book: Racing Post Books £9.99
Also set to tease racing enthusiast is Under Starter’s Orders, a quiz book compiled by Chris Coley and Steve Jones to raise funds for the Injured Jockeys Fund.
Sponsored by BRESBET, all proceeds raised will go to help the IJF. With a foreword by IJF President, Sir Anothony McCoy and quiz questions provided by many racing celebrities, this fun book will provide hours of entertainment.
♦Under Starter’s Orders: Injured Jockeys Fund £10
Blinkin’ ‘Ell is both a celebration of life and a cautionary tale. It is a raw, boisterous, untutored, un-ghosted scrapbook of memories from a man whose world seemed to have ended in August 2014 when a massive stroke left him permanently incapacitated with only his left eyelid for communication.
It tells of how, once he found his niche as a championship-winning farrier, Stevie Fisher burned the candle at both ends, in the saddle, at the races, or at many another jape on his countryman’s horizon.
The addictive wonder is not just that Stevie has, blink by blink, letter by letter, brought us these stories of his old great times and of his present, unbelievably bad, but that he has done so with all the over-the-top verve of the cheering, galloping hero whose pictures on the wall contrast so vividly with the figure on the bed.
Stevie Fisher took a lot out of life. Readers of Blinkin’ ‘Ell will be amazed and uplifted by how much he still has.
♦ Blinkin’ ‘Ell by Stevie Fisher, edited by Brough Scott: Pitch Publishing £16.99
After a 40-year career taking the bets that no one else would take for William Hill and expanding the company’s offerings to its customers beyond purely sporting contests, Graham Sharpe has now recorded in Racing Post Chronicles – Strange Stuff the weirdest, oddest, strangest, craziest antics and events to happen on racecourses to horses, jockeys, trainers, owners, bookies and racegoers over the years.
There are hundreds of stories and unusual racing facts to dip in and out of, making Strange Stuff a book likely appeal to young and old alike who love the colour, quirkiness and intrigue of racing.
Graham Sharpe has aleady deligted with books on William Hill and Dorothy Paget – this too is a treat for racing followers.
♦ Racing Post Chronicles – Strange Stuff by Graham Sharpe: Racing Post Books £14.99
No round-up of books at Christmas is complete without the Racing Post Annual.
Now in its 11th year, the book is firmly established as the ideal Christmas gift for any horse racing fan.
This comprehensive review of 2021 has 224 colour pages packed with the best stories of the racing year and is stunningly illustrated with images from, amongst others, the award-winning Post photographer Edward Whitaker.
Racing Post top writers look back on the best of the Flat and Jumps seasons; the big names both equine and human; the moments to treasure and unusual stories of the year; plus a look forward at the top prospects for 2022.
This large-format book is a great way to remember events of 2021 plus a look ahead to 2022.
♦ Racing Post Annial 2022 edited by Nick Pulford: Racing Post Books £14.99
♦Your guide to Christmas Gift Ideas from the Injured Jockeys Fund http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-7Ib