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The Written Word

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  • #3141
    • Total Posts 3105

    <br>Writing about the game seems to have dominated a few threads on here recently, so it seemed a good idea to share thoughts about where to find the best writing on racing and betting – whether for the pure enjoyment of reading or the further enlightenment of those who like to write.

    I’m going to start the ball rolling with two names and a specific book for each.

    The first is Hugh McIlvanney and the book is called simply ‘McIlvanney on Horseracing’. It’s a collection of articles covering the period from Arkle to the bomb delayed Grand National of 1997. Many contain phrases that offer an instant picture, that bring the event to life and that can make you see things just a little differently. Almost all are beautifully written, although as with many writer/journalists (imo) the quality tails off as repetition becomes inevitable.

    My favourite is an interview with David Elsworth that sums him up better in two thousand words than I’ve managed in twenty five years of knowing the man.

    The second is ‘Hitting The Turf’ by David Ashforth. It tells the story of how he came to be a racing writer, having started out as an academic, but is really a hymn to the pain of the losing punter. The humour is wry and quiet and every story will ring true with anyone that ever set out to beat the bookies.

    He also writes about the people that had been heroes to him in racing and how they matched up when he met them after starting work with the Sporting Life. One of those was Martin Pipe and again you get a crystal clear pen picture that ends with a single phrase that sums up the man perfectly –

    "We are all the victims of our own personalities and somehow, even when he stands in the centre, Pipe remains on the outside."

    Both those books are treasured parts of my racing library and they shine amongst the mass of poorly written and wooden biographies of both men and horses.


    • Total Posts 3420

    Mac is a great writer full stop.. A further anthology would be welcome

    I was going to nominate Stav…but lets not go there

    For pure exhilarating but level headed and evocative storytelling (for want of a better phrase) whatshername that wrote Seabiscuit could hardly be bettered in my opinion. Her terse prose was beautifully applied to the description of the races and the character skethcing was superb avoiding sentimentality and yet managing to convey real empathy.  

    • Total Posts 226

    Laura Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit. Other great reads "Secretariat" by the legendary sports journalist Bill Nack and there was a super book which I think was called "A fine place to daydream" written by an American writer who moved to Ireland and followed the jumps scene.

    Recently retired American jumps jockey Sean Clancy is a superb writer-his "Saratoga Days" is a superb book and his daily columns in the Saratoga Special newspaper are a joy to read.

    Enjoyed Chris Pitt’s "A Long Time Gone" as well and the good news I believe is that it’s coming out in paperback fairly soon.

    • Total Posts 5123

    I’d nominate ‘A Long Time Gone’ too. It was obviously a labour of love and the whole book emanates a warmth and attention to detail that only a writer truly fascinated by his subject matter could convey.

    I’ve long enjoyed reading John Oaksey; he manages to generate atmosphere well (as epitomised by his well-known piece on Mandarin and Fred Winter, way back) and his use of English is both diligent and delightful.

    Ian Carnaby’s wistful musings in the Sporting Life lit up many a morning.

    • Total Posts 8798

    McIlvanney is a sports writer with no equal IMO and you are right AP, his racing anthology is a must-have.

    In his foreword Peter O’Sullevan calls it ‘a book of pure, breathtaking delight’, and how right he is.

    A man who, in common with great writers in all traditions, can dissect the human condition with unerring accuracy and precision, McIlvanney’s main strength is the clarity with which he articulates not what is seen but what is felt.

    He doesn’t pull punches either. On describing Alan Munro’s performance at a press conference immediately following the Derby victory of Generous he writes – ‘…it was undeniably sad to find such a gifted professional responding to the most triumphant moment of his short career by behaving so gracelessly as to suggest that if charm were weight he could ride lighter than the youngest entrant in a Pony Club gymkhana.’ <br>

    • Total Posts 703

    A Fine Place To Daydream was indeed a fantastic read save for some huge mistakes regarding, as I recall, the misnaming of one of Jesica Harrinton’s festival winners etc.

    But as a concept the book was very good reading, and gave a good insight into some characters of the sport.

    The Racing Tribe, a social study by Kate Fox, is also fascinating.

    (Edited by Zoz at 12:05 am on Oct. 11, 2006)

    • Total Posts 2668

    McIvanney alone makes the Sunday Times worth buying every week.  His article is the last word (in every sense) on the sports pullout and renders the previous 24-odd pages instantly forgettable.

    From slightly left-field, Laura Thompson’s ‘The Dogs’ is a beautiful, wistful ode to a fading sport which once had such grand pretensions.  Get a copy, it is flawless.

    And of course jackane24’s contributions to TRF.:biggrin:


    • Total Posts 919

    McIlvanney is a genuine heavyweight journalist and most eloquent writer.<br>Unrelated to racing is Paul Kimmage, ex Tour de France cyclist turned journo, who was unafraid to lift the lid on the rampant drug use in pro cycling- read his book "Rough Ride" for the warts and all account as his dreams are betrayed.<br>Although she doesn’t have the gravitas of the great journos I still enjoy reading Lydia Hislop- at least she is unafraid to rock the boat and call it as she sees it.

    • Total Posts 2924

    Richard Baerlein’s pieces in The Guardain were always worth reading. Sadly missed in this quarter.


    • Total Posts 2208

    Tolkien, Shadowfax would have wiped the floor with all and sundry

    Gareth Flynn
    • Total Posts 583

    Other great reads "Secretariat" by the legendary sports journalist Bill Nack

    Worth it for the description of that Belmont alone.

    • Total Posts 6939

    Pengammon and Drone have beaten me to it – A Long Time Gone is a terrific read.

    In particular it was great to go to Clifton-upon-Dunsmore (the erstwhile Rugby NH Rules racecourse still used for PtPs) and Lincoln (totally defunct nowaday) after reading the chapters on them and just stand there, imagining what kind of scenes would have unfurled at either venue decades previously.

    Can’t really do that at Teesside Park without being mown down by a chav-propelled shopping trolley or similar.

    I believe the paperback re-issue of the book also includes revision of several chapters, with more information having come to light. Bit of a win-win, I reckon.


    (Edited by graysonscolumn at 11:07 am on Oct. 11, 2006)

    The patron saint of lower-grade fare. A gently critical friend of point-to-pointing. Kindness is a political act.

    Tete Rouge
    • Total Posts 119

    Hugh McIlvanney is a favourite of mine, too.  I recall an amazing piece he wrote after the death of Lanzarote in the Gold Cup.  

    • Total Posts 2685

    A Fine Place to Daydream is written by Bill Barich. It’s a good read, but he does make one or two factual blunders.

    Mr Frisk
    • Total Posts 163

    Paul Mathieu’s book "The Druid’s Lodge Confederacy" was impeccably written and researched, but sadly is now out of print and will set you back a fair bit (£40 at least) on Amazon.

    Well worth it if you have that sort of money to spare, though.

    "The Racey Bits", by Mark Siggers and Chris Williams, is definitely the funniest racing book I’ve read.

    Whenever I pass a point-to-point track, I’m always reminded of their definition of point-to-point bookies: "These men offer the worst public display of cowardice since the Italian army ran away from the Austrians at Caporetto."

    (Edited by Mr Frisk at 9:10 pm on Oct. 11, 2006)

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