WINNERS, The Horses, the Memories, the Defining Moments

By Hugh Cahill

Published by Hachette Books Ireland £25.99

GAINING access to 16 well-known, some iconic, figures in Irish racing, Hugh Cahill gives us an insight into the lives and loves of these individuals that is a little different. This is one of those books that does not require you to sit down and read from cover to cover, but rather you can dip into it from time to time.

JP McManus is the solitary owner among the group, while trainers are Noel Meade, Willie Mullins, Jessica Harrington, Gordon Elliott and Ted Walsh. Jockeys past and present form the largest contingent, made up of Davy Russell, Paul Carberry, Ruby Walsh, Robbie Power, AP McCoy, Barry Geraghty and Andrew McNamara. Finally, there are words of wisdom from The Irish Field’s Donn McClean, plus Kevin Blake and Tony O’Hehir.

In the course of interviewing these people Cahill got commentaries on some 70 horses and he usefully details their breeding and race records in a separate section of the book which runs to nearly 250 pages.

JP McManus speaks at length about the great Istabraq and his Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised. About the latter he said: “it was a sad day when we lost Synchronised in Aintree just after that Cheltenham win. He was home bred as well. I think it’s probably harder to breed a Gold Cup winner than to own one. But these things happen, I’m afraid. It was a very sad day, to lose the horse in that way.

“He wasn’t a very big horse and he’d make you question yourself, and wonder if you should have run him over [the] National fences. In hindsight….well, I suppose that’s history now.”

It is such insights from people who love their horses and their racing that make this book such a joy to read. Exquisite in its simplicity, and adorned with wonderful photographs, this is certain to be enjoyed by anyone who braves the winter cold and heads jump racing.

Cahill is familiar to RTE Sport listeners and he has a great love of many sports. His passion for racing comes through loud and clear in this book.

Leo Powell

TAKING SHERGAR, Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case

By Milton C Toby

Published by The University Press of Kentucky $29.95

LAST year I was asked to meet the celebrated, award-winning author, journalist and attorney Milt Toby on his arrival in Dublin. He was here to research a book about Shergar, one of the best racehorses ever to grace the turf, and the subject of one of the most heinous crimes.

Thirty-five years after his abduction from Ballymany Stud and subsequent disappearance without trace, I am still asked by people, with no connection to the sport of kings, if I know ‘what really happened to Shergar.’ The notoriety of his kidnap, and subsequent death, fascinates everyone.

Shergar’s victory in the 1981 Derby at Epsom was stunning. Owned and bred by the Aga Khan, trained by Michael Stoute and ridden by the late Walter Swinburn, he beat Glint Of Gold by the biggest winning margin ever in the history of the race, 10 lengths, before going on to capture both the Irish Sweeps Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes.

The Aga Khan syndicated his dual Derby winning colt for £10 million, though he could have sold him for more money to America, and the son of Great Nephew spent a single year at stud. His sole crop included the record-priced yearling and Group 1 winner Authaal.

With an eye for detail, Toby presents the definitive account of Shergar’s theft, written now with the benefit of distance and with access to previously unpublished material. These include a report that was previously only available to shareholders in the stallion.

In the course of his writing Toby is able to dismiss a number of conspiracy theories surrounding the taking of Shergar, while also putting under the microscope much of the circumstantial evidence that has tied the involvement of the IRA with the crime.

One of the leads Toby got from me following our meeting was an introduction to David Horgan who worked hard on behalf of Stan Cosgrove to prove that Shergar was dead. This research, along with 18 pages of notes from Captain Sean Berry, manager of the ITBA, and countless other documents has allowed Toby to present analysis that makes for fascinating reading.

This is a book that will enthral anyone who ever followed the story of Shergar and his abduction, and will introduce a whole new generation to a mystery that, sadly, may never be fully solved.

Leo Powell


By Moyra Donaldson (poet) and Paddy Lennon (artist)

Published by Caesura Press €20

LAST Sunday I attended the launch, during the Dublin Book Festival, of Blood Horses in the RDS Library. This is an equine publication with a difference, featuring a collaboration of poetry accompanied by black and white artwork. The 60-page coffee-table style volume focusses on the lives of the three foundation stallions. Every modern thoroughbred can trace their pedigrees back to these stallions.

Moyra’s curiosity was aroused when she read how The Byerley Turk partook in the Battle of the Boyne. Research followed which resulted in the discovery that all three stallions, including The Darley Arabian and The Godolphin Arabian, had captivating adventures before becoming stallions. Moyra then transformed these adventures into poetry.

Both Moyra and Paddy have a natural affinity with horses, the latter enjoying hunting with the Killinick Harriers. When Moyra first saw Paddy’s work she felt an instant connection. “A lot of horse portraiture is very photographic,” she stated. “But there is something very soulful about Paddy’s work, there is a stronger connection.”

Paddy is equally complimentary about Moyra’s words. “Her approach is epic, historic and multi-faceted, whereas my approach is very simple and singular. Yet we are both trying to achieve the same end; illustrate man’s relationship with a horse.”

The Irish National Stud’s CEO Cathal Beale provides the foreword to the book.

“The way of the horse is clean and pure and not to be entered without great care. Blood Horses encapsulates the raw magnificence of the noble ones and their ability to elevate our souls with the power of simple authenticity; their warm breath. Our attachment to them becomes just that, we are inseparable.”

Leo Powell


By George Baker with Tom Peacock

Published by Racing Post Books £20

IN a spilt second George Baker’s upward trajectory as a jockey came tumbling down – literally. Riding in St Moritz, where they race in the snow, his mount, the Jamie Osborne-trained Boomerang Bob, put his foot in a hole in the ice and brought the pair to the ground. The horse was fatally injured, while Baker suffered a life-changing head injury.

Five months before this accident Baker had enjoyed his biggest success in the saddle, partnering Harbour Law to victory in the St Leger at Doncaster.

Discharged from hospital after time in an induced coma following the accident, Baker and his medical team believed that he was fine. What followed was, instead, a nightmare. Multiple bleeds on the brain led to post-traumatic amnesia and it was back to basics, even learning how to walk again.

While the story of Baker’s life in the saddle is compelling in its own right, it is the time that he was in recovery that is most captivating, and this is where his wife Nicola emerges as the heroine of the tale. She needed to be a rock for Baker and for the family, and she describes this time with incredible honesty. A nightmare at the time, many of the stories are funny with hindsight.

Tales of thinking he was a German rapper, chatting up nurses in Nicola’s presence, making what might be considered nuisance calls, and developing a number of obsessions were all part of a story that is both compelling and inspiring. This is a book that will appeal to non-racing fans who have had to deal with head-injury traumas.

Leo Powell


By Michael, Peter and Tom Scudamore with Chris Cook

Published by Racing Post Books £25

TWENTY years ago last month a celebrity flat race was held at Wincanton. An unusual, and perhaps unique, feature of the race was the fact that three generations of one family rode. The winner Barneys Bell was partnered by the then 66-year-old Michael Scudamore, while his son Peter finished seventh and Peter’s son Tom languished in ninth.

The name Scudamore has been a household one in racing circles for six decades and the trio have won most of jump racing’s biggest prizes. Their association goes back a further generation to Michael’s father Geoffrey who was a successful point-to-point rider and who gave his son a winning mount at the Cheltenham Festival in 1950 with Sir Charles, winner of a division of the then Gloucestershire Hurdle, now the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Michael enjoyed much success in some of racing’s blue riband events, and was popular with a wide variety of trainers. In a glorious three year period in the late fifties he won the King George VI Chase, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. He is also famously associated with Mandarin, while the Ivor Herbert-trained Linwell was “underrated for a Gold Cup winner. He never got the credit he deserved.”

Incredibly, given the length of his career and the fact that he was champion jockey eight times, Peter never won any of those three races annexed by his father. At the time of his retirement his career tally of 1,678 winners was a record – now surpassed by three riders, Dunwoody, McCoy and Johnson. His prolific success owes much to his association with Martin Pipe. It was not only a question of quantity though, and Peter won a pair of Champion Hurdles and the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Former champion amateur, Tom has not scaled the heights of his forbearers but any rider who amasses more than 500 wins in a career, one that continues today, can hold his head up high.

Peter Scudamore perhaps sums the book up best. “Once you’ve been a jockey, you can never really not be one. So the writing of this has been a kind of therapy for me, not only on a personal level but helping me understand how fortunate my family has been.”

Leo Powell


By Edward Whitaker

Published by Racing Post Books £30

WHEN it comes to the art of racing photography, Edward Whitaker will have forgotten more than many will ever learn. He has an eye for something different, and this is magnificently demonstrated in his most recent collection.

A Year In The Frame follows a theme. his first collection, In The Frame, was an award winner, as was the follow up, Beyond The Frame.Prior to volume three in the series, he also produced the much acclaimed McCoy In The Frame.

Whitaker has been the mainstay of the Racing Post’s pictorial input since its establishment more than 30 years ago. During three decades he has never lost his zest for photography, always seeking the unusual – whether it the angle of the shot, the location or the occasion. He would also appear to have the knack of being in the right place at the right time.

Not all of the pictures in this volume were taken in the last 12 months either, rather he has gone back in time too and included what he considers to be the best he has taken to represent the time of year.

There is joy, pathos, success, failure and much more among the 176 pages. This is a book that will draw you back time and time again to scan its pages, and each time you do it seems that you find something new. Action shots, posed photographs, scenic views – all have that something extra that sets Whitaker among the best exponents of his craft ever.

An example of the variety of quality shots is that of the spread on pages 70 and 71. On the left hand side we see John Magnier, a solitary figure in the saddling boxes at the Curragh, while opposite him we have Gleneagles giving Aidan O’Brien his seventh 2000 Guineas victory in a shot that also shows a captivated crowd looking on.

Hats, muck outs, people, horses, behind the scenes and in front of the cameras, Whitaker shows us a year in racing, but from so many aspects that this will be a book anyone with any involvement in racing will treasure.

Leo Powell


By Cornelius Lysaght

Published by Collins £25

This is the classic coffee table publication, ideal for passing perusal anywhere horse racing takes pride of place. In terms of aesthetics, it is beautifully presented, with the fantastic glossy photographs taking pride of place right through the 271-page publication.

Healy Racing is among the stellar cast of photographers contributing, and it speaks volumes not just for the quality of the company’s work which we are well aware of in this parish, but its international standing, that its photos in this book are not just confined to Ireland. Indeed, one of the Listowel crew’s shots, an aerial portrayal of the world renowned Happy Valley arena in Hong Kong while a race is taking place, adorns the front cover. It is a stunning shot.

The author Cornelius Lysaght is well known to readers as BBC’s long-standing racing correspondent.

The format is very straightforward – a brief description of the history, heritage and chief characteristics of 100 racecourses located around six continents, accompanied by exceptional images. This is not about minute detail and readers won’t find out anything new about the tracks they are familiar with. However, there will be quite a few racecourses that don’t trip off the tongue.

Five of the tracks are in Ireland. That one of those is Laytown, along with the Grade 1 facilities of Punchestown, Curragh, Leopardstown and Fairyhouse, is a welcome indicator that Lysaght was interested in delving a little deeper than the obvious.

The White Turf of St Moritz in Switzerland is a track for the bucket list. So too Brazil’s Hipódromo da Gávea in the shadow of Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, and the Kenilworth course in the suburbs of South African city Cape Town. There are plenty more jewels to be discovered while flicking through to kill some time or await the next appointment. What’s more, given the illustrations and the hardback cover, it isn’t prohibitively priced. There are plenty who would appreciate this as a gift.

Daragh Ó Conchúir


By Alex Atock

Published by Austin Macauley Publishers £7.69

ALEX Atock was born in Dublin in 1932 and graduated from the Veterinary College of Ireland in 1958. His love for all things equine began as a child and continued throughout his life. This book will take the reader through his veterinary life, from his initial years in general practice, to veterinary officer of the Irish Turf Club, head of the Veterinary Department of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), consultant to the UAE Equestrian and Racing Federation, and, finally, consultant to World Horse Welfare. The latter took him from the elite world of thoroughbred horse racing and international equestrian sport to assisting underprivileged working equines and their owners in developing countries.

With the FEI, Alex worked closely with the EU and was actively involved with the conception of FEI relations with World Horse Welfare, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the International Federation of Racing Authorities.

Mark Costello