5 Racing Books You Must Read

Features | 28th March 2022

When settling down with a good book racing fans are spoiled for choice

Whether it’s by the pool on holiday, next to the fire on a winter’s night or safely tucked up in bed, the range of riveting racing reads is mind‐boggling. There is something for everyone with gripping thrillers, star‐name autobiographies and colourful historical recollections. Here’s five of our favourite racing books.

1. Mr Darley’s Arabian – Christopher McGrath 

This is no ordinary history book. Yes, it charts the last 300‐odd years of the sport that has evolved into modern horseracing but it is written in such a wonderfully enchanting way it is more a raucous romp through time filled with the most extraordinary characters and scarcely‐believable tales. It starts with the foundation of the thoroughbred. 

Thomas Darley, a bankrupt English merchant, bought a colt from Bedouin tribesmen near the ruins of Palmyra in what is now Syria. Award‐winning racing writer Chris McGrath takes the journey through racing history from that original foundation stallion through 25 generations of the thoroughbred. In his own inimitable style, Chris weaves together the richest of tapestries stitching in the most colourful characters from card sharps, brothel keepers and even the man who provided the inspiration for Mr Toad. 

It’s a hugely‐entertaining gallop across racing scandal and adventure. Fortunes won and lost with rogues sharing pages with royals. At more than 400 pages it is not a one‐sitting read but it is well worth the effort. A must for any racing fan. 

2. The Jumping Game ‐ Henrietta Knight 

Not content with training dozens of big‐race winners including three‐time Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Best Mate, Henrietta Knight has penned some excellent books. Perhaps, the best of them is The Jumping Game. It’s subtitle ‘How National Hunt Trainers Work and What Makes Them Tick’ reveals what this fascinating book is all about. 

It examines successful trainers from all corners of the sport. From eccentric octogenarian Mick Easterby to 12‐times champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls, Irish maestro Willie Mullins and prolific Dan Skelton, it examines their methods, characters and quirks. Henrietta charts their journeys to the top and reveals some of the secrets that has made them all so successful. 

It’s as entertaining as it is informative and superbly researched. Anyone wanting to get into the mind of some of racing’s most brilliant trainers should get hold of a copy. 

Trainer Henrietta Knight

3. At The Festival: Racing to glory at Cheltenham in March – Richard Austen 

For fanatical jump racing fans, the Cotswolds is the only place to be in mid‐March. Hundreds of thousands of them flock to the Spa town of Cheltenham to witness the greatest jumps horses battle it out for the top races in the National Hunt calendar. 

Experienced journalist Richard Austen, whose words have been published by the Racing Post and Timeform among others, describes some of the stories that helps make the Festival so special. He relives a golden decade from 1981 through to 1991 celebrating some of the greatest horses to grace the meeting and some of the heroes who beat the odds to triumph on the biggest stage. 

Along the way Richard highlights some of the little‐known tales of great champions and enthusiastic amateurs that have tasted triumph and tragedy at the Festival. It’s a superb take on the all‐important meeting from a rather personal and unusual angle that will have the most casual jumps racing fan counting down to the next Festival. 

The runners head towards the stands at the Cheltenham Festival

4. How’s Your Dad? – Mick Channon Jnr 

Mick Channon has conquered two sports. After a hugely‐successful football career knocking in goals for Southampton, Manchester City and England, he turned his love of horseracing into a profession as a trainer. 

The famous West Isley base he bought from the Queen is established as one of the top Flat racing stables with Classic‐winning Mick at the helm. Hi son, Mick Jnr, chronicles the highs and lows of a turbulent year at the yard and reveals the relationship between father and son.

Dramatic, revealing and quite hilarious, this is a heart‐felt story with more twists and turns than Channon Snr on the ball in his centre forward pomp. The fact that it was Mick Jnr’s first book makes it even more charming and real. 

5. The Sure Thing (The Greatest Coup in Horseracing History) – Nick Townsend 

Barney Curley was one of those great characters that helps make racing such a special sport. The successful trainer and fearless gambler played a colourful and sometimes controversial role in the sport for more than 40 years. His publicity‐shy nature made him all the more intriguing but his carefully‐executed gambles have become the stuff of legend. 

That legend was born at Bellewstown in 1975 when Barney pulled of one of the most celebrated betting coups in racing history. Nick Townsend tells the complete story of how the softy‐spoken Irishman orchestrated one of the biggest gambles in racing history at the track in rural Ireland. How he prevented the price from crashing by making sure the only phone on the course was occupied so the bookies couldn’t lay off any of his money to net him staggering amounts of winnings. 

The author then reveals how Barney reminded the racing world of his exploits with another audacious gamble 39 years after the first. This is tale a that has become racing folklore. It’s been told many times in racecourse bars but never as well or as detailed as in this superbly entertaining book