Book Reviews '“ Picking out the best racing books of 2018

THE sheer single-mindedness required to be a top jockey is epitomised by Tom Scudamore's reaction after he won horse racing's Christmas centrepiece two years ago.

Winners: Tom Scudamore rides Thistlecrack to King George success in 2016.

He should have been on a high after the precocious Thistlecrack had become the first novice to land Kempton’s King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, one of National Hunt racing’s most celebrated contests.

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One of the most significant triumphs in his career, it was also a notable victory for trainer Colin Tizzard and his son Joe, a retired jockey, whose faith in Thistlecrack was matched by the likable Scudamore.

Tom Scudamore celebrates Thistlecrack's King George success. However his outlooked had changed when he lost the next race.

Yet the post-race celebration never materialised, a nugget revealed in The Scudamores: Three Of A Kind (Racing Post Books, price £25) that was collaborated with the award-winning journalist Chris Cook.

One of the racing books of any year, Scudamore’s insight on what it takes to be a rider dovetails with the reflections of his father Peter, the former champion jockey, and grandfather Michael whose reminiscences were thankfully recorded for posterity before his death in 2014.

As well as revealing how the sport that made the Scudamores has changed from the risks that were taken after the war to the professionalism of today, the conversation flowing through the narrative explains the physical and mental resilience required in racing.

“When I won the King George on Thistlecrack, the high of that lasted until I got beat on the next one,” discloses Scudamore.

Three Of A Kind is one of the sports books of any year.

“I got beat in a handicap hurdle on Dell’ Arca and probably should have won on him. I remember coming back that night, saying to Joe Tizzard ‘We’ll meet up for a drink at some point, have a bit of a celebration...’

“We’ve never got round to it. Because there’s racing the next day, the enjoyment is winning it and then it’s done.”

Even with 1,000 winners to his name, Scudamore, like his father and grandfather, regards his next race as the most important. Yet, while family happiness will be the number one priority for all those involved in racing this Christmas, a winner will be a very close second for the jump racing fraternity.

For Scudamore, it is the hope that Thistlecrack can roll back the years and win a second King George after two injury-hit seasons. After the chaser’s pleasing comeback run at Haydock last month when third in the Betfair Chase, next Wednesday’s King George will, in all likelihood, define the jockey’s Christmas.

From the same publishing stable comes former Flat jockey George Baker’s inspirational read Taking My Time (£20).

Unnaturally tall for a Flat jockey, it charts his career from the great high of winning the 2016 St Leger on Harbour Law for Laura Mongan to the awful low months later when a career-ending fall while riding on the snow and ice at St Moritz left him fighting for his life.

However his recovery from traumatic head injuries, and the way his story has been chronicled, is a triumph of hope over adversity that is so synonymous with racing.

More irreverent is Fifty Shades of Hay: The Extraordinary World of Racehorse Names by David Ashforth (£9.99). It reveals some of the more quirky stories behind horses, such as Refused A Name who was owned by an orthopaedic surgeon and trained in Ireland by John Joseph ‘Shark’ Hanlon.

“We put in about 10 names and all of them were turned back,” said Hanlon. “So in the end we put Refused A Name and that was accepted.” He is coy about whether the refused names were rude or risque.

For a more leisurely read, the Racing Post Annual 2019 (£12.99) is essentially a series of essays on racing’s star performers from the past 12 months, notably the epic Cheltenham Gold Cup battle between Native River and Might Bite who could take on the aforementioned Thistlecrack in the King George.

Meanwhile A Year in the Frame (£30) is the latest photographic portfolio by Ed Whitaker. The ultimate coffee table book, it includes a striking photo of Wensleydale at its beautiful best as trainer Mark Johnston’s string are put through their paces and an eyecatching shot of Leyburn trainer Karl Burke’s stable star Laurens in full flight.