The Christmas book review 2016
Our hard-working team have been ploughing through some Christmas book options so that you know just what to ask Santa for!
Mick Channon and Mick Channon Junior
Picking Winners On Looks – Steve Sugden
Ah, paddock inspection – racing's last great, dark art.
While the quality and depth of information available for punters has never been greater – who could have imagined 10 years ago that we would now have free access to video replays of every single race? – trying to gauge a horse's chances from visual impression remains a furrow far less-ploughed.
In truth, paddock-watching is probably never going to be the path to untold riches on its own, but for many serious racecourse-based punters it's an important piece of the jigsaw and one that arguably deserves greater consideration than given in print.
This book offers something for those who, like me, don't know haunches from their hocks, or their ring bits from their snaffle bits, but also hopefully for those who have been looking at horses for years – although like so many other aspects of racing, there are clearly aspects of Picking Winners On Looks open to individual interpretation and others will probably take issue with some of the author's assertions.
An equine chiropractor, Steve Sugden draws upon a wide variety of source material to substantiate the key points of his process, in particular comments made by trainers on the subject of conformation and pre-race indicators to wellbeing – the views of the likes of Mark Johnston and Martin Pipe make for interesting reading.
The use, overuse and misuse of headgear is an interesting diversion in this book and occupies much of the second half. I was certainly surprised that statistically the first-time use of more unobtrusive headgear like cheekpieces and hoods has a much greater effect on a horse's likelihood of winning than aids generally accepted as being more severe, such as blinkers and the visor.
This is an informative book in many ways, although an obvious minus-point is that the many photographic illustrations of the various confirmation positives and negatives don't appear in colour. It would improve the experience for the reader if they were.
At the end of the book is an interesting 10-point checklist, offered as a model for any would-be paddock viewer to use in terms of remembering the different things to consider when putting the advice contained within into practice. Without giving the game away, the 10 areas of interest include 'coat', 'sweat' and 'tail'. Some of the others may surprise you. (Will Hayler)
Picking Winners In Looks costs £12.95 and is available from www.pickingwinnersonlooks.co.uk
Racing Through Life – A Jump Jockey's Tale by Sam Morshead
Sam Morshead gives the impression that his reputation as one of racing's hard men holds water in more ways than one. There aren't many books that open with a frank apology to the writer's first two wives. And yet, despite this mildly uncomfortable opening, this is a book that goes on to prove itself engaging, entertaining and overwhelmingly warm.
It's an autobiography very much geared to a racing readership. Morshead's years in the saddle and the cavalier approach to his career that saw him ride more than 400 winners with an almost-reckless attitude towards injury are detailed in interesting detail.
By contrast, Morshead's childhood and relationships are relegated to the background (his favourite fishing spot gets almost as much coverage), as is his successful time as manager of Perth racecourse, which is a shame because – as he says himself – the work he did at Perth in helping to make it one of the most fantastic tracks to visit in Britain, if not the world, is arguably his greatest professional achievement.
This is not a thick book, weighing in at under 200 pages, and as such it's a fairly effortless read, but none the worse for that – the anecdotes are full of charm and there's some particularly interesting insight into what went on behind the closed doors of the weighing room during Morshead's time in the saddle, an area that isn't always covered in much detail in other similar books.
Another particularly readable section concerns the moment when Morshead was told by the Jockey Club doctor he'd never ride again. "I do not remember anything about the interview, but I very clearly remember standing on the steps of the Portman Square offices without a job and simply no idea of what I was going to do in the future," he writes.
Morshead has endured his ups and downs, and more downs than ups it would seem, but both are covered equally with honesty and humour. More than anything else, this is an account of a life well lived and with Morshead now seemingly on top of his battle with cancer, it would be wonderful to think that a reprint with a couple more chapters might be called for in 20 years' time.
Racing Through Life (RRP £20) is available from www.racingpost.com/shop and other outlets.
How's Your Dad – Mick Channon Junior
There's been a buzz about this book for a little while and it's no surprise. It's like no other racing autobiography I've read.
In many cases that's no bad thing and to be fair Mick Junior has an incredible story to tell. After all Channon senior is a man who not only reached the top of the training profession but did so on the back of a glittering football career. But this is more about Mick the man – and following in the footsteps of such a strong character.
It's clear the relationship hasn't always been an easy one but the chapters covering the horrendous car crash Mick senior suffered – and the pain his son felt through the healing process and the loss of close friend Tim Corby is a remarkable read.
But so is the book in general – leaping from chapter to chapter, horses, football, bets, more accidents, family, good days, bad days, it's all here.
The book loosely began life as a diary of the 2015 racing season but has blossomed into something altogether more substantial.
I thoroughly enjoyed each and every word and recommend it to anyone.
How's Your Dad (RRP £20) is available from www.racingpost.com/shop and other outlets.
Racing Post Annual 2016
Now in it's fifth year this publication has found a real niche in the Christmas market. It does exactly what it says on the tin – tells the story of the racing year of 2016 – the heroes in equine and human form, the days that will never fade and the ones we wish would.
It's again published in a magazine format and at £12.99 would make a good present for any racing fan – and a very good one for someone who's managed to make it a year to remember by winning a few quid along the way.
Sprinter Sacre – The Impossible Dream
When this book was first published hopes were high that Sprinter may force a re-write further down the line with another big-race success or two.
Sadly we now know that won't be the case but there – in a format the Post have successfully deployed in the past – is a tremendous archive of the great horses' best work.
It's what you'd expect – old articles and reports interlinked with Brough Scott's words and brought to life by a stunning selection of photographs.
The moment when Sprinter swept past Un De Sceaux turning in last season's Betway Champion Chase will live long in the memory. Here was the comeback king delivering the impossible dream. This book is a wonderful way to re-live all the highs and lows of an amazing career.
The best thing to say is it does the great horse justice.
Sprinter Sacre (RRP £20) is available from www.racingpost.com/shop and other outlets.
Monopoly – Newmarket edition
No, it's not a book. It's nothing like a book, but it might just make a Christmas pressie for the person in your life who has all other racing angles covered. Or if you're selfish like me, you might just like to keep it for yourself.
If you've been to Newmarket at all this year, you'll already know that the town celebrated its 350th anniversary this year as the home of horseracing, culminating in a remarkable acrobatic display from a madman in a plane at the Future Champions meeting, along with various other worthy activities, many of which (hurrah!) involved the local community (take note – other racecourses!).
As part of the celebrations came a special limited edition version of Monopoly on which the original property squares were replaced by stables in the town, ordered by trainers' championship rankings. Instead of houses and hotels, fill your yard with horses and stallions.
It's a bit of fun – at least let's hope Lester Piggott thought so about his face being right next to the Go To Jail space.
According to former mayor, under-rated trainer and all-round decent bloke John Berry, this game will… "like Newmarket, be a treasure to cherish". That's what the press release said anyway.
I wouldn't necessarily want to go that far, but it certainly ought to give you something to do for a couple of hours once the racing is over on Boxing Day for £35. And as I found out recently when I tried to take the kids to the cinema, that's not the worst value you'll get over Christmas. (Will Hayler)
Monopoly Newmarket edition (RRP £35) is available through the website of the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art at https://www.palacehousenewmarket.co.uk/newmarket-monopoly.html – a couple of tickets for the museum might make a good Christmas present too!
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