By Bradford Cummings
There are few things in this world less lucrative and potentially more impactful than writing a book on a certain subject. One of those even less lucrative endeavors is writing a book on the Thoroughbred industry. An author is lucky to make $5,000 on a book, considering it probably won't sell more than a few thousand copies.
On top of that, there's little recognition for those this side of Laura Hillenbrand, the breakthrough author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend. Unlike journalists who are eligible to win in several Eclipse Award categories, Thoroughbred book authors have been historically left on the sidelines (though Hillenbrand won two Eclipse Awards for writing about Seabiscuit).
That was until four years ago when Ryan Airlines' co-founder and Castleton Lyons owner Dr. Tony Ryan called Mark Simon, president and editor of the Thoroughbred Times.
“He came to us and talked about his idea,” said Mark Simon. “He wondered why the Thoroughbred industry had no way of honoring books.
“I asked him what should we give to the winner, thinking just the honor of the award and maybe a couple thousand dollars. He said to me, 'Okay, let's make it ten.'”
For a book award, $10,000 is a large sum of money. But considering $10,000 is also the top prize for winning the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, that puts into perspective just how strong a program Dr. Ryan and the Thoroughbred Times created with the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award.
“Nobody really writes a book with the thought that he might win an award for writing it,” former finalist Vic Zast told the Paulick Report. “But once an author realizes that he might, he can't stop thinking about it.”
While Zast's History and Art of 25 Travers did not win in 2008 (The Untold Story of Joe Hernandez: The Voice of Santa Anita, by Rudolph Valier Alvarado took the prize), he holds the award in the highest regard. “It's very cool that Castleton Lyons and the Thoroughbred Times have carved out this niche. Sponsoring a competition like this is what leaders do. They think beyond the obvious.”
As for the anticipation of winning the award, Zast shared this tidbit with the Paulick Report. “A librarian at turfluck.blogspot.com had my book as the 5-2 morning line favorite in an article she posted called 'Handicapping the Monograph Mile.' My Guy Barbaro by Edgar Prado and John Eisenberg was second choice at 3-1. She pegged the eventual winner at only 7-1. I know now what Todd Pletcher feels like when a horse of his loses.”
By all accounts, Dr. Ryan was a passionate reader and supporter of the arts. Most of the time, his philanthropy was private, his generous contributions to the education of developing countries kept largely under the radar. However, he couldn't help but be the centerpiece of this book award, originally called the Castleton Lyons/Thoroughbred Times Book Award until his passing in 2007. The idea was his and only someone of his vision and charisma could pull this off.
“He must have been working on it in his head without telling anyone,” said Castleton Lyons farm manager Tobias Incollingo. “He came to us out of the blue and wanted to do it very rapidly. We only had five months to put the entire thing together.”
Clearly, Dr. Ryan wanted to protect literature and encourage more books to be written. But what isn't obvious is that this inspiration came from his Irish roots. The Tower of Cashel, featured prominently in the award's logo, was where the Irish would store all their literature when being invaded so that above all, their intellectual property would be saved for future generations. So in a way, Dr. Ryan built a Tower of Cashel for the Thoroughbred industry, assuring that our literature would continue for future generations.
The Dr. Tony Ryan Award invitation-only ceremony will be held this evening at Castleton Lyons featuring finalists Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses, by Lynn Reardon; Keeneland's Ted Bassett: My Life, by James E. “Ted” Bassett III and Bill Mooney; and The Kentucky Derby Vault: A History of the Run for the Roses, by Andrew Plattner. The three judge panel of Rudolph Valier Alvarado, Kay Coyte and Mary Simon will award one lucky winner with the runners-up to receive $1,000 each. It is important to note that while Castleton Lyons continues to give the $10,000 award, the runner-up prizes and all other expenses are covered by the Thoroughbred Times.
This is a great night for racing each year. It is an opportunity for us to celebrate unsung heroes in our industry and to give light to stories that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. But Vic Zast may have said it best.
“At the soul of the competition is the concept of possibility, which, after all, is what horse racing is all about.”
Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report
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