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Book Review

cover100 Magic Moments of the Turf
Compiled by Graham Roe
Green Umbrella Publishing, November 2009, 208 pages hardcover

Fans and participants of any sport, horse racing included, have certain moments in the sport's history they cherish most. The moment may be of personal significance or significance to the sport as a whole, but they achieve the same goal, which is to add an emotional attachment to that point in time and to the sport in general. The title may suggest yet another "top 100" list compiled by either one person or a committee, which is a very common style, and this reviewer fully expected this upon receiving the book. However, author and retired jockey Graham Roe took a completely different approach, one that sets his publication apart from other "best of" works.

In this, his first non-fiction racing book, Roe interviewed 100 people in European racing and assisted them in putting into words what their top moments are. Roe mostly interviewed the usual suspects -- jockeys, trainers, owners, and breeders -- and as you'd expect, most of these people have big stakes wins or specific top horses they were involved with. However, many of the stories were much more obscure and often these were more entertaining to read. A racing journalist described an amateur jockey race where the winning rider, who had been riding for 30 years, was riding a horse he owned and hoping to get his first win. The jockey, dairy farmer Anthony Knott, had his day in the sun, and didn't care that after the race the stewards gave him days for excessive use of the whip. He retired from riding, finally getting that win, his work complete. Frankie Dettori's seven-race sweep of a card at Ascot was a moment to remember not only for the famous jockey, but also for bookmaker Barry Dennis, who was on course that day and lost £25,000 (about $40,000 US) having to pay out on all those winning bets. Other stories involved grooms, starters, press photographers, farriers, and high-ranking officials.

Despite the European focus of the book, there are several stories that have connections to American racing. Luca Cumani reminisced about winning the 1983 Arlington Million with his 38-1 longshot Tolomeo (who paid at 90-1 with English bookmakers,) while John Gosden gave an entertaining account of an incident at Santa Anita involving a mobster whose bet didn't go in his favor. Clive Brittain used as his moment his runner-up finish in the Kentucky Derby with Bold Arrangement, a horse that cost him just 14,000 guineas as a yearling.

This book should be enjoyed by fans of horse racing history in that many important events from the last 40 years of both flat and National Hunt racing were touched on by the 100 individuals interviewed. Racing fans will enjoy reading about the human side of the sport and how so many people's lives are affected by this great game, directly and indirectly, as each "moment" is essentially an excerpt of that contributor's autobiography. The reader will then think about what their answer would be if Graham Roe called them today to ask the question of what his or her magic moment in racing would be.

100 Magic Moments of the Turf has a list price of $29.99 and can be purchased for $22.79 from Amazon.com or £14.00 from Amazon.co.uk.

Rating:     4/5

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