Reading List: Biography & Memoir
By Melaina Phipps, Hello Race Fans Contributor

Please pardon the appearance of this page, we will fix it at some point!

Get an inside look at the racing industry from various points of view, including first-hand recollections and well-researched accounts.

Betting on Myself by Steve Crist

In the spring of 1977, while Seattle Slew’s 3-year-old campaign was turning into a Triple-Crown-winning season, college student Steven Crist made his first trip to a local dog track. What he found while watching the greyhounds was something “pure and straightforward” a breath of fresh air compared to the literary study that he had come to hate. Later that year he made his first trip to Belmont and found himself following Affirmed’s Triple Crown bid. Betting on Myself is Crist’s wonderful adventure in racing and journalism—from the dog track to the horse track, from Harvard to NYRA, from entry-level at the New York Times to publisher at the Daily Racing Form. It’s an inspiring read for anyone who loves racing, who loves publishing, or who is looking to reinvent themselves.
Buy this book at Amazon

Beyond the Homestretch by Lynn Reardon

Thoroughbred retirement is a hot-button issue for many inside and outside of the industry. There don’t seem to be enough organizations and individuals ready, willing, or able to take on the task of re-training the retired race horse and help them find a new life’s work after their days at the track are over. Enter LOPE (LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers), the Texas organization founded and directed by Lynn Reardon. In Beyond the Homestretch, Reardon takes readers along on the journey from her D.C. office job to her new and extraordinary career, in which she has so far helped to find new homes for over 800 ex-race horses. It’s a story about horses, people, and the wonderful things that can happen when people help, even when they don’t really have to.
Buy this book at Amazon

Black Maestro by Joe Drape

The “Black Maestro,” as Jimmy Winkfield became known, hailed from the Bluegrass of Kentucky. From the modest origins of a sharecropping family, his interest in racing was born in his childhood. He would take his natural horsemanship skills and parlay them into a career in the racing world first as a groom, then as an exercise rider, and finally as a two-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey at the turn of the century. Black Maestro chronicles the life of this extraordinary man and legendary athlete from his struggles on and off the track to his successes in Kentucky, Chicago, New York, and Louisiana. Further, Drape explores the hardships that Jim Crow laws imposed on Winkfield’s career, which spurred a move to Russia and across Europe where he continued his career. It’s an extraordinarily engaging and well-researched biography, racing history, and examination of sportsmanship on a global scale.
Buy this book at Amazon

MacKenzie Miller by Jonelle Fisher

He is known as the “gentleman trainer,” one of the few remaining from a generation of great racehorses, grand farms, and remarkable trainers. From his first job as a stable hand at Calumet Farm in Lexington, Kentucky to his final race before retiring in 1995 to his passing in 2010, MacKenzie Miller distinguished himself as a true horseman and a true sportsman. His 46-year training career and relationship with Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stable carried on the traditions of a past era and earned him induction into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1987. His stakes wins are too numerous to list but include a Kentucky Derby win with Rokeby’s Sea Hero in 1993. His life is a story of another era, the lessons of which are well remembered in Fisher’s biography. A fine read.
Buy this book at Amazon

The Big Horse by Joe McGinnis

Chicago native Philip “P. G.” Johnson was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1997. He came east to race on the New York circuit and made his mark by achieving leading trainer status at all three NYRA tracks—Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct. In fact, he consecutively saddled at least one winner every summer in Saratoga for 36 years. He did all this without ever having had his “big horse.” In racing, the “big horse” is the horse that marks a trainer’s career, that will change the life of all those connected with it. It’s the horse who brings glory to the barn. After 60 years of a training career filled with successes, P. G. Johnson finally got his big horse—when he was in his seventies. And . . . he bred him. His name was Volponi and he would take Johnson into the winner’s circle for the coveted Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2002. Joe McGinnis followed Johnson and Volponi through the 2003 Saratoga season and back to Santa Anita for a second shot at the Classic. The Big Horse is a story about not only training and the races, but also about the life and journey of an extraordinary man and his big horse. It’s about racing dreams coming true.
Buy this book at Amazon

The Perfect Ride by Gary Stevens

Jockey Gary Stevens’ memoir, The Perfect Ride shares his life in racing from his catching the racing bug as a child to his first Kentucky Derby win at age 25 (on Winning Colors) to his racing comeback in 2000. It’s a look back on his career of triumphs and struggles—both on the track and off—and the ambition and passion that kept him searching for the perfect ride. It’s an inside look at what the pursuit of a career as a top jockey really means, and what it meant to Stevens. Jockeys are elusive characters to fans of horse racing. As is true with many celebrities, we see only their most public glory and most public failings. The Perfect Ride shares with the reader how it feels to pursue your greatest dreams under the constant pressure of an industry that never sleeps.
Buy this book at Amazon

The Training Game by Karen M. Johnson

If you’ve ever wanted to get inside the mind of a Thoroughbred trainer, Karen Johnson’s book The Training Game will give you a glimpse into the worlds of eight of the game’s biggest names. Johnson profiles (including vital statistics) Steve Asmussen, Rick Dutrow, Bobby Frankel, Neil Howard, Allen Jerkens, Carl Nafzger, Todd Pletcher, and Nick Zito, and the tales and secrets they share will entertain even the most casual of racing fans. Racing is more than just big horses and big wins; it’s also hard work, long days, and all the small accomplishments along the way to greatness.
Buy this book at Amazon

The Untold Story of Joe Hernandez by Rudolph Valier Alvarado

From opening day on Christmas 1934 to the day he collapsed at the mike in January 1972, Joe Hernandez was known as the “Voice of Santa Anita.” He was the race caller on the West Coast for the length of his career and so admired for his work that he was hired to come East and work at Pimlico and Belmont in the late 1930s. He even called Middleground’s victory in the 1950 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. But Hernandez was much more than just a race caller; his life in racing encompassed work as a jockey, handicapper, sportswriter, as well as a radio and TV producer. Under his own silks he owned and raced multiple-stakes winner and Hall of Fame inductee Cougar II (Chile), trained by Charlie Whittingham. In this Dr. Tony Ryan Award–winning book, Alvarado writes history as he recounts the amazing strides made by Hernandez at a time when simply remaining in the States was a challenge for most Mexican-Americans.
Buy this book at Amazon

Whittingham by Jay Hovdey

Charlie Whittingham is known in the industry as one of the most acclaimed trainers in history, having trained seven national champions, winning three Eclipse Awards, and coming this close to having a Triple Crown champion with Sunday Silence. He was the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby in 1986 with Ferdinand, and then again three years later with Sunday Silence—and both those horses went on to Breeders’ Cup Classic wins. While many biographies tell stories and recount accomplishments, Jay Hovdey’s Whittingham not only shares the legendary man’s life but also his trainer’s wisdom and extraordinary horse sense.
Buy this book at Amazon

Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach

Calumet Farm sits in the middle of the idyllic Bluegrass of Lexington, Kentucky. Home of Triple Crown winners Whirlaway and Citation and countless other stellar race horses, it seems as close to fairy-tale perfect as possible . . . from the outside. The inside story, on the other hand, is another one entirely. While not technically a biography, that’s what Auerbach provides her readers in Wild Ride. Once the standard by which other Thoroughbred operations were measured, during the heyday of the “Bluegrass Bubble” the grandeur of Calumet was replaced by scandal and corruption, which would eventually be the legacy’s undoing. Excellent reporting brings the story and its many and varied characters to life in this American saga of greatness and greed.
Buy this book at Amazon
You Might Also Like
Last 5 posts by Melaina Phipps

Questions? Comments? We're here to help!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *