Reading List: History
By Melaina Phipps, Hello Race Fans Contributor

From recent history to the origin of the breed, this collection of books offers a wide range of historical reference material and enjoyable reading.

The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing by Steve Davidowitz

The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing

Steve Davidowitz has spent his life as a horseplayer. Former editor of the American Racing Manual, he has compiled The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing to share with us the details of the highs and lows of the game. The chapters cover racing’s top upsets and DQs, the best jockeys and trainers, divisional champions, famous rivalries, and supreme bloodstock, among other topics and issues. A true reporter, Davidowitz writes with fact and flair, sharing the details that often are unknown to the casual racing fan. It’s a great read as much for those new to racing as for well-seasoned fans who want to compare their own “best and worst” stats with Davidowitz’s.
Buy this book at Amazon

Champions: The Lives, Times, and Past Performances of America’s Greatest Thoroughbred (Third Edition 1894-2010) by the staff of the Daily Racing Form

Champions: The Lives, Times, and Past Performances of America's Greatest Thoroughbred

Comprehensive and authoritative, Champions provides the history of Thoroughbred champions from the foundations of Thoroughbred racing through modern times. Complete with past performances, more than 100 photographs, and Beyer figures back to 1992, this is an invaluable resource of racing history and records. Chapters are mostly delineated by decade and include a year-by-year listing of the era’s top horses and reporting dedicated to major stakes races of the period. It’s a race-by-race history of the sport through the hoofs of the equine athletes that have left their mark on the industry.
Buy this book at the Daily Racing Form

Legacies of the Turf: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders, Vols. I and II by Edward L. Bowen

Legacies of the Turf: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders, Vols. I and II

When it comes to breeding, it’s often said that one should “breed the best with the best, and hope for the best.” The breeders profiled in Legacies of the Turf’s two volumes have done just that and their hope has proved well-founded—they have produced some of the best racehorses and indeed Thoroughbred legacies of this century. Names like Keene, Belmont, Whitney, Hancock, Riddle, Headley, Widener, Payson, Vanderbilt, Kleberg, Combs, Phipps, Wolfson, Young, Paulson, and Farish have dedicated chapters which include histories, lists of winners, and photographs. These volumes are chock full of the best pedigrees in the business and are vital reading for anyone interested in learning more about the history of North American Thoroughbred breeding.
Buy Volume I at Amazon
Buy Volume II at Amazon

Masters of the Turf by Edward L. Bowen

Masters of the Turf

Some of the greatest trainers of the early 20th century are profiled in this volume by Edward L. Bowen. In chapters dedicated to James Rowe, Sr., Sam Hildreth, H. Guy Bedwell, John E. Madden, Max Hirsch, James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, H. J. “Derby Dick” Thompson, Preston Burch, Ben and Jimmy Jones, and Hirsch Jacobs, this superb turf writer and racing historian shares the stories of these legendary conditioners and the horses that made them famous. Looking into their lives as well as their work, Bowen provides a private look at the champions training champions in this wonderful ride through Thoroughbred history.
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The Byerley Turk by Jeremy James

The Byerley Turk

Three horses are recognized as the foundation of the modern Thoroughbred breed: the Godolphin Arabian, the Darley Arabian, and the Byerley Turk. Of these three, the first, and some might argue the greatest, was the Byerley Turk. Jeremy James has researched the history of this magnificent steed and recounts his story for the first time in The Byerley Turk. From the horse’s origins in the Balkans, through Istanbul, Vienna, Buda, Belgrade, and Calais to Great Britain, James traces the formidable horse’s adventures and successes while in novelistic fashion weaving a tale worthy of the generations of the stallion’s progeny.
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The Great Match Race by John Eisenberg

The Great Match Race

Several decades before the American Civil War, a rivalry was brewing in the form of a match race between one horse from the North and one from the South. Northern Eclipse faced Southern horse Sir Henry in what became the nation’s first sporting spectacle, attracting 60,000 fans. Eisenberg tells the story of the year and events leading up to the race and ultimately to the war that divided the nation. Filled with racing tales and accounts of people and politics, it’s a riveting blend of sport and history.
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Their Turf by Bernard Livingston

Their Turf

An oldie, but definitely a goodie, this book is an intimate portrait of the family dynasties that shaped Thoroughbred racing in this country. Beginning in the formative years of the sport, Livingston chronicles the contributions of the “first families” of the Thoroughbred industry, including the Whitneys, the Wideners, the Phippses, and the Vanderbilts. The volume covers the evolution of the sport from creation of the Jockey Club and the construction of Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course through to the superhorse Secretariat’s Triple Crown victory. It’s filled with little-known behind-the-scenes history, from a turn-of-the-century black-tie stag dinner on horseback in the Louis Sherry grand ballroom in New York to the stories of legendary Thoroughbreds such as Native Dancer, Citation and Bold Ruler and the famous Secretariat coin-toss. Their Turf is a racing read not to be missed.
Buy this book at Amazon

Top 100 Horse Racing Moments by The Blood-Horse Staff

Top 100 Horse Racing Moments

The Blood-Horse staff compiles a wealth of information in Horse Racing’s Top 100 Moments. It’s a racing compilation of truly greatest hits in the categories that include racing, auctions, breeding, innovations, controversies, and world records, among others. A small sample includes: the inaugural Breeders’ Cup, the Seabiscuit/War Admiral match race, Secretariat’s Belmont win, D. Wayne Lukas’s six Triple Crown wins, Cigar’s victory in the first Dubai World Cup, the advent of arthroscopic surgery, the initial use of lip tattoos for racehorse identification, the kidnapping of Shergar, and the Breeders’ Cup Pick 6 scandal of 2002. If it was a big deal in horse racing in the last century, you’ll find it in here.
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  • Great list! How about adding The Great Black Jockeys by Ed Hotaling, and Black Maestro by Joe Drape…as well as Hotaling’s history of Saratoga, They’re Off! (Might be out of print, though)…

  • Hi Annie, thanks for the great ideas! We have Black Maestro on the Memoir list:

    and are planning on doing a Track list, which will include Saratoga, They’re Off! but we’re planning on occasionally updating all of our reading lists, so we’ll add The Great Black Jockeys to the list!

    All of our current reading lists can be found here:

    and we also are planning on publishing a Breeding and Fiction list in addition to Tracks in 2012.

    History buffs should be sure to check out Annie’s site!

  • Thanks for your suggestions Amy! I’m glad you’re enjoying our lists!

  • I’m not sure this belongs under History, but a great book about Thoroughbred breeding and naming is called Stud: Adventures in Breeding. By Kevin Conley. I very much enjoyed it.

  • Hi Diana,
    Stud: Adventures in Breeding is gives a fantastic view of the modern world of breeding. I enjoyed it a great deal as well. Thanks for sharing!

  • I second the comments about Hotaling’s books, especially the black jockey volume. I also recommend some obscure 19th histories by Paul Joseph Pluth. A couple of his books have information not covered in depth by anyone else before. If you think you know American horse racing history, then read these two writers.

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