02/27/2015 12:45PM

Six semifinalists named for Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award

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Six semifinalists have been named for the ninth annual Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, honoring full-length work written with a horse-racing focus or backdrop.

The contest, which offers a $10,000 prize equal to that of the National Book Award, was created by the late Dr. Tony Ryan, founder of Ryanair Airline and owner of Castleton Lyons Farm in Lexington, Ky. Finalists for the award will be announced March 17, with the winner revealed at an April 15 invitation-only cocktail reception in the Castleton Lyons stallion barn.

Following are the six semifinalists for the 2014 award.

“Canonero II: The Rags to Riches Story of the Kentucky Derby’s Most Improbable Winner”

Author: Milton C. Toby

Toby follows the improbable story of a $1,200 yearling’s epic climb to the very apex of his sport. The author chronicles how a crooked-legged colt emerged from Venezuelan obscurity in 1971 to take North American racing by storm, capturing the hearts of racing fans worldwide with victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes – and along the way emphatically proving that even the most unlikely of dreams can come true.

“Everywhere Spirit”

Author: Stephen Halstead

The novel traces the late-1960s career of a troubled young reinsman named Jock Travers. It is a fast-paced adventure filled with earthquakes, mobsters, and romance. The protagonist’s story is superimposed over that of his recurring “dream partner” and apparent alter-ego – a 19th century Native American named Strong Eagle – as the two embark on parallel journeys to overcome fear and their unhappy pasts.

“Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel”

Author: Maryjean Wall

“Madam Belle” tells of Kentucky’s most famous “madam,” set against the backdrop of horse racing’s soaring 19th century rise in popularity. Belle Breezing, said to have inspired Belle Watling from “Gone With the Wind,” rose from a troubled girl on the streets of Lexington to a sophisticated, hard-nosed businesswoman, running a thriving bawdy house in the heart of bluegrass horse country. Her patrons were among the most powerful in the region, including plenty of racing men.

“Northern Dancer: The Legendary Horse That Inspired a Nation”

Author: Kevin Chong

An in-depth study of Northern Dancer’s 1964 classic campaign, when the famously undersized champ with an outsized heart captured the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, only to fall just short of Triple Crown immortality. Chong focuses as well on the future leading sire’s flamboyant connections: Canadian industrialist owner E.P. Taylor, debonair South American trainer Horatio Luro, and fiery tempered but supremely talented jockey Bill Hartack.

“Offerings from a Rust Belt Jockey”

Author: Andy Plattner

Plattner presents the fictional tale of a frustrated, small-time journeyman jockey named Carl Arvo. It is a short but well-crafted novel about love, ambition, gambling, risk, and luck in the often-unforgiving world of horse racing. It is alternately funny and poignant and packed with powerful dialogue.

“RaceLens: Vintage Thoroughbred Racing Images”

Author: Philip Von Borries

This artistic volume was compiled over two decades by an Eclipse Award-winning historian. Utilizing the archival collection from Keeneland’s renowned library and featuring the work of legendary racing photographers of the past to the near-present, “RaceLens” showcases some of the sport’s most iconic images along with never-before-seen shots of old-time champs, early jockeys, and long-defunct racetracks. Photos are accompanied by well-articulated captioned text, with a forward by past Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award winner Bill Mooney.