04/15/2013 12:50PM

Smithwick wins Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for 'Flying Change'

Garry Jones
Patrick Smithwick (left) accepts a crystal trophy as the winner of the 2012 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award from Shane Ryan at Castleton Lyons farm Wednesday.

The late Dr. Tony Ryan would have liked Patrick Smithwick, no doubt about it. Although separated by vast swaths of time and space, they nevertheless shared several essential qualities – fiercely competitive natures, courage, a penchant for risk-taking, a profound love of the Thoroughbred, and a powerful literary bent. They would have known each another in a crowd, anywhere, instantly.

It is entirely fitting then that on the night of April 10, in a loft above the historic stallion barn at the Ryan family’s famed Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington, Ky., Smithwick was named the seventh recipient of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, joining a list of some of the best authors in – and out of – the business. The man who called out his name and handed the author a check for $10,000 along with a Tipperary Crystal trophy was Shane Ryan, who has kept the prestigious competition going each year since the passing of his father in 2007. For both the Ryans and the Smithwicks, it was, is, and will continue to be all about family.

At one time or another, Smithwick has been a teacher of English and/or medieval studies, an editor, a newspaper reporter, a photographer, and, back in the day, a steeplechase rider. He came by the latter skill set honestly as the son of Racing Hall of Fame jump jockey A.P. “Paddy” Smithwick and the nephew of Hall of Fame trainer D.M. “Mikey” Smithwick. A racing pedigree just doesn’t get much better than that, equine or human.

In “Flying Change,” a follow-up to his 2006 volume “Racing My Father” (a Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award finalist), Patrick Smithwick chronicles his mental and physical path back from middle-aged desk jockey to competitive race rider, and does so with charming, if often brutal, introspection. He recalls invaluable advice on horsemanship from his late Uncle Mikey, reminisces about his famous father, who died of cancer at 46, and describes his own quest years later to stare down mortality when he himself reached – and passed – that milestone.

“What is a man to do at this age?” he pondered early on in “Flying Change.” “Most men get heavy, drink, develop a paunch, work out occasionally at a health club, play golf. They don’t jump up on a 3-year-old racehorse that is fueled and trained to the point where he is about to explode with nervous energy unless he is allowed to bust out of the gate, drop down on the rail, lower his head, and let the turbos roar, let them scream...”

A paunch and a putting green clearly were not for Smithwick; the turbo-roar of a finely tuned 3-year-old apparently was. As one might imagine, Smithwick’s road in his personal race against time was not an easy one. His return to competitive race riding as he approached the half-century mark proved physically exhausting, mentally draining, often frustrating, and, at times, quite humorous.

Ryan almost certainly would have reveled in this exquisite book about courage and defying the odds, with its occasional spot-on references to Kafka, Thoreau, and Hemingway, and an opening chapter entitled “Call Me Ishmael.” It's a book that, at its very core, was all about love of family, past and present.

Other finalists for the 2012 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award were “Kentucky Derby Dreams: The Making of Thoroughbred Champions,” by Susan Nusser; and “The Garrett Gomez Story: A Jockey’s Journey Through Addiction and Salvation,” by Rudolph Valier Alvarado, with Garrett Gomez.

The judges were Kay Coyte, managing editor of the Washington Post-Bloomberg News service; HRTV broadcaster and producer Caton Bredar; and attorney and author Milton C. Toby, the winner of the 2011 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for “Dancer’s Image: The Forgotten Story.”


Flying Change: A Year of Racing and Family and Steeplechasing

Author: Patrick Smithwick

Publisher: Chesapeake Book Company, Baltimore, Maryland

Pages: 351

Hardcover, $30


Prior winners of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award

2011 - Milton Toby, "Dancer's Image: The Forgotten Story"

2010 - Jaimy Gordon, "Lord of Misrule"

2009 - James E. "Ted" Bassett & Bill Mooney, "Keeneland's Ted Bassett: My Life"

2008 - Rudy Alvarado, "The Untold Story of Joe Hernandez: The Voice of Santa Anita"

2007 - T.D. Thornton, "Not By a Long Shot: A Season at a Hard Luck Horse Track"

2006 - Joe Drape, "Black Maestro"