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Bressbee The Ice King

Bressbee The Ice King

I was delighted to be asked to review this debut book by Rebecca Walters. I had vague recollections of Bressbee myself as he raced quite frequently at a time when I was living and working in Newmarket and following the racing on a daily basis. Having been contacted by many people asking about ex-racehorses through the website, I know that there is great affection for these "old warriors" so I was confident that I would enjoy the book immensely.

Bressbee's claim to fame is that he is the only UK trained horse to win the prestigious Grosser Preis, a race staged on a frozen lake at St. Moritz. He was bought out of a seller at Brighton so, to even qualify to run at St. Moritz, he had to improve by around 20lbs. The book takes us through the ups and downs of training and caring for a racehorse and perfectly illustrates the total dedication required by those closest to the animal. In this case it is Clare Jones that earns our sympathy and admiration as he transforms a seemingly difficult horse into a winner.

There are some sad and upsetting events that are very much an inevitable part of the racing game but there are also some light-hearted moments. The owners of Bressbee are portrayed almost in caricature, basking in the social side of the sport and happy to take the glory whilst seemingly oblivious to the hard work going on behind the scenes. There is no doubt that these types of owners do exist and Clare and trainer James Unett have to bite their tongues on numerous occasions in order to keep the peace.

The real star of the show is of course Bressbee himself. We learn about the difficulties in transporting a racehorse, coping with injuries and the many hours of work that go into preparing them for a particular race. The story comes to a thrilling climax when it is touch and go whether or not Bressbee, or "Buzz" as we get to know him, will even be able to run. Although he continued to race until 2006, his win at St. Moritz in 2003 was undoubtedly the pinnacle of his career. I am pleased to report that he is now enjoying a well earned retirement with the author. It is truly a heart warming tale and I thoroughly recommend it to all racing fans and horse lovers.

Available to buy direct at

Grand National

"Aintree Grand National Meeting"

Having greatly enjoyed "Portrait of West Country Racing" I was delighted to be asked to review another pictorial from the same publisher. The Aintree Grand National Meeting is a compilation of photographs from the 3 day meeting by photographer Andy Stansfield.

I should warn avid race fans that the horse racing most definitely takes a back seat to people watching in this full colour glossy production.  The author does mention that his licensing agreement with Aintree did not permit the use of photographs of the National runners and I do wonder if there might be a hint of regret in that comment.  Admirable as it may be to try and convey the atmosphere and excitement of the meeting through his keen observation of spectators and course officials I could not help but feel that something was missing.

To put it in perspective, there are less than a dozen photographs of horses and three times that number of women so it is very much geared towards the fashion stakes. Putting that to one side, if you are looking for a quick guide as to what to expect in terms of a social event, in comparison to Royal Ascot or Derby day for example, then this book will do that very nicely.

The book is priced at 14.99 and is available from stockists by quoting ISBN no. 9781841148724 or direct from the publishers, Halsgrove, on 01823 653777

silks, soaks and certainties

"Silks, Soaks and Certainties"

Bob Butchers' name has always been synonomous with "Newsboy", Racing tipster of The Daily Mirror  for almost 39 years and I must confess I knew very little about the man himself until I was invited to review his book "Silks, Soaks and Certainties".  I had anticipated an enjoyable read but I have to say that I have found the book a real gem.  Bob has written this book at the age of 83 and apologises in advance if there are any signs of senility creeping in! This warm and witty approach is carried through the book and each chapter keeps the racing fan well supplied with anecdotes from a family indelibly linked with the horse racing scene.

As a Sussex man myself, I was able to visualise the races and places described whilst reading through his delightful accounts. Plumpton was my local course until moving north of the border a few years ago and this was the scene of many of his own racing memories. There are no attempts to glorify his wartime service with the RAF which he describes simply as "boring" and, more significantly, as arriving at the worst possible time as it seriously impacted on his ambitions to be a successful professional jockey.

The second half of the book reflects on his alternative career as a racing journalist and provides a fascinating insight into his long and clearly enjoyable time with the Mirror. Many of the names of trainers, jockeys and of course the horses will revive memories for the racing fan and I whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the sport.

The book is available from stockists quoting ISBN: 978-1-906302-04-7 or direct from the publisher:

Blenheim Press Ltd, Codicote Innovation Centre, St Albans Road, Codicote, Herts SG4 8WH  Tel. 01438 820281

website ordering here


18.75 plus 3.00 p&p UK, 4.00 EC, 6.50 Rest of World

Over the Water

"Over The Water"

I was recently contacted by Artist Graham Holdsworth regarding a re-commissioned print run of his superb racing print "The Water Jump", now re-issued in a run of 450 titled "Over The Water".  I am very pleased to include his print in our review section. Graham is a largely self-taught artist working in the North East of England.

I first noticed the quality of his work with his popular print of Rooster Booster. Graham has a great eye for detail and pays particular attention to the way the light reflects off the horses and the water jump lends itself to this subject beautifully.  A really great action print which we thoroughly recommend to National Hunt enthusiasts everywhere.

The print is available direct from the artist:

Graham Holdsworth, 19 Falkirk Street, Thornaby, Stockton-on-Tees, Cleveland  Tel: 01642 640532

35 plus 2.50 p&p

Unravelling Racing

"Unravelling Racing"

I was delighted to be invited to review "Unravelling Racing" by debut author Lionel Beecroft. I was soon to discover that Lionel had been a part owner in that gallant sprinter Astrac and it is that horse's picture that graces the front page of the book enjoying his finest hour when winning the Wokingham at Royal Ascot. Apparently Lionel had been encouraged by friends to write something that would explain to the inexperienced racegoer the ins and outs of picking winners without getting bogged down with too much jargon. He begins the book by expressing his constant amazement at how readily people are willing to part with their hard-earned cash without even the basic understanding of "form" and attempts to guide them through this particular minefield as painlessly as possible.

He begins by examining how form is presented in the daily newspaper and draws the readers attention to the essential information that is not always available but which can be easily obtained in order to reach an opinion on the merits of each runner. From this basic starting point he goes on to explain how and why each horse is rated and how to grasp an understanding of the many variables that can improve or reduce a horse's chances of reproducing it's best form.

As the book is presented as a guide to the relative novice racegoer I got the feeling that the author was trying desperately hard not to delve too deeply into the many fascinating areas of study but, due to his own obvious enthusiasm, was finding it very hard not to. For example, his section on speed figures is something he obviously deems worthy of very serious study but I felt  may be a little too much too soon for some readers. However, the book is quickly back on track and provides just enough information for the reader to decide for themselves whether to take their study further. For example, the diversity of British racetracks and a horse's preference for going right or left handed, the bias of the draw and how both high and low numbers can have an advantage at Ascot and the vital significance of the going. Towards the end of the book the author gives us an insight into his own method of breaking down a field into the leading contenders and how to reach a decision on whether or not to invest.

I have read many books on horse racing betting and they vary enormously from basic guides to the most complex computer based analysis. I believe this book will get the reader out of the starting stalls and on their way to understanding racing so that they can form their own opinion of where to put their cash. Of course, as the book reminds us, this in no way guarantees that you will win but it will greatly improve your chances and perhaps most important of all, you will enjoy the challenge.

The book is available direct from the author:

Lionel Beecroft, Dearnley House, Elsted Marsh, West Sussex GU29 0JT

10 plus 2.50 p&p

Portrait of West Country Racing

"Portrait of Westcountry Racing" by Fiona Crawford is a beautiful pictorial tribute to horse racing in the Westcountry featuring Wincanton, Taunton, Exeter and Newton Abbot. The photographer has also gone behind the scenes to seek out the personalities who make racing the sport we know and love.

There are some lovely portraits of the popular stayer, now national hunt stallion, Double Trigger, mares and foals, the course officials and stable staff plus of course the thrills and spills of a day at the races.

As someone who has "dabbled" at racecourse photography I was delighted to be given the opportunity to review this book and it reminded me of many cold and wet winter afternoons trudging across Plumpton in seach of a new angle or a spectacular shot. For all of Fiona's undoubted skill in capturing the other side of the sport, it is the racing action shots themselves that have the most impact.

Although Champion hurdler Katchit and Grand National winner Comply or Die feature in the book it is not about famous names or festivals and will appeal most to the regular racegoer. The best compliment I can give is to say that it has tempted me to get out my camera again!

BUY IT HERE   Portrait of Westcountry Racing 14.24 FREEPOST

The book is also available from stockists by quoting ISBN no. 9781841147987 or direct from the publishers, Halsgrove, on 01823 653777
Too Close To Call

"Too Close To Call" by Graeme Roe was launched at the Cheltenham Festival this year.  Whenever 'Racing Thriller' is mentioned you can be sure 'Dick Francis' is the first name to trip off the tongue so it was nice to be invited to review a thriller by a different author.

Several retired jockeys and trainers have tried to follow the tried and tested formula for racing thrillers in recent years, with mixed success. Graeme Roe could be said to fall into both categories as he has experienced the ups and downs of racing as both trainer and jockey. I was therefore, not at all surprised to find the book quickly taking me inside the racing world and I have to say that the racing sequences provide by far the most entertaining aspect of the book.

The story itself is woven around a battle for the amateur jockeys championship with suspicions of sabotage.  Two casino owners from Las Vegas become embroiled in a plot to gain control of a group of racecourses and the plot thickens with the introduction of a couple of very dodgy bookmakers and some east-end heavies.

The story continues at a fast pace before all the parts of the jigsaw begin to fit into place. If I had any criticism it would be that the characters are never fully developed as the storyline flashes from the mysterious American investors to gangsters and back again to the racing stables. But for anyone who enjoys a good thriller with the backdrop of the racing this could certainly be recommended.

BUY IT HERE 5.49 + p&p

Persian Punch

Persian Punch - The Authorised Tribute by Lee Mottershead was published in 2004, only months after his tragic death at Ascot racecourse which seemed such a cruel way to bring the curtain down on a glorious career. Few racehorses get a public following in the way that Punch did, in recent times only Desert Orchid and Best Mate have become legends in their lifetime to the extent that Persian Punch achieved. When you become so attached to a particular horse the temptation to give them human characteristics becomes unavoidable but it is a rarity when it happens to a flat racer.

What struck me most when reading this detailed account of his racing career was the way in which he affected the lives and emotions of those people closest to him, his owner Jeff Smith, the numerous jockeys who rode him and most particularly his trainer David Elsworth.

Elsworth is a hardened trainer of vast experience under both codes who has trained horses of all types from the great Desert Orchid to the classy In The Groove. And yet, he leaves you in no doubt as to the affection he held for Punch and the absolute sadness that he did not get to share the old boy's retirement in the way he was fortunate to share many years with Dessie when his racing days were over.

If you follow racing at any level you will enjoy reading this book. The ups and downs of his long career are described in great detail and his famous hard-fought victories will live long in the memory to everyone who witnessed them, a fitting tribute to a great warrior of the turf.

Auction price 8.99

Derek McGovern

Derek McGovern on Sports Betting...and how to make it pay was published in 1999 but as a nice clean copy recently reached my desk I thought I would see if his comments and advice on sports betting are still as relevent almost 10 years on.

Not surprisingly, he does tend to focus heavily on his successful time as sports betting advisor to The Racing Post but you do get some useful insight into how you can find 'form' pointers in sports such as golf and tennis that you might not necessarily see as providing great betting opportunities. I doubt that he will have won any literary prizes as the book is written in an easy-going manner with some quite colourful language, but at least he does not baffle the reader with mathematics despite clearly having a sharp eye for value. Many of his hints are designed as much to prevent you from losing money foolishly rather than how to win but, rather like making a budget, working out how to cut your losses is a good place to start.

For the sports punter this will make a highly entertaining read and has a few hidden gems that could help to put your betting on the right path.

Auction price 5.99


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