Eclipse, by Nicholas Clee

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The Independent Culture

This week sees the announcement of the 2009 William Hill Sports Book of the Year and, appropriately for an award sponsored by bookies, the shortlist of six contains a rattling good saga of horseracing folk.

Set in the rumbustious late 18th century, it is the story of Eclipse, a stallion from whom 95 per cent of today's thoroughbreds worldwide are descended through the male line, and his human connections, many of whom enthusiastically attempted to match his amatory exploits. He was bred by the Duke of Cumberland, the "Butcher of Culloden", but passed into the hands of an Irish chancer, Dennis O'Kelly, who survived five years in debtors' prison before taking up with the most successful brothel-keeper in London and forging a glittering career on the Turf as an owner and breeder.

Before being retired to stud, Eclipse won all 18 races, in one of them inspiring the cry, "Eclipse first, the rest nowhere".

Nicholas Clee has made exemplary use of this promising material; whether he can continue Eclipse's winning run we shall see on Thursday.

Published in hardback by Bantam Press, £20

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