Racing Books: Four-legged greats and hunting the real McCoy

Richard Edmondson
Click to follow
You don't survive on The Sun for almost 30 years without being a cute cookie, and the currant bun's racing corres- pondent, Claude Duval, remains one of the wiliest, and most feared, members of the press room. When Claude asks you to assess one of his books, your heels instinctively go together and there is a natural tendency to elevate the tome to the top of any review. Which brings us to The Real McCoy (Hodder & Stoughton pounds 16.99).

The full title is the giveaway here as the sub-headline "My Life So Far" appears on the cover of the biography of champion jockey Tony McCoy. The Irishman was only 22 when he landed his Cheltenham Festival big-race double earlier this year and there will surely be further chapters to come in his sporting life.

McCoy's book (sorry, Claude's book) is interesting nevertheless as we see the backcloth that has produced the hungriest contemporary National Hunt jockey. Indeed, you seldom get to read much about A P McCoy's thoughts anywhere else, as he is contracted largely to The Sun and has other agents demanding money for his opinions.

McCoy's first-person text is punctuated by others who appear in his life- play, and there are also passages from the co-writer. Whether the latter are needed is debatable, as, for those of us who have fallen into Claude's company, there seems to be as much C Duval about some of the jockey's reminiscences as A P McCoy himself.

Marcus Armytage, another of my colleagues, may also have had some input into Richard Dunwoody's thoughts for Hands & Heels (Partridge Press pounds 20). These two denizens of the weighing room have collaborated in print before, but may never do so again. It appears Armytage is finding it increasingly difficult to persuade the taciturn Dunwoody to offer any coherent thoughts.

This may, then, be their last venture, and an expensive one to follow at pounds 20. It concerns the best horses Dunwoody has come across in his enduring and successful career, not only the ones he himself has partnered exclusively, but also animals who achieved their greatest feats either before or after he was allowed on their backs.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter is on the unfortunate Rushing Wild, whose pelvis fell apart as he was leading in the 1993 Irish National. "I include him because, although his career was tragically short-lived, he was one of the greatest chasers I have ever ridden," Dunwoody says.

Yet another inhabitant of Britain's press room, Derek Thompson, has a go with Tommo's Year (Boxtree pounds 14.99). I must admit I like Tommo because he sometimes lets me sit in his chair and refers to me either as big fella or matey because he hasn't got a blind clue who I am. The great thing about the man is that all that Widow Twankey stuff he does on television is not put on. He is actually exactly like that in real life.

Much as I adore Tommo it was an astonishing moment when I heard he was writing a book, rather like the time as a child when you see a circus elephant balancing on a beach ball for the first time. But he's done it all right and if you want to find out who Tommo's mates are (Walter Swinburn, Frankie Dettori, Jack Charlton to name but a few), where he stays for the races and why Dubai is heaven on earth this book is a must. Ideal for children's stocking-fillers.

To Win Just Once (Headline pounds 16.99) investigates life away from the cameras and bright lights as it details the life of a journeyman jumps jockey. Guy Lewis faces all the barriers of the weighing room proletariat; the long, fruitless journeys; lack of money and frustration. But no obstacle could be greater than the layout of his own book. Clashing typefaces and formats, a splashing of asterisks and other digits make progress a struggle. This is a shame as we constantly need to be reminded that for every winner, there are the tiers and tears of the losers.

Then there are two works on Irish themes. Danoli, the People's Champion (Robson Books pounds 16.95) details the life of, perhaps, the most charismatic horse alive today. Following serious injury the gelding may never return to the station he once occupied, but don't tell that to his trainer, Tom Foley. Any book containing the thoughts of this humble and helpful man must be worth a look.

Champion Charlie (Mainstream Publishing pounds 14.99) is not a rushed job following Suny Bay's victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup, rather Michael Clower's detailed observation of the perennial jumps jockey champion of Ireland. Charlie Swann is the Irish son of an Englishman and Clower himself is a classic British gentleman turning green after 25 years over the Irish Sea. In layout and research this book is much reminiscent of Clower's earlier work on Michael Kinane. It's also just as good.