Racing / Books for Christmas: Collision time with Hitler: Paul Hayward picks the front-runners for a delve into racing's reading list

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The Independent Online
THE BEST story re-told in racing this year has been the owner of the 1985 Derby winner describing how he ran over a German political leader in Munich in 1931.

Not convinced? Then consider this account of Lord Howard de Walden motoring through the Bavarian capital - as young bucks were inclined to do back then - in a new red Fiat which the nobleman's friends, much to his annoyance, 'rudely' referred to as the 'Commercial Traveller'.

A man called Haupt Pappenheim was helping our Lord Howard familiarise himself with the streets of Munich. 'I took a right turn,' Lord Howard recalls, 'and although I was going very slowly, a man walked off the pavement, more or less straight into my car. He went down on one knee, but he was soon up and I knew that he wasn't hurt.'

Pappenheim recognised his fallen compatriot. It was Hitler.

Few of the authors of this Christmas's racing books can say, as Lord Howard does, 'for a few seconds, perhaps, I held the history of Europe in my rather clumsy hands', though the surgeons who operated on Desert Orchid for colic last month might have felt the weight of world destiny pressing on their scalpel- wielding fingers.

Lord Howard's memoirs, Earls Have Peacocks (Haggerston Press, pounds 17.95), will be of limited interest to the placers of 50p Yankees in smog-filled betting shops, but will appeal to social historians charting the sedan-chair ride through life enjoyed by the old Jockey Club classes. They will also confirm that Lord Howard never took it all too seriously, which is the most appealing facet of the book.

Still with us, and still prospering, too, are Desert Orchid and Lester Piggott, both of whom are examined afresh from authoritative viewpoints. John Karter's Lester, Return of a Legend (Headline, pounds 16.99) is unashamedly adoring in its treatment of the man whose career seemed over (yet again) after his fall at this year's Breeders' Cup, but is also objective and thorough enough to avoid the kind of sycophancy that befell Dick Francis when he wrote Piggott's official biography.

Who, exactly, is Lester Piggott? It is the only question about this now gentle-faced grandfather which elicits genuine interest. It is the only one still to be answered, and enough witnesses are called for in Karter's book for us to at least start shedding the hyperbole which Piggott attracts.

'In all the years I drove him,' Mick Hinchliffe, Piggott's chauffeur of 11 years, says in the book, 'he never showed any emotion before or after a race, whether he was riding in a Classic or a little seller. It was just a job to him, a job that he found easy.' Contrast that with Bryn Crossley's recollection of steering Piggott to Leicester for his post-prison comeback, and the supposedly emotionless master sitting silently in the car park, trying to draw up enough composure to begin all over again.

While the definitive Piggott book may never be assembled, Richard Burridge's record of his Desert Orchid-owning years ought to halt the tide of paeans to this brilliant steeplechaser. Burridge, a script-writer by trade, manages to quietly acknowledge the unreality of the Desert Orchid years while celebrating the horse's achievements and evoking the spirit of those track-thronging days. Hence, The Grey Horse, The True Story of Desert Orchid (Pelham, pounds 15.99) has integrity to match its romance.

Of the others, Martin Pipe, The Champion Trainer's Story (Headline, pounds 16.99), is by far the most informative and engrossing racing publication on the market. In fact it could be the best racing book of the last five years because it strips away so much of the mystery surrounding Pipe's emergence. The Best of Racing Post (H F & G Witherby, pounds 16.99) is a colourful magazine of the last six years, while Marten Julian's unfailingly informative National Hunt Guide 1992/93 (Marten Julian Publications) should pass in large numbers between related punters.

For a visual review of the Flat season just past, head for the Racing World Flat Review 1992 ( pounds 17.45 from 143 Chatham Road, London SW11 6HJ), and for the best value in print stick with the Aesculus Press stable. Their Pocket Companion 1992/93 ( pounds 5.95) is fatter than last year and an even better buy at the price, while Backing Trainers ( pounds 4.95) by Ian Carnaby and Derek Mitchell is a fine guide to the art of following trainers.

With both, batteries are definitely included.

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