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When on Amazon doing a spot of Christmas shopping this month I decided to treat myself to a few new books for the commute to work, and any of my regular readers will probably be unsurprised to learn that a horseracing book or two sneaked into the list. Therefore, here's a review of Kings of the Saddle by Brian O'Connor.
This is available as new on Amazon for just over £7 but I purchased mine for very little in virtually new condition by one of their independent sellers.
I should note that this a review of the 2010 reprint version, also paperback. It features an iconic image from the recent years of the sport as Tony 'AP' McCoy won his first Grand National.
The basis of the book is to give an insight into the greatest Irish jockeys in modern years in both National Hunt and flat racing.
My reasons for purchasing this book is a general great respect for jockeys under both codes of racing due to the extreme risks they take on a daily basis twinned with the epic requirements of diet and fitness - they are truly inspiration sportsmen and as a former horse rider myself the skill, talent and empathy of the true greats is doubly inspiring to see as I can barely comprehend the abilities of some of the people featured in this book.
My second reason is a pride in my Irish heritage; the prevalence of the Irish amongst the top jockeys not just in the UK and Ireland but also around the world is well known and the historical reputation of how important horses have been in Ireland is also something that I take great pride in. Also in the UK there has in recent years been a lot of books written about the achievements of the Irish in racing and breeding and often winners at the hallowed Cheltenham Festival will be seen walking into the winners' enclosure with the Irish flag being held high by the jockey.
Each chapter is dedicated to an individual jockey of particular note from recent years, giving a little more personal insight and background to the person in question and illustrating their history and progression from starting out to being at the forefront of their sport. I don't want to ruin that for any potential readers so will just highlight those included with some basic information easily found in the public domain. So, the chapters cover:
Michael Kinane - one of the groundbreaking jockeys of his time, now retired, who set the trend for riding at the top level Internationally.
Paul Carberry - known as much for his hellraising exploits as his undeniably amazing talent as a horseman, previous winner of the Grand National and Irish Champion National Hunt jockey.
Kevin Manning - Derby-winning jockey whose talent is undeniably and who faces an epic fight to keep his weight to racing levels yet still performs at the top level of his sport.
Barry Geraghty - another Irish Grand National winner, Geraghty has also won most of the top races in National Hunt racing, has an association with one of the most powerful yards in the UK and partnered the great Moscow Flyer during his championship career.
Kieren Fallon - one of the most controversial but also talented jockeys of any era.
Nina Carberry - sister of Paul and widely respected as the best female National Hunt jockey riding today.
Pat Smullen - Irish champion flat jockey.
Timmy Murphy - Grand National winning jockey who has overcome his own significant personal demons.
Jamie Spencer - top-flight flat racing jockey who has ridden for the most powerful stables in the sport.
Tony McCoy - a sportsman for whom comparisons are virtually impossible, the jockey who has broken virtually every record there is to break and in 2010 the winner of the Grand National on Don't Push It.
Johnny Murtagh - winner of the Derby, rider to the best yards in his career.
Ruby Walsh - widely considered to be the finest horseman riding, winner of virtually all big National Hunt races and jockey of greats such as Kauto Star and Big Buck's.
I have enjoyed this book; the subject is something that is of huge interest to me and I love getting a deeper insight in to the lives and backgrounds of sporting icons.
I do however have some criticisms; whilst I think that the format of one chapter per rider works well, almost splitting the book up so that one can put it down and come back to it at a later stage, this also means that the coverage of each rider is not as in depth as I would like. Personally I think that longer chapters, given more in depth content, would be beneficial. This is not to say that the chapters are brief or that I consider any rider to have had less coverage than another, but it seems to be scraping the surface a little in some instances. I have learnt more about virtually all jockeys covered and someone new to the sport might learn a great deal from it, but equally I did already know a fair amount of the information and would have preferred the book to be longer and feature more interview content.
I have also noticed that this has a few typing errors which for some reason I can't oversee and as a former proof-reader this drives me mad! So I'm taking a star away for the editing, which I hope people don't consider to be too harsh. For me it breaks the flow of a sentence when you're engrossed in a story and spot a typing error. Largely it is well written and light in tone, this is really and editorial criticism.
I would recommend this book but for a true racing fan it is nothing more than an enjoyable indulgence as most of the riders in question have their own available autobiographies, but for someone new to the sport who would like to learn more about these remarkable sportsmen and the demands their profession puts on their personal lives and health I do think it is a worthwhile insight.