Patrick Smithwick was awarded the seventh annual Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award during an evening ceremony April 10 at Castleton Lyons Farm near Lexington.
The lifelong horseman earned the honor for his 2012 autobiographical work Flying Change: A Year of Racing and Family and Steeplechasing. The book was a follow-up to the author's 2006 volume Racing My Father: Growing Up with a Riding Legend, which was a finalist for the inaugural Book Award launched by Dr. Tony Ryan in 2006.
Ryan, a successful businessman who founded Europe's Ryanair airline in 1985, loved horse racing and a good story. In 2006 he tipped his hat to both by launching the Castleton Lyons Book Award, which with $10,000 in prize money quickly drew entries from some of the world's foremost sporting authors. Although Ryan passed away the following year, the contest now named for him has since been carried on by his son Shane, president of Castleton Lyons.
"Thank you very much, this is a lot of fun," Smithwick told a select group gathered at the prestigious farm. "I'm extremely honored to be accepting this award; thank you Shane, so much. I've learned so much about your father, and wish I could have met him, and I feel like I'm getting to know him.
"I hope to use this award to pick up the whip, pull out the spurs, and get my next book completed and to a publisher."
In Flying Change, the author relates the story of his return to steeplechase competition in his late 40s, a quarter-century removed from his previous racing career. With humor, elegance, and charming introspection, he recalls the difficult road back from complacent middle-age to athletic fitness ... the doubts, the joys, and setbacks along the way in his quest to compete and to defy the passage of time.
Smithwick's book impressed judges Kay Coyte, managing editor of the Washington Post-Bloomberg News Service; HRTV broadcaster and producer Caton Bredar; and attorney and author Milton C. Toby, winner of the 2011 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for Dancer's Image: The Forgotten Story. The three remarked on the loving detail included therein, and praised the sometimes brutal honesty with which the story was told.
Submissions for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award came from all over the world, included among them histories, biographies, fiction, and a volume on equine law. Other finalists for 2012 were Kentucky Derby Dreams: The Making of Thoroughbred Champions by Susan Nusser, and The Garrett Gomez Story: A Jockey's Journey Through Addiction and Salvation by Rudolph Valier Alvarado with Garrett Gomez.
"We look for the best book that represents Dr. Ryan's mission, and that is to promote readers of all literature about horse racing and also to promote authors, to give them something to shoot for and something to look forward to as they're writing these books, and maybe encourage more writing about the horse racing industry," Coyte said.
The winner received $10,000 and a custom-designed Irish crystal trophy.
Previous winners of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award include Jaimy Gordon, author of Lord of Misrule, James E. "Ted" Bassett and Bill Mooney for Keeneland's Ted Basset: My Life, Rudy Alvarado, author of The Untold Story of Joe Hernandez: The Voice of Santa Anita, T.D. Thornton for his Not By a Long Shot: A Season at a Hard-Luck Horse Track, and Joe Drape, who won the inaugural award with Black Maestro.