Longtime racing journalist Milton Toby is the recipient of the sixth annual Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, presented by Castleton Lyons and THOROUGHBRED TIMES. The award was presented by the late Dr. Ryan’s son, Shane Ryan, at a reception April 25 in a room in the historic stallion barn at Castleton Lyons in Lexington.
Toby won the $10,000 first-place prize for his book Dancer’s Image: The Forgotten Story of the 1968 Kentucky Derby, published in 2011 by The History Press.
The 1968 Derby remains the only renewal of Louisville’s classic in which a first-place finisher was disqualified. Toby, a college freshman attending his first Derby that year, watched Dancer’s Image glide under the wire an apparent winner. Like the rest of the world, he was stunned days later when the headline “Derby Winner Drugged” appeared on front pages of newspapers around the world. The gray colt’s post-race urine sample had tested positive for then-illegal phenylbutazone, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
Toby’s interest in the complex, dragged-out case grew over time as he earned a law degree after working. He had been a staff writer at The Blood-Horse magazine in the 1970s. He spent years investigating the questionable science behind the lab-testing, along with the volatile politics and cast of characters involved, and the lasting impact of one of racing’s biggest scandals. The end result is a relatively small book with very large implications, exhaustively researched and beautifully written.
“One of my goals was to make complicated subjects understandable to a reader with no specialized knowledge,” Toby told THOROUGHBRED TIMES. “I wanted to make the entire case, both the racing and legal aspects, accessible to people who didn’t have the time or inclination to track down and wade through thousands of pages of testimony and reports.”
Other finalists for 2011 were Her Last Race, a novel by ex-jockey Kim Schaumburg (Publisher: Black Rose Writing), and Andy Plattner’s collection of short stories, A Marriage of Convenience (Publisher: BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City).
The judging panel, comprised of Washington Post-Bloomberg News Service Managing Editor Kay Coyte, award-winning broadcast sports journalist Caton Bredar, and last year’s Book Award winner Jaimy Gordon, believed Toby succeeded well in what he had set out to do.
“Toby takes the story forward and gives it a rightful, pivotal place in the still-unfolding timeline of illegal medications and horse racing,” said lead judge Coyte, who called the book engrossing.
Bredar agreed, noting that Toby went to “heroic lengths in researching the subject” and had created a “very readable and interesting account of a watershed moment in racing history.”
Originally called the Castleton Lyons-Thoroughbred Times Book Award, the competition was renamed in 2008 to honor the memory of Dr. Ryan, founder of Ryanair and Castleton Lyons who died in 2007. Dr. Ryan drew upon his passions for horse racing and fine writing when he launched the award in 2006.
To view video of Milton Toby's acceptance speech, click here.
To view the speech by finalist Andrew Plattner, click here.
To view the speech by finalist Kim Schaumberg, click here.
To view remarks by judges Kay Coyte and Caton Bredar, click here.
Past winners of Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award:
2010 — Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule.