By Graham Sharpe

Horse Racing And Gambling Books

"I thought I would take the opportunity in this column of taking a look at some recently published books which take horse racing and/or gambling as the whole or part of their themes. I was astonished to discover myself quoted on the front of the latest edition of what is to my mind far and away the best book written on the delights - and otherwise - of racehorse ownership."

Journalist , sportswriter and author who, in my opinion, has a guaranteed place in Heaven purely for the editions of Auf Weidersehen Pet, which he wrote, was responsible for 'An Arm And Four Legs', about which I once said :" Explains with great humour and candour, Just what makes otherwise sane folk decide to become a racehorse owner" I must be perfectly sane because I have not been and intend never to become a racehorse owner - I've seen what it does to other people - and their bank balances! This excellent little book will set you back a mere £8 and is published by Yellow Jersey Press.

They are also responsible for the very much darker and odder 'Twelve Grand', written by another journalist, Jonathan Rendall. Sub-titled 'The gambler as hero', Rendall must have made himself many people's hero when he went to the publishers and convinced them that they should hand over to him £12,000 which he would then gamble over the course of a year, and the bring back a book explaining what happened. Incredibly, they went for it - and so, it would seem, did Rendall, because there are very great suspicions that what he did was found an alternative use for the dosh and actually wrote a book of fiction about what happens to a character given £12,000 to gamble.

The only way to judge for yourself what really happened is to read the book - I have a couple of copies to give away - the first two people to e-mail me with a reason why they should be the ones to win a copy, will get one - don't forget to leave an address. And here's another little competition. Virgin have just published the glossy, handsome 'Grand National : Aintree's Official Illustrated History', by noted National historian Reg Green - if he doesn't know it then it probably didn't happen. The tome is a little pricey at £20 but spot on for that friend or relative who really loves the Grand National. Text and pictures are excellent. Want to win one of the three copies Virgin have kindly given us? Well, the first three correct answers to the following National question e-mailed to me will win the book : Name the last 100/1 winner of the Grand National.

Also from Virgin, Laura Thompson's 'Newmarket : From James 1st to the Present Day', also at £20.Thoroughly well researched and told in her distinctive style, she looks into the life of Newmarket, past and present, and reveals a portrait of the town that is both authoritative and informal. Her passion for the sport - for its romance, glamour and excitement, but also for its resolutely undemocratic nature, makes this a unique and entertaining history.

No sooner has Christmas approached and then passed, than Cheltenham looms up on the horizon. Whet your appetite for the Festival with John Scally's Mainstream-published 'Them And Us' (£14.99),sub-titled 'the Irish at Cheltenham', which really captures the unique atmosphere of this idiosyncratic occasion at which the Irish are so richly represented. Sadly, Dick Francis's wife, Mary, passed away earlier this year. She was controversially named as the guiding force behind his best selling novelsin Graham Lord's 'Dick Francis: A Racing Life' (£16.99) from Little, Brown.

I must confess that this did not shock me over-much, having been told that many years ago when I first started to work for William Hill and was a colleague of one Peter Blackwell, our man on the course turned PR, who knew Francis well and always swore blind that Mary wrote the books while Dick did the research and supplied the expert details. Well, so what? If you enjoy the books, what does it really matter which of them put pen to paper? There is, of course, plenty more information about Francis, who famously failed to win the Grand National when his mount Devon Loch, owned by the Queen Mum, fell on the run-in for no apparent reason. 

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