20131111

Racy true-life thriller bidding to get the judges' nod as William Hill Sports Book of the Year

Horse racing, which has provided the subject matter for only one winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year so far, has a strong candidate this year in Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang.

Written by journalist Jamie Reid, the story of the biggest horse-nobbling racket in the history of the sport in Britain would emulate the 2001 success of Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand's wonderful story of the colt with famously crooked legs that became an equine hero in post-Depression America, should the judges take a fancy to it.

Steeped in underworld menace, with a cast of characters that could have been born in the imagination of a thriller writer, Doped rattles along at such an unputdownable pace that it would be no surprise were it to follow Seabiscuit on to the big screen.

In essence, it is the tale of a conspiracy involving a crooked bookmaker, Bill Roper, his glamorous mistress, various gangsters, bent stable lads and a drug supplier nicknamed 'the Witch Doctor' to nobble high-profile racehorses upon which the plot's mastermind and his accomplices could accept thousands of pounds in bets in the sure knowledge that they could not win.

A Derby favourite and several Royal horses were among the gang's victims in the three years before they were rumbled.

Here are extracts from a couple of reviews, beginning with Simon Redfern, in the Independent on Sunday, who sets the scene thus:

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies famously remarked at the Old Bailey on 23 July 1963 when told that Lord Astor denied having sex with her. On the same day, an attractive 26-year-old Swiss woman, Micheline Lugeon, also appeared in court, at Brighton, charged with conspiring to dope racehorses.

Lugeon was the mistress of Bill Roper, a well-connected gambler and bookmaker some 30 years her senior. Starting in 1959, he had been doping horses, mainly to lose, on an industrial scale, and his lover had been an integral part of the scam.

Dressed to impress, she would arrive unannounced at a racing stable in a chauffeur-driven car, explaining that she was a French owner looking to place some horses in England; would it be possible to have a tour of the premises? Her wish was usually granted, and as she strolled round she was followed by her "chauffeur" – in reality Roper or, if he feared he would be recognised, an accomplice – who took a careful note of the boxes in which potential targets were stabled."

Read the full review

And these words are taken from Dave Ord's appraisal on the Sporting Life website:

"Reid does a wonderful job in profiling the central characters, Bill 'Mr Racing' Roper and his lover Micheline Lugeon whose charms allowed the gang to access the most powerful yards in the land. Charlie Mitchell was a fearsome individual with links to the Kray twins and is a growing presence throughout the story. Then there are the former stable lads who administered the substances which were provided by Teddy Smith - the self-proclaimed 'Witch Doctor'. The story of how a drunken afternoon of his at Brighton races hastened their downfall is a remarkable read.

This is a fascinating book, very well written. I was a huge fan of similar tomes Ringers And Rascals, by the incomparable David Ashforth, and Racing In The Dock, Richard Griffiths' gripping account of the scandal that hit the sport in the 1990s with Dermot Browne among that particular cast of rogues.

It says much about the quality of Doped that it is a book that sits comfortably alongside both."

Read the full review

Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang, by Jamie Reid (Racing Post Books) is among six titles shortlisted for the 2013 William Hill Sports Book of the Year prize.  The others are:

I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Penguin), the autobiography of the Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong (Simon & Schuster), by Sunday Times journalist David Walsh.

The Boys in the Boat: An Epic True-Life Journey to the Heart of Hitler's Berlin (Macmillan), by American author Daniel James Brown.

The Sports Gene: What Makes the Perfect Athlete (Yellow Jersey Press), by David Epstein.

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket's Underworld (Bloomsbury), by Ed Hawkins.

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year -- this year to be awarded for the 25th time -- is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing award, carrying a £25,000 cash prize for the winning author.

The judging panel consists of broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop.

The winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, at an evening reception at The Hospital Club in central London, on Wednesday 27th November.

William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2013: The Longlist

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's bid to make history

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