Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks’ novel Horse has been awarded first prize in the 17th annual Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award. Crafted by a master of historical fiction, it is the beautifully imagined tale of legendary 19th century racehorse and sire Lexington, and a young, enslaved groom who loved him. The story weaves back and forth through time and space, from the pre-Civil War antebellum South to modern day New York and Washington D.C.
Brooks was honored at a cocktail reception on the evening of Nov. 9, at the Ryan family’s Castleton Lyons near Lexington, Ky. The ceremony was held in the farm’s historic stallion barn, where some of Lexington’s most notable descendants once stood at stud, and where current homebred resident – three-time U. S. turf champion Gio Ponti – carries upwards of 240 crosses of the long-ago leading sire in his extended pedigree.
In 2006, the Australian/American author received the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for her novel, March; Brooks’ first work of fiction, Year of Wonders, became a global bestseller in 2001.
As always, the winner was awarded a $10,000 check and a Tipperary crystal trophy in the form of Castleton Lyons’ iconic stone tower. Two finalists for the award – Kathryn Scanlan, for the novel Kick the Latch, and Mary Perdue for her biography of undefeated champion Landaluce – also received crystal trophies, along with $1,000 checks.
“Thoroughbred literature was fortunate that an author of Geraldine Brooks' talent chose the subject of the great Lexington to weave a modern tale into this historical novel,” lead judge Kay Coyte observed. “The idea for Horse was born after Brooks overheard a conversation about Lexington's skeleton, which sent her on a journey of discovery.
“The resulting plotlines are fascinating windows into the world of a Smithsonian scientist, a multi-racial art historian, a pioneering 1950s female art collector and, most of all, the unseen black horsemen who cared for Kentucky's finest thoroughbreds. Brooks does an admirable job of giving voice to the enslaved. In her writing, we are shown how complex were the relationships among the monied, their employees, and those considered property as the Civil War came to Kentucky – and how complex race relations remain to this day.”
In addition to Coyte, a former editor for the Washington Post-Bloomberg News Service and herself an Eclipse Award winner, the judging panel included award-winning broadcast journalist Caton Bredar, and Annette Dashofy, author of last year’s winning entry, Death By Equine.
The award was launched in 2006 by global businessman and philanthropist Dr. Ryan, to recognize the best of book-length writing set in the world of horse racing. Any genre would be accepted, and past winners have included works of fiction, biographies, autobiographies, histories, and an anthology. Dr. Ryan offered $10,000 in prize money to the winner – then equal to the Pulitzer Prize and to today’s National Book Award. Since his passing in 2007, Ryan’s son Shane has kept the award going in his honor.
For information on the 2023 award deadline and rules, contact Kerrie Cahill at kcahill@castletonlyons.