The Ultimate List: Book Recommendations for Horseplayers

I love book lists. As an avid reader, I enjoy seeing what books other people recommend. What follows is not a ranking of the best books but just a list of books that I think horseplayers would enjoy. Some are about handicapping, some are about the industry or particular horses, and some are general books that the contrarian horseplayer may enjoy. Forgive me for not including links. I simply wanted to crank out a list of favorites for you to reference through the years, trusting that you can toggle your way over to Amazon and read book descriptions, reviews, and order if you so decide. I know I forgot some, but I hope you enjoy this list as a quick reference.

Feel free to comment on Twitter at the handle @onehorsestable. (A few years ago I wrote a post about the six-best horseracing books of all-time. The following is a much longer list to reference with more handicapping books. But feel free to read the older article here.)

Books About Horses

Ruffian: Burning From the Start by Jane Schwartz.

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrandt. The best horse racing book of all-time, bar none! I don’t care if you watched the movie. This is one of the best non-fiction books ever written. A classic underdog story during a unique time in American history, told by one of the most gifted writers of the modern day. Read Seabiscuit first, and then read her other book Unbroken.

A Horse of a Different Color by Jim Squires. This book made me fall in love with horse racing. I even have a picture of me posing with this book outside of the gates of Two Bucks Farm in Kentucky. Monarchos will always be my favorite horse and this will always be the book that made me love everything about horse racing- the breeding, the farms, the racing, the Derby, and the horses.

Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America by Charles Leerhsen.

Funny Cide by Sally Jenkins. Worth the read just for the part where they talk about taking a chance on a young stallion named Distorted Humor.

Do You Really Want to Own a Racehorse?

Diary of a Dream: My Journey in Thoroughbred Racing by George Rowand.

The Home Run Horse: Inside America’s Billion-Dollar Racehorse Industry and the High Stakes Dreams that Fuel It by Glenye Cain. This book made my previous list of the six best horse racing books. If you likes the breeding and sales aspect of horse racing, this books is excellent. Great stories from one chapter to the next.

Headless Horsemen by Jim Squires. Definitely not a feel good book. Squires exposes some of the problems in the industry. Informative book by a guy who bred a Derby Champion but sees problems in the sport. Great look at outstanding trainer Larry Jones, breeder Arthur Hancock, and former owner turned NFL Owner Robert McNair.

Lightning in a Jar: Catching Racing Fever by Cot Campbell.

Books About the Horse Racing Industry

Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach. Amazing book about the rise and tragic fall of Calumet Farm. Reads like a fiction thriller, but sadly it is true. One of my favorite horse racing books.

After the Finish Line: The Race to End Horse Slaughter in America by Bill Heller.

Not By a Longshot: A Season at a Hard-Luck Racetrack by T.D. Thornton. “The great myth of horse racing is that the game is the regal and royal Sport of Kings. It isn’t. Not by a long shot.” The Amazon book description reads, “Not by a Long Shot is a deeply textured portrait of an industry where even the best in the business lose 75 percent of the time.”

Stud: Adventures in Breeding by Kevin Conley. A must read if you like the breeding aspect of the business. A great look at what Storm Cat meant to the industry when he was in his prime as a stallion.

Handicapping Books

Handicapping and horse racing books NOT on the Kindle.

My $50,000 Year at the Races by Andrew Beyer. In 1977, before he was known as the creator of “The Beyer Speed Figure,” Andrew Beyer set out on a gambling odyssey, determined to prove himself as a horseplayer. This books is outstanding! Great wisdom and insight from one of the sport’s best handicappers. Full of great quotes, highs, and lows. Worth it just to read Beyer’s thoughts on Saratoga.

Picking Winners by Andrew Beyer. Just read anything by Beyer.

Money Secrets at the Racetrack by Barry Meadow. Probably in the top five for most highly recommended books by all horseplayers.

Betting on Myself: Adventures of a Horseplayer and Publisher by Steve Crist. This memoir by Crist tells the story of finding his true calling- studying and betting on horse races.

Exotic Betting by Steve Crist. The ultimate book about how to play exactas and trifectas and multi-race wagers. This book filled a much needed gap in the handicapping literature. I saw read anything by Beyer and Crist.

Betting Thoroughbreds for the 21st Century by Steve Davidowitz. Another book that will be listed in almost everybody’s top five list.

Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing by Tom Ainslie. Yes, it’s old. But the wisdom of Ainslie is timeless. One of the first people to write an intelligent, analytical, and professional book about picking winners.

Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Harness Racing by Tom Ainslie.

Six Secrets of Successful Betting: Winning Insights into Playing the Horses by Frank Scatoni and Peter Fornatale. A book so good I purchased it twice after losing it in a move. Full of insight and wisdom from top horseplayers. An excellent read.

Horseplayers: Life at the Track by Ted McClelland. An entertaining book. If you ever dreamed of being a full-time horseplayer, read this book! Ted McClelland spent a year at tracks and off-track betting facilities in Chicago and across the country, profiling the people who make a career of gambling on horses. This account follows his personal journey of what it means to be a player as he gambles with his book advance using various betting and handicapping strategies along the way

Harnessing Winners by Dave Brower.

The Handicapper’s Condition Book by James Quinn.

The Complete Handicapper by James Quinn.

The Best of Thoroughbred Handicapping: Leading Ideas and Methods by James Quinn.

Modern Pace Handicapping by Tom Brohamer. Horseplayers I respect list this as one of the five most important books they have read. A word of wisdom for all you Kindle lovers: buy the print edition of this book.

Precision: Statistical and Mathematical Methods in Horse Racing by C X Wong. Alot of math. But even without the mathy parts, this book is full of wisdom. A very underrated book.

Books for the Contest Player

The Winning Contest Player by Peter Thomas Fornatale. THE book if you want to learn how to succeed at handicapping tournaments. I probably have almost 200 highlighted passages on my Kindle version. Wisdom from Cox, Beychok, McGoey and many more.

My Top 12: Books for Unconventional Thinkers

Nate Silver’s book is a must read for the horseplayer.
  1. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. One of my all-time favorite books. It made Fortune Magazine’s list of “The Smartest Books We Know.” The Amazon description reads, “In Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professional trader and mathematics professor, examines what randomness means in business and in life and why human beings are so prone to mistake dumb luck for consummate skill.
  2. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail- but Some Don’t by Nate Silver. Awesome, awesome, awesome. Just read it. Sections on a guy who bets on the NBA, baseball stats, and more.
  3. Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant. An outstanding book and I would keep my eye out for his new book coming February 2, 2016 called Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.
  4. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Read this book and Gladwell may convince you that it’s better to be an expert on Hawthorne or Prairie Meadows rather than try to be a small fish in the big pools at Saratoga or Del Mar.
  5. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How by Daniel Coyle. I just now read this book, but I loved it. Why do so many female tennis players come from Russia? Why do certain small music schools provide so much world class talent? Deep practice. Ignition. This book is full of tips that can help you unlock your inner horseplayer. I also recommend The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle.
  6. The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. This is not a get rich quick book, but it is a book that makes people want to quit their jobs. Tim is the ultimate researcher and unconventional thinker. He changed how people market and sell books, and how to successfully encourage reader reviews. This was the book that started it all. Great insight on how to do less but increase productivity. A very quotable book. Tim is a proven success as an angel investor, as an author, and as an entrepreneur. For years, I have enjoyed his blog, all his books, and his podcast. The Four Hour Work Week is my all-time favorite book.
  7. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. This should be my most gifted book. It became required reading for my wife. A great read for people who are crazy busy and need to focus their efforts in the areas of highest return.
  8. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. This book is a collection of Gladwell’s stories that have appeared in The New Yorker. For me, the highlights are stories about why spread quarterbacks with great success in college most often don’t translate that to the NFL. Another brilliant article looks at Nassim Nicholas Taleb the investor who wrote Fooled By Randomness (#1 on this very list).
  9. Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. Waitzkin is the real-life character behind the story of Searching For Bobby Fischer. Waitzkin became one of the best chess players in the world and then went on to become world-class at two other, unrelated skills. This is a book about how to learn.
  10. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. Implications for the horseplayer: Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?
  11. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Yes, I have read and enjoyed all of his books. Now, everyone talks about the 10,000 hour rule, but I first read about it here.
  12. The Halo Effect…And the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers by Phil Rosenzweig. Maybe the one book on this list that you haven’t heard about. Much of our business thinking is shaped by delusions — errors of logic and flawed judgments that distort our understanding of the real reasons for a company’s performance. Phil Rosenzweig unmasks the delusions that are commonly found in the corporate world. These delusions affect the business press and academic research, as well as many bestselling books that promise to reveal the secrets of success or the path to greatness. A great book that shows us that success is fleeting and ever-changing. Success is not as simple as business books lead us to believe. Great book for unconventional thinkers.

General Highly Recommended Books

Moneyball by Michael Lewis. If you didn’t read this book 12 years ago, read it now. Lewis is a gifted writer and this was the original book that gave all-access to an organization that looked at things unconventionally and changed the game.

The Greatest Trade Ever by Gregory Zuckerman. I am a fan of books about the financial crisis. This book gives a great look at the man who made billions by shorting the housing market.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis. This is the best book about the financial crisis. And I personally want to read everything that Michael Lewis writes. The Amazon description reads, “The Big Short tells the story of four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predict the credit and housing bubble collapse before anyone else.”

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I think Fooled by Randomness is the one book by Taleb that you should read. If you want a second, then read this one.

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. If you like statistics, this is a fun and entertaining read. Naked Statistics by Charles Wheelan would be another.

Freakenomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. One of my all-time favorite books. When I read the section about how real estate agents are like the Ku Klux Klan, I was hooked.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I highlighted 121 passages in this book. Cain’s book won several book of the year awards. If you have an introvert bone in your body like I do, this book will resonate with you.

All the Devils Are Here by Bethany McLean. Yes, another global financial crisis book. I enjoyed this one and McLean is the writer who exposed the Enron scandal years ago. Gifted writer and intriguing plot lines.

Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod. A short quick read. In fact, I read it while spending a day at Running Aces Harness Track.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. My least favorite Gladwell book, but it is still vintage Malcolm Gladwell- great storytelling and well-researched.

Golf is Not a Game of Perfect by Dr. Bob Rotella. I am not a golfer, but this book is great if you need help with your mindset. Rotella is one of the hottest performance consultants today.

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts. I love Rolf’s philosophy of life. Even if you have no interest in travel, read the book. It’s full of great quotes like, “There is still an overwhelming social compulsion — an insanity of consensus, if you will — to get rich from life rather than live richly, to ‘do well’ in the world instead of living well.” Potts talks about being “time-poor” and the time-honored, personal freedom technique knows as “quitting.”

Crystal Magnates: Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and the Principles of Dominance by Truman Alexander. I have been a Nick Saban fan since his days at Toledo and the Cleveland Browns. I never liked Urban Meyer until I read this book. A well-researched look at two great coaches, and a solid read for those who love coaching books.

The Tao of Chip Kelly: Lessons From America’s Most Innovative Coach by Mark Saltveit. So, maybe Chip Kelly’s system won’t work in the NFL. But I am still fascinated when I read articles or things like this book which talk about his methods.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest For Work You Love by Carl Newport. Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice. Not only is the cliché flawed, but it can also be dangerous.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Nearly every list of best books or smartest books or most influential books will include Kahneman’s book.

The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam. I don’t care what you think about Bill Belichick or the Patriots. This is a must read. I have read nearly every coaching book in existence and this is THE best. A look at the life and preparation of one of the most interesting coaches of any sport. A highly quotable book written by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Halberstam.

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis. Four books you should read even if you have seen the movies- Gone Girl, Seabiscuit, Unbroken, and The Blind Side. Check out what Malcolm Gladwell says about Michael Lewis: Michael Lewis is “the finest storyteller of our generation.” Gladwell said, “I read Lewis for the same reasons I watch Tiger Woods. I’ll never play like that. But it’s good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like.” Gladwell went on to say that The Blindside is Lewis’ best, a book that’s “as close to perfect” as any work of nonfiction. Quite a compliment from a man who has sold over 4.5 million books.

About the Author

Scott Raymond has been blogging and tweeting about the horse racing world since June 2009. He is the author of Afleet Alex: The Most Underrrated Horse of the Last 30 Years. Scott lives in Minneapolis with his volleyball coach wife Kari. He is a fan of Cleveland, Saratoga Racecourse, Seinfeld, and nonfiction books. He can best be reached on The Twitter at onehorsestable.