BOOK REVIEW: “NEVER SAY DIE”

Begin with the main ingredient of a Kentucky-born colt, Never Say Die, whose name derived from the oddity that his life was saved at birth by a shot of bourbon. Three years later he shocked the racing world, particularly in Europe, by winning the 1954 Epsom Derby at odds of 33-1.

Sprinkle in the Beatles, several Aga Khans, the best jockey in contemporary British turf history, a Bluegrass horse breeder from a prominent Pittsburgh industrial family whose fortunes went south, two founders of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, one a conventional businessman and the other an engineer in his professional life and a bigamist in his personal life. This eclectic mix is a recipe for a fascinating historical journey.

Adding to the intrigue is that an heir to the Singer fortune, and Never Say Die’s owner and breeder, was accused of participating in a scheme to overthrow an American president, and not at the ballot box.

Author James C. Nicholson, Ph. D., the grandson of one of the main characters in his book, has meticulously researched the circumstances surrounding Never Say Die’s improbable victory in the Epsom Derby. What he found made for a story that goes well beyond a mundane biography of a horse.

Dr. Nicholson’s thesis is that the victory was critical to launching the “rise of the modern [international] Thoroughbred industry,” which continues to this day with the dominance of the Ireland-based Coolmore and the Dubai-based Darley.

The foreword to the book is written by the original drummer in the Beatles, Pete Best, who was eventually fired and replaced by a fellow named Ringo Starr. Best’s mother wagered most of what she had on Never Say Die in the Epsom Derby.

James C. Nicholson, Never Say Die, The University Press of Kentucky, 2013. His previous book, with the same publisher, was The Kentucky Derby, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business

 

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