No fixing necessary for Doped to win sports book prize

FT writer Jamie Reid was last night named as the winner of the 25th “Bookie’s Prize”. ANTON RIPPON says it was an odds-on bet

It has been described as “the surprise winner” – but Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang by Financial Times columnist Jamie Reid was surely always one of the favourites to lift this year’s William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

Doped coverReid, author of several highly acclaimed non-fiction books that include a previously shortlisted William Hill – his 1992 title, A Licence To Print Money – this year received a fine review here for Doped. And while that is certainly no sure-fire precursor to lifting awards, would have been surprised if his book had not been placed.

As it turned out, Doped took first place, beating off a shortlist that also included Ed Hawkins’ account of match-fixing in Indian cricket, Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy; A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld; David Epstein’s The Sports Gene; David Walsh’s Seven Deadly Sins; Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s autobiography (once more, we could go into what actually constitutes an autobiography … ); and Daniel James Brown’s The Boys In the Boat: An Epic True-Life Journey to the Heart of Hitler’s Berlin.

Had Doped not scooped a cheque for £25,000, a £2,500 William Hill bet and a day at the races for its author, then Brown’s brilliant work would have been my choice. Not that anyone asked me.

Apparently film producers are already queuing up for the rights to Doped, which again is not surprising, given it is a story of bent bookies, nobbled horses, with sex and even royalty lobbed in for good measure. A real life Brighton Rock, with a touch of Raymond Chandler and in the era of the Profumo scandal, what’s not to like?

Now we will have to guess who will play the parts of bookie Bill Roper – “Roper the Doper” – and his beautiful Swiss mistress.

Reid said he was “thrilled and delighted to win”, but that it came as a bit of a shock. “I wanted to tell a good story,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be a dry and esoteric racing book.” And that it certainly is not.

It is also only the second racing book after Seabiscuit in 2001 to win the William Hill award.

Chairman of the judging panel, John Gaustad, the co-creator of the award and founder of the former Sportspages bookshop, said: “When we started out I never envisaged we’d get this far or the awards would be so successful. Back then it depressed me that sports books were hidden in a dark corner of bookshops. We set out to raise the profile of sports writing – and my God we have.”

I can still remember the day that Gaustad, a self-effacing New Zealander, called me to ask if Breedon Books, which I then ran, would be prepared to help stock his new venture. Of course we were.

It was a sad day when that little piece of literary sporting heaven at the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road closed its doors for the final time, but it is good to see that Gaustad is still involved, as the award that he helped to launch celebrates its 25th year.

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