Lines of Brilliance

Racing is the best of all the sports to write about. That's because, as these articles show, it is much more than a sport. At heart it may be no more than equine athletics but to a different eye and a different pen it can involve both triumph and tragedy, heroism and history, hopelessness, greed and the whole comedy of the absurd.

No one has ever handled the latter better than Charles Dickens, who wrote about Derby Day on several occasions. But in modern times Bill Bryson ran him pretty close when he made the same pilgrimage in 1990. For heroism we looked no further than John Oaksey's unique and unforgettable narrative of how he and Carrickbeg had the 1963 Grand National snatched from them in the very shadow of the winning post. For ever-loving hopelessness Simon Barnes put his gifted pen to the cause of Quixall Crossett, the world's most unsuccessful racehorse.

For star quality Donn McClean brings a portrait of Aidan O'Brien from the equine kingdom of Ballydoyle. For triumph and tragedy intertwined Chris McGrath, who edged out McClean in the very first Martin Wills Awards back in 1993, captures the spirit of Sir Henry Cecil. For the addictive charisma of the people at the centre of the game nobody has ever bettered the words of Alastair Down, and as modesty would not prevent my including my own scribblings, I have opted for an obituary of Desert Orchid, the Thoroughbred with the least reasons for modesty since Charles II first began racing on Newmarket Heath three and a half centuries ago.

The Martin Wills Awards are there to encourage young writers to look at racing and make the words sing. Here is how it has been done. May these pieces be an inspiration.