Dick Francis' amiable, good-humored autobiography was first published in Great Britain in 1957 and now makes its belated appearance here, with an additional chapter bringing us up to date on the author's life through 1981. Francis, as most of his loyal readers know, is the British ex-steeplechase jockey who turned his hand to writing during the summer of 1956, on the eve of his retirement, and has since become more celebrated as the creator of two dozen best-selling mysteries than he ever was as a rider. And this is not to belittle his abilities as an athlete. By the time Francis decided to hang up his tack, he had become one of the nation's top jump riders and had accomplished every feat but one--the winning of the Grand National at Aintree, which is contested over the world's most dangerous and difficult course and is the equivalent in its category of our Kentucky Derby.
The closest the author came to capturing this much coveted prize was on a horse called Devon Loch, owned by Her Majesty the Queen Mother, and the account of that race, with its bizarre finish, is the climax of this appealing book. Along the way, Francis tells us of his early years on farms and around stables (he learned to ride, on a donkey, at age 5) and of his boyhood determination to become a jockey. ("Give him gin, lad, give him gin," a friend of his father's advised. "That'll keep him from growing.") He ultimately provides an unfailingly interesting portrait of the British racing scene, a world in which every waking moment is spent dreaming, scheming and working around horses. He also makes it clear that it's not a bad way to live, especially since horse racing in England is more respectful of tradition and less money-grubbing than here.