All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Shannon – Jessica Owers

on January 14, 2014

Jessica Owers
Random House AU
2013, 438p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Before Black Caviar, So You Think or Takeover Target, there was Shannon.

There would be few people in Australia who don’t know of Black Caviar who captivated the nation with her streak of wins in recent times. Those not too familiar with racing might remember a bit about So You Think, who was a star here before being sold to race overseas. It’s probably fewer people still who can cast their mind back to the conquering Takeover Target and his trainer Joe Janiak. The two went to England and Japan, took on the world’s best more than once. Not bad for a horse that cost about $1300.

But you have to go a long way back to Shannon. The colt was foaled at Kia Ora Stud in the Hunter Valley in NSW in 1941 at the height of the second World War. Racing and breeding were undergoing quite a lot of restrictions and money was tight for a lot of people. Prices were down and trainer Peter Riddle secured the colt on recommendation from his brother Bert, who worked at Kia Ora. Shannon was a mature-minded, steady colt, quite unfazed by anything that was happening around him. Peter Riddle was plagued by health problems and kept only a small but quality team. He was convinced that Shannon was going to become something really special but probably not even he would have been able to foresee just how special.

Shannon raced for four years in Australia, his starts interspersed with long layoffs as health plagued Riddle who also believed the horse raced best fresh. The two of them developed a strong bond, as did Shannon with his strapper. Everyone was impressed by his calm demeanor and his professional racing manner. Even when Shannon was left behind at his second Epsom in 1946, the horse gave his all to overcome the substantial handicap. He didn’t win but no other horse could probably have finished as close as he did.

Peter Riddle finally succumbed to his illness and as per his will, Shannon was put through the auction ring and sold to W.T Smith for £27,300, a fortune when you consider the £375 Riddle paid for him as a yearling! Smith shipped the horse to America right away, determined to race the champion there and then send him off to stud and make a fortune. However the owner didn’t really anticipate the red tape he would need to cut through to even get Shannon onto the track and he washed his hands of the stallion, selling him on.

Shannon’s campaign in America was not as glorious as his Australian campaigns as he adjusted to a new hemisphere, new feed, new water and most importantly, a life without his trainer and strapper. At first he didn’t live up to his potential, earning the ire of the punters and being viciously maligned by the press. But champions are champions…and they all show their true colours eventually.

Shannon is Australian racing enthusiast and author Jessica Owers’s second novel depicting the life of a famous Australian racehorse, her first being Peter Pan which captivated my family and I in 2012. My dad hardly ever reads anything but the newspaper and form guide but Peter Pan is one of his favourite racehorses and so I bought him the book for Christmas of 2011 and he loved it. I then read it myself when I visited and my husband read it after me. And now I’ve read this one, I know exactly what to get him for his birthday this year.

What I love about Owers and the way she tackles a book is that it’s like the best of crosses between the facts of a non-fiction title and the flowing prose and easy story of a fiction book. She pieces together the complete story from the snippets of information. These days it’s easy – you go to Sky Channel or TVN and you view a race replay. You can see exactly how the race played out from a variety of camera angles. You can see trainers interviewed, get an idea of the atmosphere and the crowd. But Shannon raced prior to so many of the advancements and was racing during a time where some of them began to be implemented, like the barrier stalls. You have to take raw data like fields, finishing order, maybe a bit of the weather and crowd numbers and betting and spin the story from there. And she excels at building the tension before a race – I knew that something was going to happen when Shannon lined up for his 2nd Epsom but I didn’t know what. I remember texting my husband (who already knew) saying that I had a bad feeling about it and that I was nervous, much to his amusement. However I didn’t predict what actually happened.

The bond between Shannon and his trainer was such a beautiful thing and a very large part of this book. Peter Riddle would never have sold the horse if he’d lived, he was too precious to him and money didn’t mean much. He loved Shannon and Shannon gave him a reason to live, to continue to shake off the issues he had for as long as he possibly could. Even though I know the horse would never have raced in the US if Riddle had lived, I feel a little glad that his trainer didn’t have to see his early US experiences or read about what the press said about him. The horse was taken there and trained upside down and then badgered and demeaned when he didn’t run up to expectations. It was truly gratifying to see him find his form over there and silence his critics.

Horse racing isn’t everyone’s thing and these days especially, it has its protesters and critics. I’ve been raised in and around the sport and my husband has been employed in the racing industry (although not horses anymore, another part) for many years. I am not particularly the avid fan that I was in my late teens and early twenties – I don’t really have the time anymore to be attending and watching. But I still enjoy it and I still find carnival time rather exciting. This book makes an excellent point about what racing gave to people during the time of war – a chance to celebrate, let off steam, to get dressed up and go out and mingle with the crowd and forget that they were on rations. People like Peter Riddle are the best sort of advertisement for the sport. Humble, gentle people who truly love it and the horses.


Book #9 of 2014


Shannon is book #4 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge and my first non-fiction title.

LitExp Challenge


I’m also including this one in my Literary Exploration Challenge 13/14 and using it to tick off the category of Biography. It’s not about a person as such (although people and their life stories do feature very strongly) but it follows Shannon from his very early days until his last. That makes 19 titles out of 36 completed.


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