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Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory
For Fear of an Elective King
Bison and People on the North American Great Plains
A Harvest of Reluctant Souls
A General Who Will Fight
The Civil War as a Theological Crisis
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The Personalism of John Henry Newman
America’s First Adventure in China
What Good Is Grand Strategy?
The Struggle for America's Promise
The Global Village Myth

Never Say DieNever Say Die

A Kentucky Colt, the Epsom Derby, and the Rise of the Modern Thoroughbred Industry

James Nicholson

Narrated by John Chester

Available from Audible

Book published by The University Press of Kentucky

A quarter of a million people braved miserable conditions at Epsom Downs on June 2, 1954, to see the 175th running of the prestigious Derby Stakes. Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Winston Churchill were in attendance, along with thousands of Britons who were all convinced of the unfailing superiority of English bloodstock and eager to see a British colt take the victory. They were shocked when a Kentucky-born chestnut named Never Say Die galloped to a two-length triumph at odds of 33–1, winning Britain’s greatest race and beginning an important shift in the world of Thoroughbred racing.

Never Say Die traces the history of this extraordinary colt, beginning with his foaling in Lexington, Kentucky, when a shot of bourbon whiskey revived him and earned him his name. Author James C. Nicholson also tells the stories of the influential individuals brought together by the horse and his victory—from the heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune to the Aga Khan. Most fascinating is the tale of Mona Best of Liverpool, England, whose well-placed bet on the long-shot Derby contender allowed her to open the Casbah Coffee Club. There, her son met musicians John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison and later joined their band.

Featuring a foreword by the original drummer for the Beatles, Pete Best, this remarkable book reveals how an underdog’s surprise victory played a part in the formation of the most successful and influential rock band in history and made the Bluegrass region of Kentucky the center of the international Thoroughbred industry.


“Nicholson has done a very fine job of placing the unique role of Never Say Die in perspective within the specific confines of Thoroughbred racing history, while at the same time explaining how this horse was touched by a vivid array of characters in other social and historical contexts. Who would have imagined that a racehorse would link such diverse institutions as the Singer sewing machine company, the Epsom Derby, and the Beatles? ”

—Edward L. Bowen, author of nineteen books on Thoroughbred racing

“As a reader, I was left with a clear understanding of how the breeding industry has gone global, and importantly, how it will always follow the money. Racing enthusiasts will enjoy how the author sews together this unusual patchwork of characters into a narrative. ”

—John Eisenberg, author of The Great Match Race: When North Met South in America's First Sports Spectacle

“Enlightening and entertaining… Nicholson’s tale of close connections and global links is a yarn worth following.”

Wall Street Journal

“Nicholson explores this material thoroughly and concisely, never straying far from his central narrative, but never limiting his focus.”

Thoroughbred Daily News

“Begin with the main ingredient of a Kentucky-born colt, Never Say Die... 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... This eclectic mix is a recipe for a fascinating historical journey.”

—i>Horse Racing Business

Never Say Die... chronicles the history of an extraordinary colt, the Epsom Derby and the rise of the modern Thoroughbred industry... Nicholson also tells the stories of the influential individuals brought together by the horse and his victory, from the heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune to the Aga Khan.”

Kentucky Alumni

“This book should definitely be of interest to racehorse enthusiasts and documents the capricious nature of history... the seemingly overwhelming love of Kentuckians for horses, and some popular history of this Commonwealth.”

Park City Daily News

“In Never Say Die: A Kentucky Colt, the Epsom Derby, and the Rise of the Modern Thoroughbred Industry, author and attorney Nicholson relates more than a simple memoir of a racehorse that made history... Relying on meticulous research, the author takes on the difficult task of showing how seemingly unrelated entities such as The Beatles, the Singer Sewing Machine Company, the Sultan Mohammed Shah and Queen Victoria created a sure but circuitous path that led to central Kentucky's near universal designation as "Horse Capital of the World.”

Kentucky Monthly

“Nicholson once again delivers a solid work that, like The Kentucky Derby, is both entertaining and a significant contribution to the equine literature.”

Ohio Valley History

“Nicholson tells Never Say Die's story by placing him at the center of a sprawling web of connections. By tracing that web, Nicholson is able to explain not only how the heart of the Thoroughbred racing industry moved from England to Kentucky, but also charts the evolution of the post-war world; American industrialists, Saudi sheikhs and The Beatles all factor into [the] narrative. Intriguing. ”

Thoroughbred Daily News

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