Many forgotten gems are associated with horseracing and even a few are crime novels which involve the Kentucky Derby itself. My selection today, Sam Toperoff's Crazy Over Horses, is probably the least known entry in the field.
This is a memoir, but it makes free with the facts and instead goes after the truth. Not a crime novel, though you could say that this is a mystery of sorts, the suspense being in the protagonist's noir search for a system that will allow him to make an easy killing at the races. It is episodic enough that each chapter can stand alone, but the narrative plot of the book leads the protagonist from grasping addiction to self-control, from a materialistic and controlling frame of mind to a letting go--toward a liberal and spiritual appreciation of horses and of life itself.
The prose is understated, and the inferences and nuances linger long after you have finished the book. Younger readers might find it educational or at least a cautionary tale, while older readers might see more humor in it. Ever wonder what the parallax view is? The protagonist tells us:
"Unless you stand right on the finish line, you simply can't tell with the naked eye which horse has won in a tight finish. A natural phenomenon called "parallax" makes it seem as though the outside horse is ahead if you're watching from a position up the stretch. If you're standing beyond the finish line, it looks like the horse on the rail."
In the old days, sharpies and touts would position themselves in the stretch and make side bets with patrons about which horse had just won in a tight finish. Just one of many cons routinely encountered at race tracks back in the sixties, when this book was first published.
And, if you've looking for horseracing crime novels, I also recommend Jon L. Breen's Listen for the Click and Triple Crown, Stephen Dobyn's Saratoga series (especially the later novels), William Murray's Tip On A Dead Crab and the rest of his series, and Robert Reeves' Doubting Thomas.