It is the horses that are the stars of the show in Press racing correspondent Steve Carroll’s new book about York Races. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.

STEVE Carroll had never been particularly interested in racing before he came to York. He’d been to the races at Newcastle once, but it didn’t make much of an impression.

Then the 24-year-old landed a job as a reporter on the Evening Press, as this newspaper was known at the time. He came down to York a week beforehand to sort out somewhere to live, and an old university friend insisted on taking him to the Ebor Festival. The young Steve found himself immediately hooked.

It was Yorkshire Oaks day, August 2001, and he backed a couple of winners – one of them, Super Tassa, at 25-1.

There were tens of thousands of people screaming the horses on, and it was only as he stood there in the stands that he realised just how important racing was in York and North Yorkshire.

“It was a fantastic experience,” he says.

Magnificent as York racecourse was, it wasn’t so much the crowds, or the betting, or the general atmosphere of excitement that drew him in. It was the horses themselves.

Incredible creatures, he calls them: their heart, their stamina, their proud grace. “Their legs look so fragile, but they are designed for speed,” he says. “Majestic animals.”

Now 33, Steve ultimately moved to the sports desk at The Press, and is now the newspaper’s racing correspondent. He’d long dreamed of writing a book: and with his love of racing, and his journalist’s contacts in the local racing world, a book about the races seemed the obvious choice.

It was in August 2008 that he first approached William Derby, the clerk of the course at York, about doing a book recording some of the great races that have been held at this jewel in racing’s northern crown. And, just a little short of three years later, his book has been published.

It is called, appropriately enough, York’s Great Races. And, in keeping with what Steve loves most about racing, the focus is very much on the horses themselves. “The people are a bit incidental to it,” he says.

Well, not quite. Steve knows his racing; and he knows the characters who make the sport what it is. He interviewed more than 25 people when researching the book – top trainers such as Ian Balding, Luca Cumani and Tim Easterby, as well as various clerks of the course from York, including John Smith and William Derby.

The book is peppered with the kind of stories journalists love – including a bomb scare in the weighing room just before Triptych won the International in 1987.

John Smith, clerk to the course at York from 1987-2002, told Steve that one.

The runners were just preparing to leave the paddock, Mr Smith relates. Then “the police came on and said: ‘We’ve had this tip off, that we’ve got a bomb. We’ve actually been told it’s in the weighing room’.” Racing was suspended, and the building evacuated while the police investigated.

Fifteen minutes later, while the police were still finishing up their investigation, Mr Smith went into the Steward’s room after checking with officers first – and there he found a young secretary busily typing away. What on earth was she doing there? he demanded. “I’m typing out the notice to say that there’s a bomb in the weighing room,” she said.

Despite stories like this, however, it really is the horses who take centre stage in this book.

York’s Great Races takes you through the racing year at York, and features accounts of some of the great races that have made the course what it is. There is a gripping account of the day in May, 1851, for example, when The Flying Dutchman took on Voltigeur. It was, for the Dutchman, a revenge match that was billed, in York, as the ‘Match of the Century’.

Steve trawled the archives for accounts of the race – and his version reads as vividly as if it happened yesterday. It was a head-to-head between just the two horses. Voltigeur, trained at Richmond and the ‘darling of the north’, who had beaten the Dutchman in their last outing, went off fast, and quickly opened up a three length lead.

“But this time, the Flying Dutchman was the one who was sitting, waiting for his time to strike.

He was a shadow to the younger horse. As they rounded the last turn, Marlow (the Dutchman’s jockey) urged his mount into action. The crowd roared them on as they passed the stands side-by-side but, around 100 yards from home, it was Voltigeur who was tiring first. The Flying Dutchman surged through with that impressive winning stride and succeeded by a length.”

There are plenty of much more recent classic encounters featured in this gripping book – including Brigadier Gerard being beaten by the unfancied Roberto in the inaugural 1972 Benson and Hedges Gold Cup, when both horses broke the course record, and Sea The Stars – a ‘horse of a generation’ – surging past Mastercraftsman to win the 2009 Juddmonte International by a length, and in a track record time.

For the briefest of moments, three furlongs out, the race was in doubt. Mastercraftsman seemed to have the edge. What had Sea The Stars got left in the locker?, the race commentator asked.

“Plenty,” writes Steve. “It was only in doubt for several strides, about half a furlong in fact, and then the horse who would go on to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp two months later, picked up and swept past Mastercraftsman. He’d had to work for it, and the distance was only a length but, despite the initial scare, it was as cosy as a mere length could be.”

A great horse: and just one great story among many in a book that will delight hardened lovers of racing and occasional racegoers alike.

• York’s Great Races by Steve Carroll is published by Scratching Shed, priced £16.99. It is available from good bookshops, or on Amazon.

• Steve will be signing copies of his book at York racecourse from 11.15am on Wednesday.