by Joanna Campbell
Original Publication: 1993
Welcome to another one of those books sporting a main character's insert random-word-involving-sentiment-or-higher-accomplishment-here. In this case, the main character is Samantha and the random word is either referring to the horse or to Samantha's . . . any synonym of pride, because honestly she reflects most of them.
To the cover!
I was never a huge fan of this cover, for reasons I can't exactly pinpoint. Who knows where they are, what they're doing, and why is Pride this strange muddy bay color? I keep thinking they're at some state fair.
Will Pride's winning streak ruin him?
Wonder's Pride, the three-year-old colt of champion mare Wonder, is the newest star in Thoroughbred racing and the favorite for the biggest race of them all -- the Kentucky Derby. But when Pride wins the Derby, it looks like victory could be the worst thing that ever happened to him!
Pride's owner, Clay Townsend, wants to race Pride in the strenuous Triple Crown. But Pride's jockey, Ashleigh Griffen, and Ashleigh's friend Samantha McLean, who have watched Pride grow up, both believe Pride will suffer permanent injuries if he races too much. Can Samantha and Ashleigh stop Mr. Townsend before he races one of the greatest horses of all time -- to death?
The fantastic thing about this summary is how marginalized Ashleigh is in it. Clay Townsend is the owner and she is the lowly jockey, who is easily kicked off the horse (and, as fate would have it, she somehow manages this) at the whim of someone like, say, Brad. I would normally chalk this up to the blurb writer simply not getting it, before it became pretty clear that even the author wasn't 100% clear on things either. People in the book seem honestly confused as to who holds more power, like a 50-50 co-ownership situation is too complicated to grasp. Call me simplistic, but being told you own half a horse indicates that you're entitled to act like a co-owner with the right to demand equal say, but maybe that's presuming too much.
So, the plot:
Pride is three and he's like the best thing to hit the racing world since Secretariat. I know this because it's stated several times. He's practically the second coming. So he's pointed to the Triple Crown by the Townsends, which annoys Ashleigh & Co. for some reason because apparently just wanting to point a horse to the Triple Crown indicates that no one cares about the horse's well-being. So, despite not being grossly overraced leading up to the Triple Crown everyone whines about how exhausted he is, and then there's more whining about how he's being raced too soon after the Triple Crown, which leads to poor races and petty in-fighting and more racing that leads to even more dismal performances because Pride "isn't happy" and is under too much "pressure" because he doesn't like to be around raised voices. Then Samantha figures out that the colt is the most neurotic horse to ever touch a race track, somehow convinces the Townsends that their presence screws up the colt's delicate mental confidence, and so they give up trying to have a say in things and all is well. The conclusion: Pride was never really overraced. He was just under too much "pressure" and tore a page out of his dam's book and got pretty passive-aggressive. Physically the old boy was fine.
That's really it. There's some development between Samantha and Tor, with the first touches of show jumping added to the story. The constant droning about how difficult show jumping is compared to riding a horse around at high speeds manages to annoy me enough to resent Tor's addition to the roster of characters.
Oh, and there's Sierra. Sierra is a hot headed horse that won't settle on the track because he's bored (we know this because Samantha tells us so, and we all know her first assumption is always right). So he jumps a fence one day, and Tor gets it into his head that he's naturally inclined to jump. This is not important until book eight, when we get our second one book stand with a horse just significant enough to have 185 pages dedicated to it.
- Info dumps in dialogue! Yvonne: "Things sure are different -- but so much better now that you, your father, Charlie, and Pride are all at Whitebrook. And you don't have to be around Brad Townsend anymore." Here she could have said you guys or ya'll if her accent leans in that direction. But no. Not when there's back story afoot!
- Mentioning past events to people who already know about them! Samantha: "I could hardly stand being around Brad, especially when he tried to fire my father. And he was the one who really wanted to sell Pride." Yes, Sammy. Yvonne already knows about these things. The authors in this series are fantastically prone to stating the obvious at every turn. Who does like Brad? Honestly.
- I don't think I've ever dried a horse with a towel. Wiped a horse's face with a rag...yes. But I have never given a horse a bath and then dried it with a towel.
- All of Townsend Acres's hopes rest on Wonder's unborn foal and Wonder's Pride. Joanna casually completely forgets about all the horses that had been racing for the farm no more than two years previous, Townsend Pride, Townsend Prince's supposed foals, Townsend Panther, Three Foot -- everything. Because Wonder's Pride and an unborn foal must be the only beacons of hope, of course.
- For some reason chapter 2 is devoted to Samantha taking a jumping lesson from Tor. I have a feeling there's something off about Samantha being that remarkably advanced in her first lesson when she's never jumped before, but the chapter was really too boring to go into it fully.
- The sparks are flying. Samantha and Tor brush hands and she gets all flustered and wonders what that's all about. Samantha, you're fifteen, not dense.
- Tor: "Secretariat, the Triple Crown winner?" No, Tor, the other Secretariat.
- Samantha wonders to herself why the Townsends have to think of everything in terms of money. Oh, I don't know, perhaps it's because they were going bankrupt about three months ago? Perhaps that's it!
- So all that Secretariat talk at the beginning of the book wasn't for nothing. Pride wins the Derby in a record time of 1:59, beating you-know-who's record by 2/5's of a second. The description of the race was probably the best Joanna's put out, but the record time? Who could dare nay-say Wonder and her progeny now? Poor Secretariat gets pummeled at every turn in these books.
- Apparently no one is standing up during these races.
- Yeah, who is that spoiled rich girl to think she can voice an opinion? Just who the hell does she think she is?
- Of course, Pride isn't the next Secretariat because he loses the Belmont Stakes by a sliver of a nose. Brad rushes in to scream at Ashleigh about how the loss is all her fault, and in any real world he'd be right. Ashleigh would be slapped with a steward's inquiry for not using her crop. But this isn't the real world, so we'll move on.
- *gasp!* Ashleigh uses her crop! But Pride naturally does not respond and comes in second or some other inexcusable, unthinkable finish. So, for those of us keeping count, that is one (1) use of a crop by a main character on any horse in the past, well, every book. All seven of 'em. Then Ashleigh somehow gets pulled as Pride's jockey and a new jock uses his crop several times, to the appalled astonishment of everyone and Pride comes in sixth. Thus crops are bad and never amount to any good ever, even if the horse in question has no issue with crops. Color me shocked.
- This brings me to the question of how Ashleigh gets kicked off as Pride's jockey. She's co-owner. It's like everyone conveniently forgets this fact.
- Get ready for the moral of the story: liking money makes you a greedy jerk inclined to abuse horses for fun and profit. Although if you're handed money don't be stupid and take it already! This has been a message from the Thoroughbred Series, brought to you by the girls at the Whitebrook Farm blog.
- Everyone suddenly realizes that Ashleigh owns 50% of Pride. It took a lawyer to point this out to them.
- The big problems are solved moment of the book comes when Samantha is finally heard. She convinces Mr. Townsend that Pride is the equine equivalent of a mood ring and that he's feeling "pressure" from their constant arguing. Mr. Townsend believes this, despite Pride not being subject to arguing leading up to his sixth place finish. So...whatever. The Townsends vacate Whitebrook and Pride frolicks in peace and bounces back to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Enough reflectiveness! We've got Sierra's super (the word "super" is Joanna's favorite word, and I aim to include it into my vocabulary more, hopefully followed by an exclamation mark if at all possible) important problems to untangle next. Onward to book eight!