by Joanna Campbell
Original Publication: 1994
You know the book Black Stallion Challenged? Well, it was published in 1964, and I think Joanna Campbell probably had it right next to her computer when she wrote Pride's Challenge. Just swap the boys with girls and throw in a bunch of drama and petty arguments and you've got a Thoroughbred story!
I love this cover, even if Pride looks a little bulky. He appears like a lumbering steamroller here, which makes me wonder why Lord Ainsley, in all his thin grace, never does get the better of him. The other reason I love it? Brad's on the cover! Yeah, pretty predictable of me. As far as the girl, I operated for the longest time thinking she was Samantha until it was pointed out to me by a friend that it had to be Ashleigh because this is a scene from the book. If it's Ashleigh that's great. Fine by me. It just gives more fuel to the roaring tension. Also, a side note: what are these things Brad and (possibly) Ashleigh are carrying? Could they be crops? Crops in use? I have a feeling Joanna Campbell strongly disapproved of this cover.
The highest stakes of all . . .Wonder's Pride is ready to race again. Samantha McLean, the colt's groom, and Ashleigh Griffen, his jockey, are thrilled that he has recovered so well from an injury. But not everyone wants Pride back at the racetrack. Brad Townsend, Pride's owner's son, and his wife, Lavinia, want Pride out of the way so their own horse can reach the winner's circle. When the horses are pitted against each other in a big stakes race, Samantha knows Lavinia will stop at nothing to make Pride lose. With Ashleigh busy planning her wedding, it's up to Samantha alone to save Wonder's Pride from the scheming Townsends.
The plots in this book are many. Let me try to sort them all out:
#1: Brad and Lavinia. Yes, they get top billing this time out as their horse, Lord Ainsley, is set to ruin Pride's comeback. This is sort of unfortunate for Lord Ainsley, because I always liked his name and dark bays with flashy white markings are just so pretty, but he's doomed to play Pride's rival. Brad and Lavinia, intent on having their horse win and apparently not understanding that they benefit from having Pride run and do well also, attempt to throw as many road blocks as they can in front of Ashleigh & Co. along the way. It's very childish most of the time, on everyone's parts. Reading their adventures is like walking into a room of preschool students who all hate each other.
#2: Beth. Ian McLean is tired of being a single dad, so he runs out and gets himself a girlfriend. Samantha is mortified by this development, acts like a raging brat who isn't getting her way for three quarters of the book, and her relationship with Tor suffers as a result (although that's mostly because Tor is an asshole).
#3: Samantha and Tor. They have their first fight! And it's not cute at all. In fact, I sort of hate Tor now.
#4: Charlie's health. We all saw the foreshadowing for what happens in this book long ago, and it comes to a head in Pride's Challenge.
- pg.3: Lavinia is bitching about why the Townsends are bothering to race Pride again. Because they have Lord Ainsley now. Who needs another runner, right?
- pg.4: Ashleigh and Lavinia are about two seconds away from pulling each other's hair. Brad just stands there and watches, which has to be the best part because obviously he would be the type of guy to enjoy this sort of thing.
- pg.7: We get a clear cut explanation for why Lavinia is a bitch: she never had a mommy's love. Let this be a lesson to all the young mommys out there: love your children or they'll grow up to be obnoxious brats you'll wind up hating.
- Example of talking race strategy, Thoroughbred style: "If Lord Ainsley runs the same kind of race, I can expect him to start moving on the far turn and start pressuring us hard coming down the stretch." No kidding! It's, like, what all horses start doing at the end of a race. Also, it seems to me that race strategy should involve more than hoping you catch an overconfident jockey off guard.
- I honestly don't think it's possible for Lavinia to be so immature. It's like watching a five-year-old try to rule a small country.
- I'm a little stunned that Brad didn't want to run Lord Ainsley against Pride. It's like he has, you know, sense.
- The Nassau County Handicap is such a blast from the past. If you follow that link you'll notice that there is no first turn and therefore no way for the horses to "enter" the backstretch.
- Again, weirdness from Brad. Contradicting Lavinia when she wants Lord Ainsley's jockey to call foul when there wasn't one? Who is this Brad? Holy crap. It's arrogantly handsome, white suit-wearing Brad from Wonder's First Race! I didn't think I'd see this Brad again!
- Is it wrong to giggle when Ashleigh admits to losing it when Lavinia is around?
- Ashleigh is taking the old tradition of not letting the groom see the wedding dress a little far by not letting anyone see it before the wedding day. Given how neurotic Ashleigh is I figure she probably needed plenty of outside opinion before buying any dress.
- pg. 86: Ah, my unsettled feelings about Tor are finally justified. While I like that a main couple finally has a disagreement (if you want to call it that) there's no reason that relationship should have survived after this page in this book.
- pg.88: Tor has to state that Sierra's upcoming race is going to be more competitive, which I really can't help but take as a dig toward Samantha's novice race. Yes, Tor, we get that you're like Mr. Super Jumping Expert/Steeplechase Jockey Despite Never Having Competed in a Steeplechase, but get your head out of your ass already.
- pg. 91: No, Sammy, your "hot headed temper" didn't get you in trouble. Your boyfriend is a jerk. That's pretty much the problem in a nutshell.
- pg. 96: Congratulations, Joanna Campbell! Winner of the most awkward moment in Thoroughbred history: Sierra rears in the saddling paddock of his race, Tor falls off the horse's butt, and Samantha apologizes for getting so mad (which she shouldn't because he screamed at her because he's an asshole) and Tor is relieved? What the hell is that about?
- Ah, there's nothing like a good victorious horse race to soothe everyone's personal troubles. Sierra wins and then Samantha tells Tor the whole back story, apologizes, he apologizes for not listening to her, but never takes back the whole yelling episode because he's an asshole and Samantha should have dumped him on page 86. Wow, will I have a field day with #12, Shining's Orphan.
- About the mini-match race between Lord Ainsley/Brad and Wonder's Pride/Ashleigh before the Suburban Handicap . . . wouldn't it be amusing if Brad was telling the truth about Lord Ainsley dropping off the bit?
- "Mr. Wonderful is so pedestrian. We've decided to call him Lavinius . . ." You know, Lavinius wouldn't have been such a bad name. I suppose it would mean "man of Rome", but really at this point I wish Brad would grow a back bone, throw up his hands and say: "That's it, I want a divorce on grounds of your being insane."
- The moment has arrived! Ashleigh's wedding dress is unveiled! You decide if this is a fashion don't: "a simple ivory satin with tight chiffon sleeves and a full sweep of ankle-length shirt. The scooped neck of the gown and base of the skirt were delicately embroidered with pale pink roses. Ashleigh had pulled her long, dark hair on top of her head and crowned it with a garland of roses that matched those embroidered on her gown. From the garland a long, lacy veil frothed out like a misty halo and fell all the way to the ground." Sounds like a dress for an indoor ceremony. Chiffon sleeves? Well, it was 1994.
- Looks like Lord Ainsley is headed to the Haskell Invitational, which is only for three-year-olds. So how they'll manage to get a four-year-old in that will be interesting to see.
- Well, guys, Charlie's passed on. While I think he was sort of a rip off of Walter Farley's Henry Daily, he was still probably the most level-headed character Joanna was capable of writing.
- Um, the memorial service for Charlie is going great with Ashleigh declaring she's going to take Pride to Saratoga and win the Whitney Handicap, but then she has to throw in this vengeance thing about Brad and Lavinia and that seems pretty tacky to me. Vengeance should wait until after the memorial service, Ashleigh.
- Now Lavinia is driving a Cherokee. Someone has to got to explain to me what someone like Lavinia Townsend sees in an early 90s Jeep Cherokee.
- Wow, if only my parents ever let me get off easy by telling me I had "every right" to act like a brat. Even when Samantha's being a bitch, it's deserved. If only I had these powers.
- Okay, what, exactly, was spreading a rumor about scratching Pride supposed to accomplish for Brad and Lavinia? If you want to fix a race, you fix a race properly, damn it.
- The explanation of how Jilly couldn't ride and Brad put up an inexperienced jockey is the most convoluted, impossible story I've ever heard and would have easily been prevented by owning a cell phone. Simply put.
- Question: Lord Ainsley is owned by Brad and Lavinia Townsend (although they refer to him as being owned by Townsend Acres). Wonder's Pride is co-owned by Clay Townsend and Ashleigh. Would they really be running as the same entry?
- Another simple way to avoid Alvero (the replacement jockey) taking the wrong instructions: have Yvonne tell him the instructions in Spanish beforehand. She's there, they've got a jockey who knows mostly Spanish . . . seems like the natural situation to think of. Does anyone think of this? Oh, no, only as an afterthought. If you can easily think of a way out of the situation you're trying to set up as an obstacle, it isn't really an obstacle.
- And Pride seems to magically understand how much everyone hates Lavinia by flattening his ears and threatening her in the end. Excellent.
You know what would have made this story better? Had Lord Ainsley won one of those races in which he was up against Pride. Here's what should have happened: Lord Ainsley stayed in the Suburban, won the Suburban, creating lots of founded drama, then he gets his bruise between the Suburban and the Whitney, heals, enters the Whitney, and Brad and Lavinia mess with Pride's jockey just for fun. Then they'd be evil and Ashleigh & Co. would have reason to act like they are, and we'd all be happy.
Next up . . . I don't know. Pride colics or something? Eh, we'll see.