Mar 2, 2008

She’s a Rebel… A Rebel with a Cause – Ashleigh #5: The Forbidden Stallion

Ashleigh #5: The Forbidden Stallion
Created by Joanna Campbell
Written by Chris Platt
First Printing: August 1999

So here’s another one! This is probably be the last one for the weekend since tomorrow is March 2nd, and that means it’s Mitch’s birthday (Happy Birthday to my pony!) and then my birthday happens to be Monday. So it might be Tuesday before my next review. But that said, here’s book #5, with what I consider to be an incredibly cheesy-ass title … but then, most of the books in this series have the most awful cliché titles in the world. Also, I’d like to know why I seem to be adapting these review titles to quotations from movies lately – maybe it makes it more fun that way. Or something.

The Cover:
Now, aside from the painfully awful title in red and white on the bottom of the cover, we finally get a cover pumped full of action and raging equine testosterone. Why, it seems to leap right out of the Black Stallion movie – except of course that Aladdin’s Treasure is a three-year-old colt, and a Thoroughbred, not an Arabian. It just screams romance though; the wild looking horse running free through the crashing waves at sunset. Which actually doesn’t ever happen in the book. Yes, Aladdin gets loose (way to go Ashleigh) and runs around on the beach, but it was in the morning, and he was fully tacked up. I’d highly doubt that he’d be running around wild and free on a beach otherwise given how supposedly valuable he is. Plus, the water looks very weird; the waves are breaking rather far behind Aladdin, but he’s able to run through deep enough water that he leaves a spray plume behind him. I don’t know if that’s possible; I’ve ridden on the beach, and usually, you have to be right down by the breakers to get a spray plume like that. Still, compared to the bland and boring inaction on the last few covers, this is an eye-catching breath of fresh air.

The Summary:

Ashleigh is torn
Ashleigh Griffen knows it's wrong, but she can't help it-she's jealous. Peter Danworth has everything: a huge Thoroughbred racing farm, money, and one of Ashleigh's favorite stallions, Aladdin.

Then Ashleigh gets amazing news. If the stallion loses his next race, the Danworths will retire him to stud at Edgardale!

Excited, Ashleigh sneaks a ride on Aladdin -- and she accidentally discovers how to run him to win. Will she keep quiet so the magnificent stallion can live on her parents' farm? Or will she give Peter, the boy who has everything, Aladdin's secret?
So where do we start? I know, let’s start by comparing the similarities between Brad Townsend and Peter Danworth. Well, to start off, they’re both filthy rich and live on big old Thoroughbred farms. Plus, from reading the back cover, you kind of get the sense that Ashleigh has a serious case of the green-eyed monster, and that things won’t start off right with old Peter just the way things didn’t go so hot with Brad. But by and large, the summary pretty much remains true to the plot, and it all unfolds pretty much spot-on through the whole book. Which pretty much gives away the entire plot on the back cover. Heck folks, save your $5 and don’t bother to get the book. You got the gist of it right there in those three paragraphs.

So speaking of which…

The Big Picture Plot:
I’m happy to say there’s actually multiple plots within this book. The previous books have been pretty much one-dimensional in that the key point of the story was for Ashleigh to whine and pout and sulk about how she doesn’t have a horse, and we’re supposed to feel sorry for her because of that. Now that she does have that wonderful equine friend that’s taller than 14 hands, then we move to a storyline with a little more substance. The main story plot here is that Aladdin’s Treasure, the big black stallion that Ashleigh just adores, is uber sucktastic on the racetrack. In fact, he’s so sucktastic, he pretty much reeks because he hasn’t even broken his maiden yet (but somehow despite this, the Danworths have entered him in a stakes race that he somehow meets the conditions for.) Ashleigh knows he’s this super horse and all because he’s by the same sire as Wanderer’s Quest, so it’s up to her and her family to figure out why this regally-bred horse is pretty much doing the equivalent to what The Green Monkey did, and hasn’t lifted a hoof. Therefore, our uber-wealthy friends, the Danworths (not to be confused with the other uber-wealthy friends, the Fontaines) fly the whole Griffen clan of five down to Florida on their private jet so they can get to the bottom of this mystery or else Aladdin’s Treasure will be retired at Edgardale to stand at stud (considering that he hasn’t so much as won a race at this point, if I were Derek or Elaine, I’d be insulted that the Danworths wanted to fob off a loser stallion on me considering if he’d won some races, other farms would be clamoring for him.) Which leads us to …

Peter Danworth. The good-looking son of Mr Danworth, and surprise surprise, he’s thirteen, just like Caroline. He just screams Brad-clone, you see. Everything fits, even the way he and Ashleigh clash right from the start. But lo and behold, Aladdin’s Treasure is actually his horse. And he actually cares for the horse, and doesn’t want to see him go to Edgardale. In fact, we even find out that he exercise rides Aladdin (gee, just like Brad – what is it about these rich boys who ride their daddy’s horses?) and wants to be a jockey, but will grow too tall, which leads to another source of contention with Ashleigh because she’s still little. They really butt heads when the Griffen’s return for the week of spring break, and Ashleigh has to spend time with Peter for math tutoring. Which brings us to….

Ashleigh’s not above blackmail, it seems. She really really wants to ride Aladdin even though she flunked a math quiz and has been grounded from riding. She has a few pet theories about why Aladdin is such a sucky racehorse, the chief theory involving a whip (which is as usual evil) and seems convinced the only way she can get to the bottom of the mystery is to actually sit on him herself, conveniently forgetting the fact that he’s almost 17 hands tall, and she’s all of four and a half feet which makes his head just about as big as her torso. In order to ride the horse, she blackmails Peter, and gets to ride. Which brings us to our conclusion…

Ashleigh is a friggin genius. She solved the problem of why Aladdin is such a loser. All he needed was a shadow roll. She also does stupid things like waving a whip around his face to see if he is whip shy. Oh, and falling off. There’s a reason why they call it overmounted. Ashleigh was in way way over her head. But huzzah! She solves the problem that even the super duper new trainer can’t solve. Way to go, Ashleigh. Aladdin’s Treasure finally breaks his maiden.

Some Points of Interest:
  • I got a good old-fashioned heart clench reading the description of Hialeah Racetrack being called a “first-rate place.” By the time this book was written, it was just a few short years from being shut down and closed. I’ve seen pictures of the place since then; it’s got that old-fashioned classic beauty, so it’s nice to read about it as actually being alive again. Or at a time when it was alive, or something.
  • I will never understand why these authors seem to think racehorses are just like regular horses that just run fast. Thoroughbreds don’t get “put in crossties” … that’s why you see them being held while being groomed or tacked up. Too much can go wrong in a crosstie. I was once tacking up the mare I was leasing, and she started bucking around in the crossties, she could have hurt herself. Think about it, you’ve got a possibly multi-million dollar animal, and you’re going to clip two long lines to these rings on its halter – lines that possibly will not break in an emergency – and hope that he doesn’t go bat-shit-crazy and break his neck? I don’t think so. You’re gonna get a groom or two to hold his lead rope.
  • Mike Smith? Mike Smith? This just has me convulsed in giggles. Of all the names that could have been picked for the introduction of this character, it just seems so damn amusing that the Danworth’s new trainer has the exact same name as two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile-winning jockey, Mike Smith.
  • Aladdin’s Treasure is “almost seventeen hands tall and was jet black with four white socks, a star and a stripe.” And yet, Ashleigh is able to brush his back. Let me show you a horse that is 17.1 hands tall.

See, that’s Bubba. He’s at our barn. There’s only a few inches of difference between him and Aladdin. And yet, I can barely reach this horse’s back. I cannot see over his back. And I am a foot taller than Ashleigh. But hey, maybe she was standing on a stepladder or something. Or has elastic arms like Mr Fantastic, Richard Reed.
  • Ashleigh and Peter do not get along at first. In fact, they kind of hate each other. But unlike Brad and Ashleigh, who never seem to really reconcile their animosity, Peter and Ashleigh seem to come to a friendship. Which is weird, because you’d have thought they’d try the same kind of love/hate rivalry plot as they did with the main series.
  • I said it before, and I'll say it again. Ashleigh is wasted as a jockey. If she can deliver a foal all by herself in the middle of a blizzard, she's the equine version of Doogie Howser.
So there we have it, The Forbidden Stallion. Why it had such a name like “forbidden” I’ll never know. It’s not like Ashleigh was prevented from seeing the horse, she just couldn’t ride him. But hello, she was grounded from riding horses – any horse. Not just really tall black stallions. And soon, she’ll be back in the saddle, and immersing herself in that catty bitchy world of Hunter Show Princesses. Whoop de doop.

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