by Joanna Campbell
Original Publication: 1994
Wrapping up the Pride era, we've got an aptly named book: Pride's Last Race. Because, hey, he runs his last race in Pride's Last Race. Who would have thunk it?
I really do not like this cover. When this book came out I disliked it and the fourteen years since then has not changed my opinion. I have no idea who the blonde is (nevermind that the blonde's hair is awful) or what the hell is jabbing out of her t-shirt pocket. It can't possibly be a body part, could it? Then there's Samantha, who's over there doing something strange to the poor horse's bridle. Sammy is supposed to be turning 17 in this book, and instead she looks like she's a botoxed fifty-something who's desperately trying to smile despite her plastic surgery-frozen face. I'm assuming this is supposed to be before the Jockey Club Gold Cup, because the background sort of looks like Belmont Park, and that, frankly, is the best part of the entire cover.
Race to the finish...Wonder's Pride has just had the best year of his life! First he ran to a stunning victory in the Breeders' Cup race. Then he was named Horse of the Year. Pride's trainers, Samantha McLean and Ashleigh Griffen, can't wait for the start of another spectacular year.
But on the verge of his five-year-old season, Pride develops a deadly illness. Pride will never race again -- he may even die! Everyone else says there's no hope for Pride, but Samantha refuses to give up on him. Can her determination save the famous horse?
This is...well, it's a silly blurb. It gets the point of the book fairly accurately, but in that sugary sweet "Oh, no! Unexpected tragedy our beloved main characters will have to somehow overcome by sitting on their hands and weeping!" way. Because, again, it's a problem no one really fixes. Sure, Joanna tries really hard to suggest that Samantha's love inexplicably caused Pride's miracle recovery, but come on.
Okay, so the plots:
1. Lord Ainsley vs. Wonder's Pride/Brad vs. Ashleigh:
The book starts out with more of the same from Pride's Challenge. In fact, it starts out directly after #9, with Ashleigh and Mike getting back from their little conference with the stewards concerning Brad and Lavinia's supposed attempt at fixing the Whitney Handicap. Nothing happens there, of course, so we're free to start in with the Lord Ainsley/Pride rivalry again. That continues through the Breeders' Cup.
2. Unexpected(!) Tragedy:
Seriously. Princess breaks her leg, Wonder loses her foal, Pride nearly dies. It's like a very emotional melt down for everyone and allows for plenty of hysterics.
Actually, if we were looking for a cohesive plot there really isn't one. The book is split in two between the petty bickering and Lavinia acting like a loon who's two steps closer to homicide every day, and the tragedies.
- After Blues King wins his race, Yvonne is all about the "malicious glee." I don't know if malicious glee is something protagonists should be sporting in this series, considering how much everyone points out how often Lavinia is a "jealous witch" and what all. Pot, kettle, black, anyone?
- "I can't believe there are people who feel sorry for her. I mean, it's tough being an only child whose mother practically deserted you, but that's no excuse for expecting to have everything your way." This quote concerning Lavinia is just so terribly annoying.
- Ashleigh and Samantha running around with the weanlings is just too cute.
- Ashleigh is adjusting the focus on her television? What now?
- Lavinia remarks after the Woodward that Lord Ainsley put in a remarkable effort given the track was muddy and that he's so versatile. Ashleigh mutters, "Like she knows what she's talking about. What a phony." Did Ashleigh & Co. not say pretty much the same thing about Lord Ainsley before? What is wrong with these people? And Samantha, for the love of God no one is being overraced, okay? We know Pride can only run once every three and a half months because he's the most delicate superhorse on earth, but lay off already.
- You know, I never liked the Pony Commandos. Probably because they just sucked up valuable plot time, and probably because their whole existence was so impossible. Okay, tiny handicapped children! We're going to put you in the hands of four teenagers who have no background whatsoever in physical therapy and they're going to endanger your lives by sticking you on horses! Are we excited yet? How they ever got insurance to go along with that is anyone's guess. Isn't there a qualified, licensed therapeutic riding center somewhere in the "heart" of America's horse country where these kids could do this and stop wasting our time?
- Why would Lavinia want to exercise the horses? Why the hell would a Kentucky socialite want to do that? Just...what?
- I love this. Ashleigh is always bitching and whining about how everyone else doesn't care about a horse's welfare by simply racing it a couple of times in the course of two months. Brad suggests to a paper that it's not wise to race Pride past the Breeders' Cup because he doesn't want to risk injury. And who's the pissed off one? Ashleigh.
- "A lot of stallions aren't retired until they're five or six." Okay, two things. One: I don't know where Samantha's getting her numbers, but most dirt horses retire well before they're five. Two: If they retired Pride after the Breeders' Cup he'd be retiring and going to stud as a five-year-old. Plus, what's the point of racing him another year. He's so delicate he'd probably hit the track twice with everyone freaking out in between races about how delicate he is.
- Contention! Mr. Townsend wants to retire Pride. For purely financial reasons (his starting fee is $30,000 and his book would be 50 mares, and I don't know how that would have worked in reality given this was 1994, but whatever) and with the logical expectation that Pride may not win all his races and could very well be injured and thus may not command a larger fee later. Ashleigh is pissed. Like...furious pissed. Ash, sweetie, even in 1994 horses were retiring at three. Pride isn't experiencing an early retirement. He's experiencing reality's swift kick to his (and your) ass.
- *gasp!* Pride might be moved to Townsend Acres upon retirement! Don't worry, Sammy. You don't visit Pride after he retires to stud anyway, so honestly this shouldn't bother you.
- I'm sort of starting to wonder what Ashleigh does when she's getting into these cat fights with Lavinia outside of the narrative. If Lavinia looks like she's afraid she's going to get hit what the hell is Ashleigh doing?
- You know those rather infrequent moments when people completely lose it in front of family members and the general public? Well, Lavinia just had one of those moments and it was pretty amusing. Probably because it made no sense and yes, Ashleigh's getting her way again for seemingly no reason. Pride won't be retired and Lavinia has a melt down. It's just this sort of drama that turns the lives of our Thoroughbred characters. Ashleigh wins, Lavinia loses and everyone turns and marvels at Lavinia's bitterness like it's a curiosity they can't quite grasp.
- So to offset the wonderful good luck Whitebrook has at the beginning of this book, Joanna throws every tragedy she can at them in the second half. Princess breaks her leg, Wonder miscarries her foal, and Pride suffers intestinal blockage/colic and is rushed to surgery. Strangely, the only thing I really wanted to see was Pride losing to Lord Ainsley once or twice.
- You know, whenever Joanna gets into explanations for her medical miracles I always think of a quote from Days of our Lives when Dr. Rolf says: "I know it sounds crazy, but he has jungle fever." Because really, her attempt at explaining Pride nearly dying from colic and rebounding out of nowhere is pretty close to that.