May 21, 2008

The emergence of the infamous superdrive: #20 Champion's Spirit

Champion's Spirit
Thoroughbred #20
by Karen Bentley
Original Publication: 1997

He's Wonder's "strongest" offspring, not to mention her most fabulous, speediest, and magnificently headstrong colt. He's chestnut...or brown...or bay, or possibly black. He's been touted as Whitebrook's "first" Triple Crown winner since he was a foal. I give you Wonder's Champion:

Let's go back to our tally...
Cindy's expressions on covers so far:
Scowls: 2
Smiles: 2
Fear: 2
Expressionless: 1
Frightening Motivation: 1
Heartbreakingly Emo: 1

This is one of those covers that encourages squinting and pondering. Champion's hooves, for example, are incredibly boxy. The people holding him never cease to confuse me as well. The girl I assume is Ashleigh, and the guy...well, who knows. Only I keep staring at it and the more I look at it the more I'm convinced he's biting his lower lip.
Is Wonder's Champion too wild to be a winner?

Cindy McLean is sure Wonder's Champion will be Whitebrook's fastest colt yet--if he ever gets to the track. Wonder's Champion just won't behave. He acts up in the saddling paddock, chases the other horses in the walking ring, and rears in the starting gate.

But when he runs, he's almost perfect. Wonder's Champion has strength and speed like no horse Cindy has ever seen. But she knows the competition at the Kentucky Bonus Series races is tough, and the colt is going to need more than sheer force to come out on top. Can Cindy get the rebellious colt to behave before he ruins his greatest chance for victory?

This blurb apparently doesn't take into account that Wonder's Champion breaks his maiden on his first time out and wins a stakes race his second time out. He's wild, sure, but it isn't exactly hampering his ability to win.


So here's the thing: Storm's dead. It's months later and Cindy isn't over it yet, but she's keeping that mainly to herself. Or so she thinks. She's off visiting Storm's grave more often than she likes to admit, and most of that time she's spending pruning the flowers. Half that time she drags Champion along with her, and he's apparently pretty resentful about this. God help him if he tries to eat the flowers on Storm's grave, because Cindy isn't having any of that.

Champion isn't doing too well on the track, although he's winning a good percentage of the time so everyone's having a hard time deciding if they want to complain because he's not winning by enough or because he's being a terror while he wins. Yeah, it's a hard life for the Whitebrook people, but they try so hard. Anyway, Cindy comes to the awestruck conclusion that she's been comparing Champion to Storm too much and because of that she's going into his training sessions expecting him to act up, thus causing him to act up. Or something along those lines. So she decides she's going to love him ever so much, believe in him, and let him do his thing out there and presto! He's winning without trying to kill people.

There's also some development with Max and Cindy. He asks her to a school dance, and she flips out because she doesn't think about Max in a romantic sense. She tells him they shouldn't go to the dance and he overreacts and stomps off before she can clarify, resulting in weeks of avoidance. Then, right after her great moment of enlightenment with Champion she tells Max that she was an idiot and that she was just afraid he wanted her to be his girlfriend and that they should go to the dance. He apparently doesn't like like her either and all is well. They go to the dance and have a good time. Kudos to Cindy and Max for managing to figure that whole thing out.

  • Some horse kicks the fence and Cindy's all "maybe it's Honor!" because Honor is her favorite and god forbid something happen to her. So she discovers it's actually this Hero's Welcome horse that kicked the fence and I actually expected her to feel selfish relief at this. Unfortunately I got something that looked like concern and an out of no where explanation for why Hero kicked the fence. "I'll bet a fly was bothering her," Cindy informs us, because she is RIGHT ALWAYS. She is so right that she's right about THINGS SHE DIDN'T ACTUALLY SEE.
  • You know, Honor is a bitch of a horse. She and Cindy were made for each other.
  • Just for the record, I do like the name Honor Bright. It's the only good name Cindy ever came up with.
  • Okay, just to get this straight, people seem upset that Champion isn't winning his races by large enough margins. He has an attitude problem = Champion only wins his races by a nose = they have to get through to him so he'll win by greater margins. Yes, that's right. It's not only obsession with winning, it's obsession with crushing the nonexistent competition.
  • Mr. Wonderful comes in second in the Hollywood Gold Cup and there's another classic instance of moping and declaring that his career might be over because he faded in the stretch. I don't know, perhaps he faded and came in second because Brad isn't there to whip his horses into condition.
  • This is really the book that recreates Thoroughbred Series history. Bentley informs us that Ashleigh jockeyed Wonder in the Kentucky Derby, Pride won the Belmont Stakes, and that Jocko (blast from the past!) beat Townsend Victor, who never ran in the Derby according to Bentley.
  • Mr. Wonderful comes in a close second in the Pacific Classic and again everyone acts like someone just died. Ashleigh throws in the towel, declaring that he's going to be retired to stud. After two second place finishes in Grade One races. It's just...irrational logic. If Bentley wanted to retire Mr. Wonderful she should have come up with something drawn on that supposed unsoundness issue she was all about insisting Wonder passed on to her foals. That would have been logical. Two close second place finishes? No. Absolutely not a reason to retire a horse. Where the hell is Brad to slap some sense into these people?
  • I would also like to point out that Mr. Wonderful now sparkles and Champion glitters. If anyone has ever seen a horse do this without the assistance of cosmetics, please inform me and back up your claim with photographic evidence.
  • It occurs to me that if this book was supposed to solve Champion's training problems perhaps he shouldn't be winning every race he's entered in. Just a thought.
  • *gasp!* Max asks Cindy to a dance! I must say, I really didn't remember Bentley taking this long to shove the two of them together.
  • Who breezes a horse (a two-year-old, mind) four days after a race? It's not like Champion is prepping for a two week turn around, here.
  • Champion has a superdrive and Cindy ponders to herself what sort of gallop a superdrive is. Here's the answer: the fictional kind.
  • Cindy notes that they're running out of time with Champion. Out of time for what? It's not like any of the stewards have formally told them to fix the colt's attitude or anything. They have no deadline whatsoever, as far as I can tell.
  • Secret Sign's jockey and Ashleigh get into it at the end of the...whatever race where Champion loses. Ashleigh's playing the overly dramatic card, essentially saying "you whipped my horse and he could have fallen and we could have DIED!" and Secret Sign's jockey actually uses the words "your ill-mannered colt." I can't begin to visualize this conversation, but I'm pretty sure no jockey would say "ill-mannered" whilst yelling.
  • Cindy has her miracle light bulb on! moment concerning Champion's problems. He's reacting to her mood! Ta-da! He's not a brat, he's just extremely sensitive. And now we're expected to love him, because everything annoying about him has supposedly been Cindy's fault.
  • Oh, yay. Max isn't actually interested in Cindy that way. They're almost absurdly mature for "best friends" of opposite sexes. I'll give them that.
  • Yes. A loose rein, love, and belief are the fundamentals behind training every horse at Whitebrook. Along with hugs, plenty of quality time with infants and being forced to share their stalls with sleeping humans.
  • I honestly don't think Karen understands what "rate" means in racing. She mentions it practically every race, but it's always in a weird context. "She's trying to" or "she's going to" or "she was trying to"...why are we mentioning this damned word so much? Half the time she can't even remember if a horse was rated in a previous race or not.
  • It took six pages for Karen Bentley to write the last race scene. Six pages. Six boring, dialogue-packed pages.

Overall impression? Okay. Even if the solution to Champion's problem was pretty lazy. In any case, we've got the Triple Crown next. And after that? Let's say that I ordered every Joanna Campbell book (non-Thoroughbred, for a change) I could get my hands on from the Pittsburgh library system. We're going to have ourselves some book rec fun!


Anonymous said...

Wait, wait. The Whitebrook connections are upset because Champion isn't WINNING enough? Okay, let's say for the sake of argument that you have five to twenty horses in any race. That means your odds get lower every time.

My, my, my. I know now that Big Brown , Seattle Slew and Curlin were all HORRRIBLE! They didn't win all the time!

Anonymous said...

What the hell is up with Champion's hooves?! He looks like he's wearing platform shoes.

How many times has Bentley made us suffer through that "he's acting up because I expect him to!" rot. And don't get me started on the crap where the horses all need hugs and a special human to spoil them to behave.

Anonymous said...

Honor was one of those horses that i knew you were supposed to like, but i just didn't. maybe because i knew she was going to become Cindy's next obsession when she tossed Champion aside.

this book made me want to beat my head against the wall. Champion's winning practically everything he enters, and they're *still* not happy?

Anonymous said...

I just read this book for reals, and threw up a little in my mouth. No wonder I quit shortly after 'Wonder's Sister'...

Elizabeth said...

It's bad, but now that I own Macs, every time I read about Champion's (and Townsend Victor's)'s superdrive, I get a mental image of a Champion-shaped DVD burner.

Heather said...

You know what else would have fixed Champion's training issues? Gelding.

Stacie said...

This is the first book I actually tolerated Cindy a bit. She didn't seem so self centered or a know it all as she used to.

I thought that Champions problem was a bogus resason for his attitude problem. Sound pretty spoiled and in need of ground training to me.

OK. I'm so sick and tired of Cindy always telling herself when Ashleigh is going to make a certain move during a race. Like letting him out in the stretch. She always knows the exact moment..or the book says "as though Ashleigh can hear her."

Other then that not a too bad of book.

Anonymous said...

I always figured the guy on the cover was Ian, about a second before Champion cracks him in the head.

It must have been Pride that won the Belmont, otherwise Wonder would have, and the comment in the next book about a filly not having won the Belmont in a hundred years would have been another error.