By Karen Bentley
I remember picking this book up in 1997 and scoffing at it. A Thoroughbred book called Arabian Challenge, I thought? It just had to be bad. I put it back. Right there I saved myself 201 pages of torture. But, being too curious for my own good I had to read it sometime and now I'm rereading it because apparently I just like to enrage myself. Anyway, here it is. The book that is endlessly worse than Glory's Rival. To the cover!
There isn't a lot to complain about here. In fact, it's easily Champion's best cover. The color scheme even works with the image, and that doesn't happen often. Cindy's smile is even somewhat convincing, although there is an air of annoying superiority in it that makes me wish she'd fall off the horse and then die in the desert of dehydration. I find all of this quite unfortunate considering Arabian Challenge is probably the book that most enrages me. At least of the Cindy books. I haven't read the majority of the New Generation, so who knows what's awaiting me.
Will Cindy win her biggest race as a jockey?
For as long as she can remember, Cindy McLean has longed to ride a Thoroughbred in a world-class race. And now that she's sixteen, Cindy's dream is finally coming true. She'll ride Wonder's Champion, the Triple Crown winner, in Arabia's Dubai Cup!
Cindy will have tough competition. She'll be racing not only against the best horses and jockeys in the world but also against her friend and teacher, Ashleigh Griffen! Is Cindy ready for the challenge of her life?
Don't you just love the "Arabia's Dubai Cup" line? It's exactly how you'd dumb down a more complicated phrase for a four-year-old. Sort of like "That's beer, and no you can't drink it" turns into "You don't want to drink the bad juice, it's icky." You know?
We're skipping another year here, with almost no mention of what happened after Champion's Belmont Stakes because, hey, who needs all that pesky backstory? I'm sure Cindy moped about something and Champion won a few races and all was well with the world. We've got more interesting things to get to, like Cindy's apprentice jockey license! Which she's somehow applied for at the age of 15 because she starts off this book in a gate test, which she passes with flying colors and an extra handful of glitter for extra measure. Afterward there's all this talk about how much Ashleigh and Cindy understand each other now that you get this distinct feeling that Cindy thinks she's in some uber special girl jockey club with Ashleigh, which must mean their minds have melded and no one else can understand their super powers. Despite this, it is painfully clear to Cindy that she is only the lowly sidekick to Ashleigh's Wonder Woman, and she is desperate for Ashleigh's compliments and opinions. She'll learn to disregard these later, of course.
Immediately upon returning home, Cindy starts taking herself a little too seriously. If she's going to be a (top) jockey now she must devote all her time to her career, which would apparently mean sitting around on her ass thinking about riding in races because she sure as hell hasn't been asked to ride in any yet. Thus she alienates all of her friends in a mere two pages. This doesn't bother Cindy. They'll come around, she tells herself, and then frolics off to think about racing some more. However, because Ashleigh and Cindy are in the same super girl jockey club, Cindy gets home to Ashleigh offering her a ride on Black Reason! Yay! All her thoughts are now justified; she is a Real Jockey. At the age of 15, which one book ago was impossible (not to mention in this fabulous thing we call "reality"). Just as Cindy's riding her high of getting to race, Ashleigh brings her down by reminding her that it's not her entire life and thus Cindy concludes that Ashleigh takes her whole life for granted. Ashleigh will never understand her determination!As it turns out, no one understands her determination. Cindy starts getting up at 3am every morning in preparation for her first race. As if riding one more horse every morning (bringing the grand total up to two horses each morning) will prep her perfectly for race riding. All she accomplishes is exhausting herself and developing these ridiculous flashes of anger at anyone who dares question her grand plan to super jockey stardom.
Of course, Cindy doesn't win her first race and decides it was that pesky problem of being forced to attend these public education facilities called schools that derailed her glorious vision of winning and being presented with roses and trophies and rapt attention from everyone. So she decides to cut everything out of her life, including her friends. Who needs them, anyway?
So the instant her friends and family start reacting to Cindy's putting them...oh, about last on her list of priorities, she's all with the drama, repression and pissiness. Anyone's attempt to talk her earth-sized head down to a diameter that will at least fit her through a doorway is met with antagonism and defensiveness, but while Cindy is causally driving everyone she likes away from her and secretly developing a very frightening jealousy over Ashleigh, she's getting everything she wants. A second ride on Black Reason, leading to promised ride on Champion in the Dubai World Cup.
Then, right in the middle of avoiding everyone (because at this point she's convinced herself everyone is against her), Cindy has her moment of enlightenment! Oh, it's like the pure joy of a thousand gleaming diamonds falling from the sun! Cindy decides that she's been focusing too much on herself and winning, not enough on her horses and winning. Or Max and winning...or something equally vague. Her moment of enlightenment isn't exactly as clear cut this time, but it has something to do with being less selfish, but still caring deeply about winning.
So she patches things up with Max and then wins her next race on Black Reason, so now she's all sparkles and happiness, with only occasional (meaning every two to three pages) completely insane glimpses of irrational envy, jealousy, overreacting to innocent statements, irritation and obsession.
When they finally get to Dubai, Cindy's convinced Ashleigh doesn't really want to talk to her. Which basically means Cindy's the one that doesn't want to do any talking. In fact, she turns her back on Ashleigh when she tries to talk strategy concerning the sand surface, and Cindy decides she needs to concentrate without Ashleigh, which means riding Champion at night on the track without anyone else around. Naturally this doesn't go well. The ride is a complete failure, and Mark catches her on top of it. No one is happy, least of all Cindy.
Instead of being forced to deal with the repercussions of Cindy's crushing stupidity, she gets everything she wants in the end, wins the Dubai World Cup, and Ashleigh forgives her. Yay. Sunshine, rainbows, and butterflies!
- For as long as Bentley has gone on and on about this Very Important Fact that you have to be sixteen to ride a horse on any race track, Cindy says to herself in monologue on the very first page during her gate test that she's "almost sixteen." She just couldn't wait, could she?
- After Cindy passes her gate test, Samantha congratulates her and looks "wistful." This is because Cindy has accomplished what Samantha never could, and obviously Karen has to take some time out to focus on how Samantha was just too tall and heavy and therefore just not as happy with her life as Cindy obviously will be.
- Sometimes my life is just too good to be true! Cue sunshine and rainbows! Where are the butterflies, damn it!? We need butterflies here, stat!
- Cindy knew that everyone at Whitebrook simply expected her to become a great jockey. Yeeeeah. I'm sure they do, Cindy. I'm sure.
- Reason's great to ride, but he doesn't move like my Triple Crown Champion! You know, Karen Bentley probably thought she was being so clever when she named Wonder's Champion. I'm sure she was just tickled to death by all the annoying ways she could use the horse's name in a sentence.
- Also, someone probably should have explained to Karen that "Arabia" and the United Arab Emirates are not the same thing. As a former editor, you'd think she would have caught that.
- Oh, the infamous "the Nad al Sheba track is sand! I don't compute!" moment. All dirt tracks involve sand in some large quantity. The Churchill Downs track, for instance, is 75% SAND, 23% silt and 2% clay. Nad al Sheba has roughly the same percentages of the same stuff. Basically, it's like saying Ashleigh can train horses on Bluegrass but not Fescue.
- Since when is an airport waiting room sterile? If anything it's one of the most disgusting spaces one could ever be so unfortunate to occupy for even a few minutes.
- Again the word exquisite pops up twice on one page. Imperious is Karen's other favorite word, mostly reserved for Champion when he's feeling like a haughty jackass. It's just that every horse is exquisite and seriously what the hell is wrong with words like dainty, beautiful, elegant, graceful...fine-boned, even! For Christ's sake, crack a thesaurus once in your life!
- Pathetically enough, Mark and Cindy have more chemistry than Max and Cindy could ever hope for. No wonder they were doomed.
- You notice how Karen keeps calling Whitebrook's colors sky blue and white? Is she unaware that blue and sky blue are are entirely different colors or is she just a huge UNC basketball fan? Was she even looking at the book covers that were coming out before and during her writing tenure?
- Ashleigh and Cindy visit the inner sanctum commonly referred to as the jockey's room. Ashleigh informs Cindy that she's riding later on, but she's here to keep Cindy company. Then, no more than two paragraphs down the page, Ashleigh jumps up, says she's going to go change, and proceeds to abandon Cindy. What is up with that? Not to mention, once Ashleigh walks into the jockey's room she's not leaving until her race is run. Like hell she'd be able to lead Cindy back out of the room and into the walking ring for Cindy's race.
- Cindy comes in third in her race and immediately breaks into tears because she didn't win, thereby letting down everyone at Whitebrook. Or something equally horrendous because she will never win! She hasn't won and she never will! Why did she even bother trying! Black Reason doesn't deserve her! Cindy stops just short of breaking out a razor blade and slitting her wrists on the track.
- Unfortunately Cindy pulls it together and decides to act professionally by congratulating the winning jockey. The winning jockey is about to tell her she did pretty well as Cindy then turns on her heel and walks off, because "pretty well" is not good enough! Screw this professional thing. Who needs it, right?
- Oooh, not only is Cindy pissed off that she lost her race, she's pissed off because Ashleigh won hers with Champion. Ashleigh's won so much and Cindy has never won, therefore she can't find it in herself to be happy for anyone else's success. All of a sudden. Seriously, this kid needs to seek therapy. Possibly she should be on medication.
- If all of this wasn't enough, Cindy convinces herself that Max and Laura are going at it behind her back. Those backstabbing whores! Cindy's going to go cry now and you'll all be sorry! You'll all be! (I'm getting a really odd vibe that Cindy's about two steps from becoming suicidal in the middle of this book...she's acting like a lunatic who's taken one too many anti-depressants.)
- Ashleigh and Cindy go out on their trail ride, and switch horses for absolutely no reason other than it gives Karen another chance for Cindy to whine because Ashleigh can ride both Wonder and Honor like it's nothing and Wonder, like, slightly hesitates for Cindy which is OH MY GOD HORRIBLE! But then Ashleigh informs Cindy that she'll get the ride on Champion in the Dubai World Cup if she does well in her next race, and believe her, it's not a favor to Cindy. Oh no. It's because Cindy and Ashleigh are in their super duper girl jockey club and no one else can be trusted.
- Cindy decides that if she wins the Dubai World Cup and beats Ashleigh everyone will take her seriously and stop asking her to, like, go to school and do homework and have a life. It totally doesn't cross her mind that people would write her off completely even if she won the Dubai World Cup because she happened to be riding a TRIPLE CROWN (sigh) CHAMPION. They could stick a potato to Champion's saddle and probably get the same result.
- Heather and Doug have an "exciting" dinner for Valentine's Day. What were they doing? Espionage?
- Well, finally Samantha hits the nail on the head: The way you act now, I'd think that all you care about is winning your races, rather than the actual horses...or any of your relationships. Cindy's reaction is disbelief and shortly replying, "I'll just stop talking about racing to you, then." You know, all of this would be interesting if Karen Bentley had any clue and had made Cindy at all likable in the many opportunities she had before this book.
- Cindy cries to Honor, "Why didn't I win when I tried so hard?" Here's the thing. It's called odds making, and with each additional competitor your overall odds worsen. Even if you're riding an overwhelming favorite, there's still the chance you're going to lose. If you bet against the favorite, there's still a good chance you're going to get a payback. This is how the majority of gamblers make money. Cindy does not understand this, obviously. At her rate, I can see her playing the lottery and going into hysterics when she doesn't win because she picked her numbers with such care! Give Me A Break.
- Cindy's a good ice skater now? Since when does she have time to practice that? Anyway, she and Max get into their little fight and he informs her that he's actually not seeing Laura. You know, for once in this series I would like it if their worries were actually justified. If Max had said, "Yes, I'm seeing Laura because I realized you're not interested" I would have respected Karen a little more because that would have been so cool.
- Why don't they just homeschool Cindy? She's taking what looks like the whole of March off from school, which doesn't exactly work in the public system.
- Apparently Cindy's been eating a lot of French food at tracks around the country, which surprises me given all she eats at racetracks is backside kitchen food, which I'm am SURE does not involve anything I would call French cuisine.
- During a bit of bored skimming I ran over a sentence involving the words "Cindy" "Max" "hand" and "roaming" and nearly had a heart attack. Unfortunately, after a second read through, it was just a day dream about roaming around the desert while holding hands. I am so disappointed.
- Cindy wins her next race and everyone lavishes her with praise. Praise such as "Your first win, and you're already practically in the record books" and, not to mention: "a win like this is good PR for Whitebrook." Okay. She didn't set a record and it's an allowance race, which is one step up from bottom of the barrel. What, pray tell, is so great about this?
- Although I will say that having Cindy riding in the races is the best move Karen could have done for her race scene writing. Finally the talking stops.
- Mark makes some innocent comments and Cindy completely flips out in inner monologue, accusing Mark of thinking she's a second-class jockey. Nooo, but I would say everyone thinks she's an apprentice. Which she is. Which is not any sort of class.
- Nothing beats being a jockey! Cue sunshine and rainbows! Where are those damn butterflies?
- Oh, man, fantastic comedy. Ashleigh and Cindy have some match race at Gulfstream, and Ashleigh deliberately pulls Limitless into Champion's flank to interfere with him. Then she speeds on to win. Cindy is so pissed off she actually expects an apology, and when Ashleigh just bursts out laughing (because this was supposed to be lighthearted, but as we all know Cindy doesn't do lighthearted.) Cindy goes back into "near tears from frustration" scene and thus we end the chapter with Cindy assuming Ashleigh is going to play dirty in the Dubai World Cup. Which is just so funny I cannot express my glee properly.
- Welcome to Dubai! Within a page or two Karen compares a mosque to the Jefferson Memorial. So I'll just stop there with any possible discussion of what she thinks the rest of Dubai looks like.
- Hey, everybody! It's Ben! I wonder what miracles he'll perform this time!
- Now Cindy has it in her head that Ashleigh's not talking to her about training and then she has her second enlightenment, which is laughably wrong. Cindy discovers that Ashleigh isn't talking to her because she's afraid she'll lose the race if she gives Cindy any tips! How remarkably stupid. Just...no, stupid.
- Yay. Clover's back, only now he's Al Sha'ar. Cindy's read all about Al Sha'ar but apparently she was too dense to figure out he was actually Clover.
- I've never been so disappointed in anyone. Don't talk to me, Cindy. See, that is awesome. If only Karen had kept up the Cindy hate through the end of the book.
- On the phone to Max, Cindy actually says that the worst part of the conversation was when Ashleigh told Cindy that Champion wasn't her horse. Yes, that would be the worst part according to Cindy. Facing reality must be very difficult for her. Far more difficult than having someone tell her that they're so angry they can't abide listening to her talk.
- She supposed Ashleigh did have a right be frightened and angry when she saw Cindy and Champion out on the track. What? Kinda like she has the right to tell Cindy that Champion isn't Cindy's horse because he's, you know, ASHLEIGH'S? (And Brad's, but we won't get into that now because had Brad been at the track with Ashleigh he probably would have killed Cindy with the strength of his glare.)
- Ah, Ben does have a purpose. He tells Cindy that she has to listen to Ashleigh's advice and not let it be a slight to her self-esteem. Or her giant freaking ego that probably has several satellites the size of planets by now.
- Yeah, you know, kudos to Ashleigh for being the bigger person and approaching Cindy first before the race...but I would have been much happier if she'd let Cindy sweat for at least another book.
- The way Karen writes the Dubai World Cup racing scene, Limitless should have won. The only explanation for Champion winning is his special bond with Cindy and his extra superdrive, or whatever, because if he's written as tiring enough to look it with a quarter mile left in the race with Limitless in the lead, he's toast. Easy as that.
- How does Ashleigh feel about losing? Cindy wonders to herself. I can say, without a doubt, she doesn't feel like crying her eyes out and making a fool out of herself. Unlike some people I know....
Long story short? Cindy is insufferable. I'm shocked it took the publishers eleven books of this hell before pulling the plug on Cindy and Karen Bentley. Seriously, what was the point of this book other than learning you can be a bitch with no redeeming qualities and still get what you want if you push hard enough and then cry for added sympathy? Because that's what this book was throughout. A complete trainwreck.