Jun 1, 2008

Don't Worry, that's not Prion Disease, it's just Derby Fever, TB #53

Remember that time in my last post when I said I was full of self-loathing? Apparently I meant it even more than I, myself, thought I did because jeeze is this book awful. I finished reading it two days ago but I'm so depressed after putting myself through such an ordeal that only now am I ready to face my duty as a blogger to review this book so no one else ever has to read it again.

Cover: Probably one of the most infamously awful covers of the series. First of all, there are Ashleigh's completely demented fingers. Then there's the fact that Star and Image look like 47 year old mix-bred school horses or plow horses, take your pick. Christina is wearing a spectacular outfit consisting of a teal and black striped polo and red jeans, and seems to be incorrectly holding a length of rein that never ends while bending down to tie her shoe. Melanie's outfit is slightly better, and I think she actually looks kind of cute on this cover, all petulant-like. But, of course, she is so super pissed at Christina that she forgot to hold the reins of her incredibly excitable and unruly cart horse I mean racehorse, leaving this duty to Ashleigh, whose job appears to be to keep these never-ending reins from tangling about Image's legs when she inevitably bolts and dumps Melanie. Then Star will spook and Christina will fall, and both girls will suffer massive head injuries because neither of them have chin straps. All this, of course, takes place at Churchill Downs, because everyone at Whitebrook is so obsessed with the place that they've pretty much moved in.

Can Ashleigh Help Christina?
With the Kentucky Derby only a few weeks away, Christina Reese is stressed out. Star is in top form, but Christina is starting to wonder if the colt might be better off with a more experienced jocky in the saddle. Her mother the trainer, the renowned jockey Ashleigh Griffen, knows Christina is the only rider for Star. But she also knows what her daughter is feeling - she's been there herself.

Flash back to the days of old, when Ashleigh raced Wonder in the Triple Crown. Drawing inspiration from the past, Ashleigh dreams up a plan to calm Christina's nerves and prep her for the most exciting race of her life!
Well well. Where to start with this blurb? First of all, whoever wrote the synopsis seems to have confused this book with Living Legend. Here, Christina isn't concerned about being the right jockey for Star. In fact, she is the perfect jockey and trainer and only she knows what's best for Star, even more so than her Triple Crown winning mother. Secondly, Ashleigh recalls her Triple Crown with Pride, not Wonder. And while were on that subject, "days of old?" Really?

Plot: Basically this book was an attempt to placate fans who had been screaming about the disappearance of many beloved (!) characters ever since the New Generation was introduced about thirty books ago. I don't know who decided that the best way to do this was to revisit the venerated older books and crap all over their legacy, but that's what happened here. We are all treated to a lovely rewrite of Samantha's Pride from Ashleigh's point of view that adds absolutely nothing new to our understanding of the history of the TB universe and in fact twists it into an unrecognizable pile of crap, making Ashleigh's character look even more weak and ignorant than Karen Bentley could ever possibly make her.

So, what actually happens? The book opens with Christina exercising Star at Whitebrook, but she's all totally pissed because Ashleigh won't let them breeze every day and race 14 more times in the three weeks leading up to the Derby. Obviously Star needs to race once a week until the big race so he will be sharp! Or at least says the Christina Reese School of Training and Racing Your Thoroughbred Wonder Horse to Victory.

Ashleigh, having won a combined total of 5 Triple Crown races (not counting Wonder's, because she was basically just a groom), including one sweep of the Crown itself, not to mention three Breeder's Cups, the Dubai World Cup, etc., is all like, "Hells no Christina, you are a dumb bitch." Her reasoning is that she doesn't want Star to be over-raced or over-worked before the Derby, especially considering that he just recovered from an illness that would have killed him if he hadn't gone to Montana and run around for a while. Also, she's thinking about Pride's Triple Crown, when the colt's exhaustion from being over-raced by the Townsends (because Ashleigh didn't stand up to them) caused him to lose the Belmont by a nose. Ashleigh is determined to keep that from happening again.

This doesn't sit well with Christina, of course, who thinks that if Star doesn't race again before the Derby he will be "disheartened." It sounds to me like she has been talking to Cindy too much. This is especially frustrating for her because all the trainers and other people at Whitebrook agree with Ashleigh, which is so totally uncool because none of them know Star as well as Christina does, which obviously makes her the most qualified person to make decisions about how to train him, especially considering she's only ridden racehorses for three years. She's untainted by that lovely thing called "experience."

Christina mopes, and Star is so upset by the fact that he doesn't race and/or gallop as fast as he can every second of the day that he stops eating. Because she's been talking to Cindy, Christina decides that she needs to train Star secretly, so she gallops him out one morning before her mother is up, and her mom comes down to the track and is all, "Bitch, what?" And Christina's all, "you aren't training Star the way I want you to train him because you hate him and want him to lose."

This sends Ashleigh into an uncontrollable shame spiral, and she retreats to her office and stares at her old pictures and starts remembering the past, aka "days of old." This scene takes place at the Blue Grass or before it or after it, I don't know. But in it Pride has just raced or is going to and he's exercising at Whitebrook. He looks great but Charlie and Sam keep whining about how tired he is, whereas Clay is all, "He looks great!" Ashleigh watches Pride be all energetic, and just like Christina in the present thinks that energy means he can run endlessly. She decides to ignore Charlie and Sam and run him in all the races, and in the Florida Derby (I checked and I think that's the race they're all talking about) she lets Pride run right at the lead the whole time. Charlie's angry, but Asheligh says she couldn't hold him back because he wanted to run like the wind, which is clearly the sole basis for making decisions on how to jockey a horse.

Ian comes in and interrupts Ashleigh's reverie to tell her that Beth will be cooking casserole tonight and he doesn't want to miss it. I think all Beth knows how to cook is casserole, so it better be delicious.

Um, where was I? I think I've got things out of order. Now Chris works Star without Ashleigh's permission and tells Ashleigh pointedly that Star isn't Pride. Then she goes and has a rather lame heart to heart with Mike, and Melanie calls to tell everyone that Image won the Florida Derby and will be running in the Kentucky Derby. Crap, now Christina and Melanie will have to fight again.

Ashleigh decides Chris is projecting her own desire to race onto Star, so she tells Chris she should ride Raven that weekend in a race at Turfway. So Christina dutifully goes to ride Raven, but during the race she's so busy thinking of Star that she tries to ride Raven in a gap that's too small, bumps into the horse next to her, and causes a major accident. Everyone is okay except for Raven, whose ligaments and tendons all tear or something equally deadly. The vet tells the Whitebrook crew Raven should be humanely destroyed, but Christina insists that they try to save her. This is done mostly out of a sense of self-preservation, because suddenly we are informed that Melanie is obsessed with Raven, and if she knows Christina was the cause of her death she will be pretty PO'd.

So after the accident Christina is feeling pretty guilty and thinks maybe it might not be a good idea to ride Star in the Derby after doing something so grossly irresponsible. Ashleigh, forgetting her years of experience, convinces Christina that that accident wasn't her fault and insists she keep riding Star. Then she starts remembering Pride's Derby again. Apparently Samantha didn't even want Pride to run the Derby and she and Ashleigh argue a lot but Ashleigh races Pride because she knows Townsend Acres would just race him anyway because she legally has no say over what happens to a horse she co-owns. Blah blah boring sacrilege. This flashback convinces Ashleigh that maybe Chris is right and she needs to orchestrate something that will boost her daughter's confidence.

In the next chapter Melanie comes home and is, of course, pissed about Raven. Then a reporter randomly wanders onto Whitebrook's property and asks Christina some uncomfortable questions. Then Brad comes to Whitebrook to watch Star work for no reason at all other then to make some extremely obnoxious comments. Then Ashleigh has another flashback, this time after the Derby, wherein Brad Townsend says that Pride should train at Townsend Acres and Ashleigh is all no. Guilt, anxiety, indecision, then we get an actual description of the Preakness, which was not included in Samantha's Pride but makes me angry because why is this in this book?

Uh, Christina goes to Keeneland to pick up some tack (?) for her parents and sees Parker bumming around with another girl, who she assumes is his "replacement" girlfriend, which makes her all emo. Then she goes to Tall Oaks to talk to Cindy, who takes Ashleigh's side and once again brings up Pride as a perfect example. She then tells Christina to quit feeling sorry for herself, and says that she, Cindy McLean, has spent enough time feeling sorry for herself to know that it doesn't get you anywhere. Man, this book is so full of breakthroughs and psychoanalysis! I almost can't take it.

Christina goes back home all defeated because she still knows Star better than anyone else. She has a fight with Melanie and Melanie gets in the car and has an angry car accident, so to make up for it Christina buys her a statue of a horse, which of course = best friend. Somewhere in there Ashleigh remembers the Belmont, I don't even care at this point. Then Christina and Melanie make up because Melanie lets Chris ride Image. Then Ashleigh orchestrates a fake match race between Star, Image, and some horse Kevin rides, and it's a dead heat between Star and Image but everyone is happy because Raven has miraculously recovered and Star has gotten his race and Melanie has a statue.

Points of Interest:
  • Not only does Christina have red-brown hair, Star has a red-brown coat. Whatever happened to chestnut and auburn?
  • At one point Christina thinks to herself that she rarely questions Ashleigh's advice about training except for that time when SHE DID IT IN EVERY BOOK EVER.
  • Clearly Ashleigh wants Star to lose the Derby because she is being thoughtful and cautious about how she trains him.
  • At one point, when Ashleigh says it's useless to fight the Townsends, Charlie basically calls her out on being a pussy by pointing out she does have a say.
  • Christina insists so many times that she is the only one who understands Star that at this point I'm convinced they are both Vulcans and mind-meld on a regular basis.
  • Does anyone here think jabbing their feet into the stirrups after they mount a racehorse is a good idea? No? Okay, just checking.
  • During Raven's accident, the horse is described as cartwheeling down the track. That is a skill right there.
  • Even after her accident, Christina remains mostly convinced that it is Ashleigh's training schedule that will ruin Star and not her super sucky riding.
  • At one point Brad says that Charlie is not a real trainer, and in a later section when talking to reporters he calls Charlie geriatric. Brad is only in a few scenes in this book but every time he opens his mouth it's pure gold.
  • Ashleigh has a conversation with present-day Samantha, who points out that maybe Christina does know Star best and therefore Ashleigh should listen to her retarded daughter who just caused a horrific accident and wants to race Star to death, the very thing Ashleigh is afraid of, even though when Pride was racing Samantha hated Ashleigh for overracing him (according to this book). I am so confused.
  • Now Ashleigh tells Christina that she was right and by not believing in her she undermined Star and possibly ruined his chances. Okay, I know there is a mental dimension to riding and training horses, but all this psychoanalytical babble is completely insane and not realistic.
Holy crap, the review is over! That means I will never have to think of this book again. Thank God.


Mara said...

This review nearly made me cry I was laughing so hard. I can't wait to get to it so I can re-witness (maybe?) Brad's awesomeness when he was so truly awesome.

Claire said...

oh man, i'm glad you laughed mara because it was so painful to write! but i really think you in particular will enjoy the few spectacular scenes containing brad.

Anonymous said...

i remember when this book came out, i was *so* excited to see flashbacks to the golden years of the series. man, was i disappointed when i finally read it.

Anonymous said...

I am so sick of the horse-whisperer crap. So sick of Christina. Even Melanie is lame now. What happened to the Kool-Aid hair, the art hobby, and the attitude??

Now read 'Faith in a Longshot'...you KNOW you want to. ;)

Monique said...

an excellent review! :D I want more! more!