Jun 10, 2008

Melanie's Transformation into a Neurotic Pile of Goo: TB #46, Racing Image

TB #26
Racing Image
By Alice Leonhardt
Published: 2001

Now that I finally appear to be over my sinus infection (keep your fingers crossed for me, you guys) it's time return to the mental t0rture of reading bad Thoroughbred series books. I decided it was time to bite the bullet and tackle some more books written post-eventing, so where better to start than that book where Image wins a race after running part of it backward?

The best part of this cover is how Image's legs are blurred to suggest motion. Indeed, the super sonic speeds at which she is traveling in this book are impossible to capture in one badly-done water color painting. Or pastels. Or colored pencils. Really, I'm not very up on my crappy art materials these days. At least Image has a girth and Melanie's helmet has a chin strap, though it's fastened so loosely that I doubt it will do Melanie much good when Image decides to roll over and scratch her back in the middle of the backstretch. Does Image look like a Thoroughbred? I don't know, I can't really tell any more. The real mystery of this cover is the bridle: if you look closely you can see that one of the cheek straps mysteriously becomes part of Image's face somewhere inbetween the head piece and the GIGANTIC bit. Looks like someone had the opacity set incorrectly on the clone stamp.

Will Image ever behave herself on the track?
Melanie Graham's dream has come true - chance to ride Perfect Image in her first race. Image has been running great, and it looks like they may even have a shot at winning some big-time races.

But Melanie and the black filly's trainers have forgotten how unpredictable Image can be. When she's disqualified from her first race, they wonder if she has the temperament to race at all. How will Melanie prove that with a little special treatment this very special filly can make it all the way to the Triple Crown?
Well then. This blurb is accurate only in the most general sense, not that I blame whoever wrote it because it could easily be cut and pasted to apply to all previous Image books. See, in this book it's finally time for Image to race, after two books of Melanie trying to prove to the world that she deserves a better life than that of a pampered broodmare at Townsend Acres. But Image has to win or else Fredericka Graber will be forced to sell her to said Townsend Acres AKA Hell for Horses because she is bankrupt thanks to an ex-employee who took advantage of her naive senility. There. Now on to the plot.

Plot: Image is the stupidest horse that ever was who exists for the stupidest reason there ever was. In retrospect, I suppose I can understand why Melanie was introduced to the series: she is supposed to be a foil for Christina and really all the other TB characters in the history of the series. This worked out fine until book #34 or so. But, besides being the funky city cousin with the Kool-Aid colored hair (really? I mean...really?), Melanie never really had that much of a purpose, and in my opinion never really warranted her own books.

Unfortunately I had no say in these decisions, so we were treated to a smattering of books with Melanie as the main character in which she bumped from one horse to another. This is really unacceptable because, as we all know, in TBverse every adolescent girl needs her very own Super Special Horse. For Melanie, this was supposed to be Pirate, but no one can win the Kentucky Derby on a blind pony horse who's also (GASP) a gelding, so yeah, we had to fix that quick. And, of course, if a main horse is not related to Wonder or gray then they also cannot be the focus of anyone's prolonged attention. Enter: Perfect Image.

I don't know if I really have too much of a problem with Image in an of herself. As an equine character she's actually got a little spunk, and is stand-offish in a way that's believable - to a point. But I certainly take issue with the premise of her existence, and with the way Melanie's character continues to devolve into a sick, hysterical mess. By Racing Image she is a paranoid, whiny, nervous freak who cries at the drop of the hat. All she is missing is the insanely annoying obsession with winning, and we will have a full rounded character. Christina may have been annoying, but Melanie was just an uninteresting, blubbering, whining, crying, egotistical mess, and it all accelerated once she was given Image to babble mindlessly over. I prefer Star and Christina any day, as boring and uninspired as Star may be. Now, on with the book.

By Racing Image we've been following Melanie's training trials and tribulations with this spunky black filly for two books. Melanie has finally convinced Fredericka and Vince Jones, the filly's ruff, gruff, Charlie-Wannabe trainer, that Image is talented and that Melanie Graham is the only one who can bring this talent to fruition. Also, Whitebrook is the only place this can be accomplished, obviously. So Melanie is training Image at Whitebrook, with the sometimes assistance of Ian and the constant aid of Kevin, who spends more time with Melanie now than when they were dating. Yay.

Training Image means spending long mornings riding her up and down hills while Kevin ponies them on Pirate, and then ending the session with a lap around the track. Fredericka happens to stop by after a particularly good session, and Melanie is thrilled until Fredericka (who shall henceforth be known as Oldie because typing Fredericka repeatedly is going to get annoying) tells Melanie that she's bankrupt and will have to sell all the Tall Oaks horses that aren't paying their own way or else she will lose the farm. Of course, Brad Townsend has offered to swoop in and save the day by purchasing a bunch of Oldie's horses, including Image's dam, Townsend Mistress. His one stipulation is that Image be included in the deal because he is still obsessed with that Wonder beating him thing and to make up for it is hoping to somehow bring every horse ever related to Townsend Pride into his possession, except for Star because he got sick. Until later. But anyway.

This is just the pits for Melanie, because what could be a worse fate for a racehorse who doesn't even want to stand in a stall then to spend the rest of her days as a broodmare living on one of the most posh farms in the country? Nothing, that's what! And Melanie has to stop this horrible scenario from coming to fruition. She insists Oldie give them one more month to get Image in shape for racing, at which point Melanie is sure she can prove to Oldie that Image can earn her keep. Oldie, always incapable of making rational business decisions concerning horses, as evidenced by her current state of bankruptcy, agrees.

Now Melanie really has to focus on getting Image ready for her first race. She decides to do this by going over to Tall Oaks with Cindy to help take care of Oldie's other horses. You see, because Oldie is all broke she can't really afford stable help any more, so the horses are languishing in days old piss-soaked bedding while the one groom stands outside kicking the tractor. Yes. Anyway, Chris and Parker show up and it's a real jamboree. This whole episode is important, children, because it's here we're introduced to the idea of Cindy becoming Tall Oaks's farm manager, and later, its trainer. Also important is that Brad shows up at the farm while the Goody Two Shoes Crew it cleaning up horse shit and shows some wealthy buyers one of Oldie's horses under the guise of helping Oldie get back on her feet. Because he is so nefarious, he tells his friends that the horse he shows them is worth $400,000 when she is really worth $500,000. Holy crap, that bastard! Melanie is so scared of his unremitting evilness that she hides in a pile of straw, then rushes to inform the world of Brad's ungodly plot. Everyone is enraged, and Cindy offers to save the day, so now we can forget that this whole episode ever happened until the next book, when Cindy is the main character. Moving on.

Everything is going just great with Image until Vince and Oldie show up at Whitebrook and tell Melanie that Image is going to enter her maiden race in just six days! Jeeze, Melanie thought she had a whole month. This sure throws a wrench in her plans. She hasn't even ever trained Image in that starting gate! This can't end well, because how will she ever get this horse, who is basically a mustang, to break cleanly in six days? Or complete a successful workout at Whitebrook? Or on any track for that matter? She'd better hope Ashleigh has some of that magical Whitebrook wonder dust laying around somewhere, or Image is destined to suffer through a life of luxury at the hands of Brad Townsend.

Melanie, with the help of Ian, Kevin, and Christina (who apparently treats Star like a pony horse when he is not racing), manages to teach Image how to break from the gate and pulls off her gate test and official work at Turfway without any real problems. Even when Image bucks coming out of the gate, the official starter passes them because he is impressed with Melanie's ability to get Image under control. Yeah, I really have no idea how that works in real life, but something tellls me that if a horse exploded bucking out of the gate during their first gate test it would not be viewed as something to admire.

Moving on, because Image is going to race this means she's going to have to stay at the track for a few days, like a normal racehorse. But, because Image cannot tolerate being anywhere but in a paddock, she of course tries to destroy her stall and Melanie is forced to come out to the track in the dead of night and calm her down. This, of course, means sleeping in the stall with a filly who just splintered both the top and bottom halves of her stall door, gouged teeth marks in all the walls, and trampled her water bucket flat. Sounds real safe to me, but apparently both Image and Melanie find it to be soothing.

When Ashleigh finds Melanie in the stall the next morning she insists that she go home to sleep. She manages to get in a mere three hours before her father, Will, and a rock star arrive at Whitebrook to awaken her from her slumber. Embarrassingly for her, she's not wearing any pants. Anywho, she insists they drive her back to the track immediately because no one is answering the phone at the shedrow and that must mean Image is dead. Because no one at Whitebrook has cellphones or voicemail. Melanie is too freaked out to even notice how hot the Chris Angel-look alike rock star her dad has brought along is. I don't really blame her though. I would immediately file someone named "Jazz" away under "Completely Worthless Person that I Don't Need to Remember." Honestly, his name came right out of a Jem cartoon.

Once at the track Melanie discovers that Image is fine, and also that everyone on the backside is falling over backwards over the fact that she has arrived with THE Jazz Taylor, lead singer of the band Pegasus, whose hit single "Make My Day," has the most mind-bogglingly awesome (and insightful!) lyrics of all time:

Make my day
Make my life
Make my happy
All my life

Yes, only a man named Jazz could be brilliant enough to rhyme "life" with "life." I don't blame Melanie for not being impressed.

Melanie is forced to sit through lunch with her father and le artiste, but she manages to escape only to run into Brad Townsend on the backside, who is really eager to show her his new purchase. It's an unraced chestnut filly with blue blood named Flashy Miss! Because a Whitebrook horse is nothing without a Townsend Acres rival! Brad has bought this filly and entered her in Image's race JUST to make sure that Image loses so that Oldie will be forced to sell Image to him. Damn Brad, you needs a chill pill. Or a pat on the back for being so manically awesome. I'm not sure which.

Melanie is pretty freaked out, and even whines to Vince that Brad is trying to beat her! Vince is all...so? You're a pussy. This shuts Melanie up about about that, at least in terms of complaining to other people, and she is determined not to let Brad bother her when she sees him talking to Oldie in the saddling paddock prior to Image's race. This is doubly evil of him because he's doing it just to unsettle Melanie! Brad is so bad ass that the mere sight of him talking to people in a public place brings terror into the hearts of sixteen year old girls. That is a super power I wish I had.

Somehow Melanie manages to survive Brad's malicious Standing Near People She Knows Prior to an Important Race Attack of Doom, but I don't think Image got a good enough look, because during the race she decides that the best thing to do is turn around and run backwards. That's right. Everything is going great: they're coming down to the wire and Image is totally in the lead. With two furlongs to go, no one will ever catch her. Melanie is already doing cartwheels of victory on Image's back. Then, because this filly is just irrepressibly crazy, ladies and gentleman, Image plants her feet, goes from a full gallop to a dead stop, and spins around to face the complete opposite direction and all the horses bearing down on her at full speed. Melanie is appropriately horrified, but doing some quick thinking drives Image forward between a hole created by two horses, spins the filly around, kicks her back into a full racing gallop, and somehow manages to win the race despite the fact that it is mostly physically impossible for such a thing to happen.

Image is, of course, disqualified and put on "probation" for two weeks, but Melanie is thrilled because everyone knows who the actual winner was. Plus, Ashleigh and Cindy were the only two people at Turfway timing the race, and Image won the race in almost record time even though she turned and went the wrong way for part of it. Yay! Clearly Oldie and the bank will now see that Image is capable of earning her keep if she and Melanie can agree upon which way the wire is the next time the filly races.

Except for the bank board members are all also under the thumb of Brad Townsend (he must have stood threateningly near some people they knew) so they're demanding Oldie sell all her unproductive horses now, goddamnit. Melanie is all dejected, though unlike Christina might have, she doesn't scream and cry too much about it, she just goes off to sulk mostly on her own. But then, huzzah, her dad jumps in to save the day and lets Melanie know that he's bought Image and now everything will be fine!

Melanie is so happy she almost comes in her pants, and everyone goes out to dinner to celebrate. Then, in the middle of drinking milk, or some equally ridiculous non-Alcoholic beverage, Melanie learns that Jazz has also owns part of Image. She's completely PO'd. No spoiled rich brat is going to own Image but her. She refuses to even say good-bye to her dad. But when Christina and Ashleigh stage an intervention, she realizes that her father had no choice but to agree to let Jazz buy into Image if they wanted to keep Brad's hands off her precious princess. Will Graham did not have $500,000 cash on hand, and Jazz likes racehorses because a) they remind him of his father and b) he enjoys the anonymity of the backside even though every groom and their mother was falling all over themselves to get an autograph from him, so that shows you how conceited he is. Melanie realizes that even having a Chris Angel look-alike own your horse is better than having Brad own her (dear god, imagine if he were actually to stand next to Image herself), so she gets over it. Then they race again, and Image wins, having managed to go in the right direction for the entire race. This is just spectacular, as now we can move from the "Melanie tries to prove Image can race," plot to the "Melanie tries to prove Image can race in the Kentucky Derby," plot.

Points of Interest:
  • Instead of purchasing a harrower, poor Joe is relegated to raking the entire one mile training oval at Whitebrook smooth every morning. I hope he gets a big fat Christmas bonus.
  • When Cindy hears that Oldie is considering selling Image to Brad she calls him a "piranha," and brings up Princess's accident. Clearly she is still polishing this old chestnut. Even Ashleigh tells her to shut-up about it.
  • Cindy is openly portrayed as a mercurial bitch in this book. I am really glad the NewGen authors stayed true to her character by portraying her as a normal human being would see her: an immature bitch. That was something they did right...at first.
  • Melanie is pretty mad that Vince has entered Image in a maiden race without consulting her, but when she bitches about it Oldie pretty much owns her in the face, pointing out that Vince wants Image to do well too, and has picked a race for the filly that she might actually be able to win as opposed to the race Melanie picked, which she apparently didn't even research. At least the girl has the good graces to feel sheepish.
  • Again with the riding horses on the racetrack in the dark. I feel like there has to be some rule against this.
  • When we first meet him, Jazz is wearing a long black cashmere coat, black jeans, and black turtleneck. I wish that, instead of trying to describe the clothes of a character who is supposed to have fashion sense, the authors would just say, "he had fashion sense." He also has long black hair and an earring. That screams hot to me.
  • Melanie is only wearing a nightshirt when Jazz and her father appear at Whitebrook, and we are offered an idea of how short it is when she nervously tugs downwards at its hem. I had to read this description several times because it seems unusually racy for a TB book.
  • Again with the "I know my horse better than anyone else and no one else but me knows what's good for my horse because they don't know my horse as well as I do," crap.
  • Melanie is really relived when she meets Flashy Miss because she assumes that now Brad won't have to buy Image...little does she know....
Brad's chuckle was almost sinister. "You have no idea, do you Melanie?"

"Idea of what?" Melanie asked warily.

"I can buy any horse I choose."

Duh duh DUH!!!!
  • This book was published in April, 2001, and the name of Pegasus's "hit" album is Ground Zero. Awk-ward.
  • There is apparently a duo of female grooms running around Turfway named "Jelly and Jewel."
  • It will never stop irritating me that Alice Leonhardt decided Townsend Acres's colors were red and black. Never.
  • First sleeping in the stall with a crazy demon horse, now riding in the back of a horse van with her and an ugly rock star. Melanie just loves putting herself in dangerous situations. And her father will take full responsibility!
  • Before Jazz signed with Will Graham, all he was doing was playing in shopping malls and appearing on radio shows. Dear god...I think Jazz is actually Tiffany, and the TBverse never left the 80s! What's next, Star in Hammer Pants?
  • Melanie never goes into a race with a strategy because Mike has taught her and Christina that you need to play races by ear and instinct. This is why Ashleigh wears the pants in the family.
After reading this book, it's amazing that I didn't see Image's Kentucky Derby win coming. Or not. Ugh.


Mara said...

Brad's malicious Standing Near People She Knows Prior to an Important Race Attack of Doom

This is going to make me laugh all day when I think back on it. The whole entry is comic gold, and Jazz is so obviously a Jem character I'm surprised it never occurred to me before. He's only missing the stonewashed jeans and Mel needs some lightning bolt earrings. That would pretty much complete the transformation.

Anonymous said...

God forbid a stable that ISN'T Whitebrook or Townsend Acres win. God forbid things should be realistic and some horses just sold or put to the breeding barn. Only the love of a special girl can save a special horse!

Truly outrageous ;)

Monique said...

Yet another great review! My day is now complete...

Anonymous said...

This made my day. And my life, come to think of it. Maybe I'll also be happy, all my life....?

Anonymous said...

i keep trying to figure out what sort of band Pegasus is supposed to be. i'm thinking they're probably something like Cute Is What We Aim For, if you ignore the fact that the members of that band were probably in grade school when this book was written.

Elizabeth said...

You know, the title of this one still cracks me up, because I always think, what were they planning to do with Image if they didn't race her? Make her into a statue? Let her give pony rides?

RiiverHeightsFangirl said...

I avoided the NG books after Without Wonder and I remember why. Your blog encouraged me to read various TB books for the awfulness. And 'Racing Image' is as awful as the worst Cindy book. Uuugg. Melanie is an emo drama queen...pampering Image to the point of obsession, forcing poor Image to have mental breakdowns in the stall, CAUSE SHE MUST RACE! Melanie puts on the show 'I don't want image to go to TA because I can't see her and she might not be catered to every moment!' But seriously, she is vicariously living out Super Jockey Dreams via poor nervous Image. Ugh