Jul 28, 2008

Sunbonnet: Most Scandalous Filly of the Year

Sunbonnet: Filly of the Year
by Barbara van Tuyl
Published: 1973

Given how completely out of nowhere weird and awful A Horse Called Bonnie was, I walked into this installment with markedly less enthusiasm. Although, that could also be because I dislocated my knee yesterday and have been resorted to hobbling around as I wait for normalcy to return. I'm not too enthusiastic about anything right now, mainly because I'd really just like to bend my knee properly without wincing. Naturally, this is where the sudden urge to delve back into Julie and Bonnie's world presented itself. There you have it.

Anyway, this cover is really not normal for this series. Basically, it finally acknowledges that Julie is, in fact, blond. However, it's presenting her as a Barbie here, which is pretty far off the mark, no matter how ditsy she may act in the book. Also, one fact I simply must point out: Bonnie's jockey is black. I think the artist went for mildly tan here. Nice going, cover artist.

Foul Against Bonnie!

Though Sunbonnet (known as Bonnie to her young trainer Julie Jefferson) was favored to win the coveted prize in the famed Bridal Stakes, there was a long stretch duel and a photo finish, with a claim of foul against Bonnie. A vicious jockey and a tragic accident in still another race jeopardize Bonnie's racing career.

Julie finds herself involved in mysterious happenings which not only imperil her horse's life, but which threaten to shock and disrupt the world of thoroughbred racing....
Yeah, this tells you absolutely nothing about the story. It's really very impressive in that regard.

Okay, this book was printed in November 1973. It is important to take note of this, because Secretariat has come and gone by this point (you'll find out why this is important later, promise). The previous book was in 1971, and there's this dedication:

"This book is for Bev and Cindy, who asked, "What happened to Bonnie after that?"

I can only assume, then, that this series was never meant to be a series, and Bev and Cindy must have been really pushy about wanting more books. Only one author answered the call: Barbara van Tuyl. I have decided that Barbara van Tuyl was the talent in this operation, or at least the one who came up with more interesting plotlines (at least, more interesting than throwing your horse into a claimer and then being all shocked and dismayed when the horse is actually, God forbid, CLAIMED), which is a good sign. So I'll say first, before I get into the rest of this, that Sunbonnet: Filly of the Year is much better than A Horse Called Bonnie. In that I will not be screaming nearly as much as I did in the last Bonnie entry.

Okay. The deal is that Bonnie is awesome. She's like a filly version of Man o'War, because her stride is nearly as long. Yes, so she's just trouncing her competition coming up to the Bridal Stakes, but there is this other filly that is nearly as good as her, if not just as good, called Canary Feathers. During the race, some bumping happens, and the jockey of Canary Feathers lodges a complaint that doesn't stand. So Bonnie is the winner and the offended jockey basically says something like "screw this" and makes some empty threat that no one thinks much of. Until the next race, when he decides to pull a Jeremy Rose and starts to beat his horse until it veers across the track and rams straight into Bonnie. Bonnie bobbles around, but won't quit and comes in second. Of course, another complaint later, Bonnie is installed as the winner and the evil jockey gets the boot and a 20 day suspension.

Only the thing is Bonnie has shattered her sesamoid bone in her left leg, basically resulting in the end of her racing career. Or, well, someone says something about her being able to come back in a year or more, but Deepwater Farm won this fantabulous breeding to Greyhill Stud's Bothwell and why not use it, right? So they retire Bonnie and ship her off to Greyhill Stud. This, of course, makes little sense to me because if you don't want to board your mare at the stud of the stallion (and I see no reason why Deepwater Farm, which is apparently something like 5,000 acres and owns another huge farm simply to breed horses, would board any mare anywhere else), all you'd have to do is trailer the mare the day of the appointment, do the whole horse sex thing, shove her back in a trailer, and take her home. It's a two hour drive. I mean, come on. But whatever. Bonnie goes to stay at Greyhill Stud until they, like, get around to breeding her or something ridiculous like that.

Anyway, then Leon Pitt (Bonnie's former trainer from two books ago) comes along and gives Julie a Beagle puppy. So Julie is all overjoyed and names the puppy Nana because it "looks responsible." I have no idea where she gets this idea, but it comes out later that she named it Nana after the dog in Peter Pan. Anyway, Nana pretty much becomes the single catalyst for everything that happens in the rest of the book. Really. Writing a book? What something completely ridiculous to happen or be discovered and you can't figure out how to go about making it work? Give your main character a dog. Seriously.

So anyway, Julie keeps coming over to Greyhill Stud to visit Bonnie and the people at Greyhill are NOT HAPPY that she keeps coming over. They're all, what do you want? all the time and completely do not care that she owns the horse. It's really annoying. Anyway, Julie keeps bringing Nana with her and on one of these visits Nana gets out and proceeds to run away. Julie runs after her and winds up at the stud groom's house. Here we are presented with a completely random conversation that lasts about three chapters between Julie and the eccentric but kind stud groom, Pop. Pop, I guess, was a trainer or something and has this really creepy obsession with his crippled stallion that lives in his backyard. This stallion is chestnut, with "the look of eagles," and is basically Secretariat, only its name is Scotch Tweed, which they shorten to Tweedy. Get it? Subtle, Barbara.

So Tweedy is all crippled because he got caught in the gate during training and injured himself so severely he never got to race. Although we are assured that had he raced he would have been better than Man o'War. Pop is all demoralized because he never got to breed him. So demoralized that he's finally pulled together some more money to buy a nice mare to try him with. Good for him. I guess. Anyway, Julie goes frolicking home and discusses with Monty how crazy everyone is at Greyhill, and he promises to come over with her and check it out. During this trip, Nana again runs off and they chase her into another "barren-mare" barn, where they find all of these five-month foals stabled with their dams. Only the thing is...it's March! Holy crap! So they grab Nana and get the hell out of dodge.

Monty then has to go somewhere because he's a trainer and such, leaving Julie at Deepwater Farm, where she will no doubt get into more trouble. She does this, and goes back to Greyhill to talk to Pop about this whole foal issue. Only when she finally gets there (she has to drive through some back roads because the people at the farm have finally had it and won't let her in) she stumbles through the trees and sees Pop at his place with...Bonnie! Instead of running down there and clocking the crazy asshat in the face, she takes off and goes to see Leon Pitt, who tells her to go back and get Bonnie, like now. He gives her his old trailer and off she goes to get Bonnie.

This is where the real fun starts. She rolls up to the gate of Greyhill Stud, and by this point the guard is about ready to start crying because he's so sick of her. He tells her there's no way she's getting in. He doesn't care who she is or why she's there. Just forget it. So she tells him that she needs to test the intercom in the trailer, so will he kindly step inside. He does, and she locks him in. He flips out because he gets car sick, and starts going on about how she's kidnapped him and how he'll have a heart attack. Julie just keeps telling him that she's not doing anything of the sort and no, he's not going to die. So they're yelling at each other over the intercom and she's driving around like a bat out of hell on the farm, and finally on the way to Pop's house she somehow crashes the trailer. The guard is sure he's going to die of a heart attack, so she climbs back into the trailer and gets him out and he starts going on about his pills that make his heart feel better only they are for his stomach. Julie tells him he probably has an ulcer and they proceed to have this long conversation in which she essentially explains heartburn to him. Yeah...I'm not even making that up. So he's all thrilled that he probably doesn't have a heart condition and promises her that he'll go to the doctor and she gets Nana and continues on to Pop's place after the guard tells her he'll get a tractor to tow the trailer out of the ditch she drove it into.

Yeah...so she goes to Pop's and Nana again goes crazy and tries to bite Pop's new mare, Kimberley Gem. Gem goes nuts and runs off and somehow manages to wedge herself into a cave. Julie somehow gets her out of the cave and back to Pop's house. I really don't know why this was in here, I mean really. So she has this long conversation with Pop about why he's crazy, and he admits the whole thing. That he's all crazy in love with Tweedy and wanted the best for him and has been breeding mares intended for Bothwell to Tweedy instead because Bothwell seemingly out of nowhere started to produce untalented foals and Greyhill Stud decided to breed mares intended for Bothwell to other, better but less expensive, stallions because Bothwell had the highest fee. Why they didn't just jack up the fees on the other stallions and lowered Bothwell's is anyone's guess, but Nicholas Grey (the owner, who sort of has a Brad Townsend quality to him and would probably be really awesome despite his nefariousness) decided he wanted to screw up the racing industry a little and that was that.

So! Julie's all "you bred Bonnie to Tweedy, didn't you?" And Pop admits that he did because he, like, loves Tweedy so much. Julie tells him she understands that love will make a person go a little nuts. (Leon Pitt essentially said that Pop was crazy because he wasn't getting any...and I think I believe that a little more, actually.) Julie and Pop then decide that because Mr. Tolkov is awesome he will hire him on as a stud groom for Leon Pitt, and Pop can quit Greyhill and stop being morally objectionable. Pop is thrilled. They shove Tweedy and Gem in the trailer and go up and get Bonnie. This results in some dramatics between them and the staff at Greyhill, who are like part time bouncers. Only then the guard comes along and says that Julie is great and makes the bouncers let them go. The bouncers are upset about this, because one of them really wanted to slap her around. Especially after she told him he smelled like BO.

We end the book with Pop and Julie driving away from Greyhill, discussing how fantastic Bonnie and Tweedy's foal will be. There's also some indication that the new foal will be named Deerstalker.

  • Julie is eighteen and Leon Pitt pretty much starts to berate Monty about why he hasn't asked her to marry him yet. Monty is pretty clear cut about his stance that she's a kid, but no one really believes this. Eighteen is good enough for them, but Monty is not thrilled. Therefore he proceeds to be completely the big brother to Julie for the rest of the book, no matter how often they play flirt. It's a little uncomfortable.
  • "Good," said Mr. T, and shook hands warmly and went away to do some millionaire-style business on the phone before post time. See, the humor doesn't fall short in this book. Tolkov is also described in one instance as being "in France, buying something."
  • Julie keeps saying that they aren't going to retire Bonnie until she wins the Triple Crown, which is weird considering the book starts off in September when Bonnie is three. Monty remarks on this as being an inside joke because Bonnie missed the Triple Crown entirely, but I don't really get it. At all.
The next installment is Bonnie and the Haunted Farm, in which the back blurb starts out: "accidents, or evil?" I'm not sure about this, but A Home For Melanie still has not shown up and I need to put more ice on my knee, so I suppose I will do this while Julie Jefferson battles ghosts or something. Should be good times.


Claire said...

man mara, these books are crazy! i really loved your review. it jut made me wish my copies of these books would hurry up and arrive so i can share in the hilarity.

also, i am still cringing from just reading about your knee. i hope you feel better soon!

sundae_mourning said...

Bonnie and the Haunted Farm was actually quite good...i really enjoyed it. though i am glad to find out the reasoning behind Tweedy's name because i remember thinking it was a stupid moniker for a supposedly awesome horse. and as far as Deerstalker goes, Barbara must have totally forgotten that conversation because when it comes time to actually name the foal, they act like they just came up with it off the cuff.

and wow, i can only imagine the lawsuits that would come pouring in if some stud farm was breeding all these top class mares to some other stallion because they happened to like him better.