Jul 2, 2008

The Sweet Running Filly: A book Signet knew I would enjoy.

The Sweet Running Filly
by Pat Johnson and Barbara van Tuyl
Published: 1971

Making a quick departure from childhood books revisited and Thoroughbred installments, I bring you the first book in a five-part series by the name of A Horse Called Bonnie. I guess this is my "A Horse Called..." phase, only I don't think that this series actually has a formal title. It's just that the Internet Book List seems to think so, and who am I to argue with that? So, whatever.

Here is the blurb:

Dream Horse

It was love at first sight! When she first saw the junk dealer's injured, underfed little filly, Julie Jefferson knew this was the horse for her. It wasn't until later, after she had nursed the horse back to health, that Julie realized the filly might be a championship thoroughbred racer. How had a valuable horse like Bonnie ended up at a junk dealer's? What was the secret of her heritage? Before Julie found the answers to these questions, both she and Bonnie would be caught in a tightening net of mystery and danger, in which Julie's dreams and Bonnie's life were desperately at stake.
Only that is totally not up to the standard of awesomeness that is this book. Yes, I said it. It's awesome. It's, like, almost to the Brad Townsend level of awesomeness, if anything was at Brad Townsend's level. Which nothing, clearly, is. Anyway. Here is the blurb on the first page, just to heighten your senses for the amazing story you are about to discover:

Julie Was Running Through A Nightmare, But It Was All Too Real.

She had to reach this van before the man opened it, led her filly Bonnie out, walked into the trees, took out a gun...

The road dipped and swerved away and her light, growing dimmer, barely showed her the direction it took. How far had she run? It must be a half a mile now. She could not tell. She only knew she had to get there in time. No hysteria, no panic gave her the wings on her feet: simply love. Her horse was ahead somewhere. In terrible danger. She had to save Bonnie...
Okay, so at this point we know that Julie is our main character. She's just graduated from high school and refuses to go to college because that would mean she'd have to leave her father alone with two dogs and a raccoon, all three which he saved when they were babies because I guess being a veterinarian and/or miracle worker is his hobby. Julie lives in Blankton, Ohio, "town of law-abiding citizens," and works at her dad's antique shop as she waits for life to come along and present her with an opportunity.

Because her dad owns an antique shop, they decide to go antiquing one day at what turns out to be a dump masquerading as a serious dealer of antiques. Her dad starts hunting around for something worth buying and Julie wanders off to look at the starved livestock portion of the dump, which happens to include a horse. Of course, this just isn't any horse. It's a thoroughbred chained up to...something...and stuck chest high in a muddy river. Appalled by the treatment of this animal, Julie launches into full out heroine mode and plunges into the river to untangle these chains and discover that the horse is in awful shape. She's struggling with this task when she discovers her father standing on the bank, sort of staring at her like she's the most interesting thing on earth. He tells her to smear some of this ointment on the horse's open wounds (he always keeps ointment in his car, due to his miracle worker side business) and tells her he's going to go buy a clock from the dump manager, Spire.

Now, Julie's all "what the hell?" but he leaves her to the horse and trots off to buy the clock while she doctors up the horse and climbs out of the river. Her dad is all, "hey, look, a clock!" and she's all cut up and soaked and is a little confused. Then he casually informs her that he bought her the horse and the clock is such an item that it will pay him back and then some for the money he sank into a horse that is probably going to drown in the river they just left it in.

Understandably, Julie wants to go back and get the horse, like, NOW. She races off with Bearcat (that would be their truck) to St. Clair Farm, a nearby thoroughbred farm where she occasionally helps out because she's horse crazy. There she meets Stash, the head groom, and tells him all about the horse in the river. He immediately takes her to the foreman, Will Everett, and he lets her take the trailer to pick up the horse. Oh, and Monty -- Will's son, who is sort of like Mike Reese if Mike Reese knew how to put a rifle together in 15 seconds -- is going to come with her.

So they go get the horse, haul her back to St. Clair, and clean her up. After a few weeks she shows some improvement and continues to improve to the point that Julie can ride her around a little. They name her Bonnie because she is a bonnie lass, which I suppose is okay despite not liking the name at all. So, Monty, who has known Julie for years before he trucked off to the army but for some reason wasn't sent to Vietnam, is four years older than Julie and is the assistant trainer at St. Clair. He decides to make her an offer of being his assistant, which she takes and leaves her job at the antique shop. This is how they discover that Bonnie is more than what she appears. Monty is going to work their best filly, who is named Tuxedo, in company and Julie and Bonnie are up for the job. Bonnie beats Tuxedo, giving Monty the fairly obvious suspicion that something is up. So he checks the filly's tattoo and off they go to call the Jockey Club to discover that the horse with Bonnie's number is Star Princess, a $400,000 yearling (which, in today's dollars, is basically a 2.1 million dollar horse), who is a dud on the track. Wow, does that sound wrong. Monty knows this and off they go into a drama of intrigue.

Certain that Spire must know something, Monty goes out to the yard to scare him. He does this by basically informing Spire that he was in the army and was nicknamed "the Butcher" (Monty thinks this is absolutely hilarious, and Spire thinks Monty reminds him of Humphrey Bogart...really), and Spire immediately tells him that someone named Zeke Mathews dropped the filly off and told him to kill her. Spire is certainly stupid (he starts calling Monty "Mr. Butcher"), but he can't bring himself to kill Bonnie and so he stuck her in the river, I guess. Monty, satisfied with this information, leaves and Spire goes to call Zeke, who is pissed off. So now Zeke knows where Bonnie is and so forth.

Monty then has a brief hesitation about telling Julie about any of this because "she's a girl." Well, you know, it's 1971 and even Mike and Charlie wouldn't let Ashleigh in on their super stalker plans in Wonder's Victory. Assholes. Stash tells Monty he's a moron, and Monty acknowledges that yes, he's a moron, so he tells Julie. Then Monty has to guard Bonnie and Zeke comes along in an attempt to do...something...but just manages to stab Monty in the leg with a pitchfork instead. So now everyone knows because someone has to explain why Monty took a pitchfork to the leg, and Julie's father agrees to help guard the filly with Monty's father while "the three musketeers" (Julie, Monty, and Stash) solve the puzzle they are absolutely no where near figuring out.

Then everyone takes some cross country drives to Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina. Monty comes up with the information that the Deepwater Farm (which owns Star Princess, and thus really owns Bonnie) trainer, Alex Homer, is looking for Zeke also. Julie goes down to Kentucky to talk to Deepwater's owner, a man named Rollin Tolkov, about how Star Princess is really Bonnie and vice versa, which gets her no where. Then goes to North Carolina to talk to Star Princess/Bonnie's former trainer, who confirms that Star Princess is Bonnie. That gets Tolkov in on everything and thus the great plan is hatched!

The Plan:

Part I: Julie has to go to this racetrack and complain very loudly that she is from St. Clair farm and her horse, Bonnie, has no papers but is going to be there and she wants a stall NOW. She has to tell this to everyone, be they important or not. So as she's running around annoying the piss out of everyone nearby...

Part II: Monty and Stash take Bonnie down to Deepwater Farm and switch her with Star Princess. They take Star Princess up to the racetrack and stick her in the stall Julie's been complaining about and finally gets because Tolkov is awesome and is rich and eats caviar because that's what rich people do.

Part III: Wait for Zeke to show up and ambush him.

Only the great plan goes awry when Alex Homer shows up instead, shoots Zeke, and takes off with Star Princess. Not anticipating that Alex Homer was (that) evil, no one stops him and he makes off with the loot. Fortunately for Zeke, Alex Homer is a horrible shot and only grazes him. But Monty and Stash are not very patient and want all the information they can get. Zeke, having been shot, tells them mostly everything. The deal was that Alex Homer wanted Star Princess/Bonnie for himself, so he found a ringer and switched them. Zeke was to take Bonnie and keep her out of the way while the ringer did so poorly on the track that Tolkov would eventually want to put her in a claimer, where Alex would then switch the horses again and wind up with the real Star Princess/Bonnie. Only Zeke got upset about having the stupid part of the plan and rebelled. Thus Alex shot him.

So then Alex somehow winds up with Star Princess and Bonnie, thinking that each horse is the other, and takes them out to the woods. The three muskateers follow him, only the run out of gas before they get there. They have a lot of motivation, sure, but poor execution, I guess. So they abandon the car and Julie winds up with the only working flashlight and Monty runs into a tree. So Julie gets to the trailer first and Alex freaks out and smacks her and she throws herself at him and starts clawing at his eyes, and eventually gets his gun and threatens to shoot him. That's when we discover that Tolkov and the filly's original trainer have hidden away in the trailer and present themselves. Tolkov briefly complains that he came along just for fun, but I guess he got car sick.

Bonnie and Star Princess are safe, Tolkov buys another farm, and wants Monty to be his head trainer. Monty wants Julie to be his assistant trainer, and Tolkov tells Julie that Bonnie is hers so long as she agrees to co-own all of Bonnie's foals with him. So now Bonnie is free to begin her real racing career and Julie finally has a life. The end.


  • Being published in 1971, the great horses mentioned in this book are: Gallorette, Gallant Fox, Equipoise, and Twenty Grand. Not to mention one fantastic coincidence: Bonnie is by Bold Ruler and out of a Princequillo mare. She's essentially a bay, female version of Secretariat.
  • This book has the greatest sense of dry humor. It's like comedy gold no matter what's happening.
  • Monty has the best lines. For instance:
Zeke: I could bleed to death.
Monty: Just talk till you pass out, then.
This is actually a ridiculous and fun book. Julie isn't annoying, and even though people say "gee," "gosh," and "yippee" at least once I am not at all deterred from liking it. I am dismayed that my library only has the The Sweet Running Filly, as I want to read the next four. So, I guess we know what that means. I'm off to Amazon to hunt down the rest.

I also just have to include some of these ridiculous book blurbs for other exciting Signet titles the publisher just knows we will enjoy as much as this book:

Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones: A deeply moving story of two courageous teenagers caught in a marriage of necessity.

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden: A beautifully written novel of rare insight about a young girl's courageous fight to regain her sanity in a mental hospital.

To Find a Man: The funny and poignant story about what it is like to be eighteen and precocious and vulnerable.

Lisa Bright and Dark: Lisa is slowly going mad but her symptoms, even an attempted suicide, fail to alert her parents or teachers to her illness. She finds compassion only from three girlfriends who band together to provide what they call "group therapy."

Aren't you just so intrigued? I know I am.


Claire said...

i am pretty sure if i remember owning this book, though i'm not sure i ever read it. and i both am aware of and read at least two out of the four other books mentioned in your review at the end there. i don't know what this says about my character, but i'm sure it's something. i might have to check this book out though, it sounds good.

Molly (formerly anonymous) said...

I'm pretty sure I've never read this series. However, I sure as hell am going to now. I hope my library has them. If not, to amazon I go!

Also, all of those books you summarized at the end sound like freakin' GOLD, especially the first one. I actually read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden a million years ago, but don't remember it at all.

Monique said...

To Find a Man sounds like something right out of my life...

Dammit Mara! I hate being a South African with a terrible library system and no access to Amazon's second hand book section. (they don't ship those outside the US... bastards)

Anonymous said...

i have always wanted to read this book! i have what are probably the fourth and fifth (or perhaps third and fourth) books because Bonnie has retired from racing and they're great, though sort of tainted by TB-like events. for example, Bonnie gives birth to *twin* foals, both of whom survive and make it to the track, and then returns to the track herself, despite suffering a career-ending injury some years earlier and foaling twins. but the dialogue is still awesome and the books are great fun. i'd love to read the rest of the series. though i am glad to finally have Julie's age confirmed...it's not mentioned in the two i read and it's really fucking difficult to tell. at a few points, i was convinced she must be only thirteen.

Jennifer said...

I can across your blog when I searched for the new book series I just found at the thrift store (50c each!). I have "The sweet running filly", "A horse called bonnie", "Sunbonnet: filly of the year", "Bonnie and the haunted farm" and "The betrayal of bonnie." I haven't read them yet. Are there more in this series? I had never heard of them before I found them today.

Mara said...

Nope, there are just five books in the series. The Sweet Running Filly is the best of the lot, but I hope you enjoy them! Let me know what you think as you go through. :)

Linda Shantz said...

I read all the Bonnie books as a kid and loved them. For some reason I remembered Bonnie as being by Buckpasser, though. Don't have the books anymore because my mother gave them to my neice to read and I never saw them again! Doesn't she *know* they're the kind of books you hang onto forever? Haha...but seriously...I'd love to read them again, if only I had them!

Susan Benson said...

ihed the first two Bonnie Books, The Sweet Running Filly and A Horse Called Boonie and the next three plus a new one will follow later this year. You can find them at www.poppetpress.com

mother forever said...

The Sweet Running Filly is a great book and so is the whole series of "Bonnie" books. The Sweet Running Filly has been republished and is available on Amazon.com as well as www.poppetpress.com

Anonymous said...

see poppet press to see the bonnie book series revived