by Mary Newhall Anderson
This is one of those books where I'll just start to type as I read, because Down to the Wire is Mary Anderson's debut, and I think it's rather widely acknowledged that Mary was exceptionally well meaning, but she half-assed on the execution. This might be because Mary wasn't exactly the strongest writer brought on board the Thoroughbred series. In fact, this book is a little painful in the show not tell department. However, Mary tried, and seemed so genuinely determined, so I'll always give her a little sentimental A for effort, but honestly she did a lot of weird things, for which I can never quite forgive her.
I don't mind this cover, although something about it looks awkward. It is nice to see yet another version of Whitebrook's silks on a Thoroughbred cover, though. That is a big plus.
This is actually a correct summary, if you don't count that tag line, because I can't quite figure out what the tough choice is referring to. What tough choice is she making in this summary? The choice between jockeying Star and possibly keeping him, or not jockeying Star and definitely not keeping him? There is no hint of this being a choice in the book. There's hardly even a choice between Sterling and Star in the book. So...gotta love those summary writers, am I right?A tough choice...
Wonder's Star has returned to Whitebrook Farm, and Christina Reese is thrilled to have him home again. But if Star doesn't win one of his first two races, Townsend Acres will take him back forever.
Christina isn't a jockey yet -- the thought of racing terrifies her -- but Star won't run well for anyone else. Will Christina have to become Star's jockey in order to save him?
That all said, let's hop back on the recycled plotline merry-go-round. Star is preparing to start his racing career, and there's all this angst about it because if Star doesn't do well in one of his first two races he will be shipped back to Townsend Acres, where he needlessly suffered for no discernible reason other than it suited Alice Leonhardt's whims. Lately he's just been super shiny, what with Chris exercising him at Keeneland and what all. Apparently Mary has been doing some racing homework, because she's breaking out all these racing rules about published works and requirements that have to be met before a horse can be entered in its first race. You see, these are things I appreciate for their levels of realism, but to a certain degree it's just filler. In this case, who knows if they're totally made up facts. In this instance, I didn't really care. The important thing to note is how anxious Chris is about the whole thing. Training Star = Racing Star = Possibly Giving Up Star. Her logic is remarkably simple, and repeated frequently. This issue rears its ugly head immediately in the first chapter, when Brad and Parker show up at Keeneland to see what Ashleigh & Co. are up to with Star. The conversation goes as all conversations inevitably do when Brad discusses anything with someone from Whitebrook. Essentially:
Ash: *cool stare* Hello.
Brad: *is too cool to care* I see you are working Star. How is he?
Ash: He is fine.
Brad: His times suggest he should start racing.
Ash: We are in agreement.
Brad: Great. Tell me when you're racing him. How about in two weeks? I'll be around then.
Christina: *shifty eyes*
Ash: We will inform you of our race choice ASAP.
Brad: Excellent. I will now depart. *departs*
Christina: OMG! I HATE HIM!
Ash: I know honey, I know.
Anyway, Brad exits with Parker, who does not give Christina the immediate attention she desires and yearns for, which obviously tips Christina off that something is wrong. Although we can save this for later, because this is just one of the issues with Mary's writing. What we have to deal with now is Star being a Wonder foal. Obviously the Wonder foals are exceptional race horses, but none of those horses were really that sane. They're all persnickety brats when it comes right down to it, and Star is no exception. He is a one person horse, just like his mom, which we all saw coming. So when Naomi tries to exercise him, his times suffer, and while no one thinks that's a big deal, Chris is about ready to have a heart attack over it. Chris should clearly be Star's jockey, but because I guess everyone lacks the necessary foresight here, she does not have her jockey's license and there is no time for her to get a license before his first race, and she needs to have a few test races first before she can just get on a maiden...all very logical except there was all that time before...you know, between when Christina was fifteen in the last book and when she's sixteen in this one? What have they been doing? Anticipating disaster and looking forward to the angsting they can accomplish?
Well, whatevers. When Star's race comes up, Naomi rides him and Star barely gets what's expected of him. He practically canters past the grandstand, then passes most of the horses like they're standing still, then goes back to cantering or something and comes in fourth. This is a disaster, clearly. Star has one more chance to get his act together, or back he goes to live with Brad.
Next to this whole issue we have dear, sweet Parker, who is over there acting all weird in Christina's uber special presence. He's avoiding Christina, and even goes so far as to drive her home from school in complete silence, provoking Christina's probing questions about his home life. Randomly he tells her that his father is trying to control his life and his mother spends too much time with her beauty products, and his is not a happy home. Although then he seems to do a complete turn around during yet another picnic, when he tells Christina that he has a sudden change of college plans, which now include going to a business school in Italy, of all places, because Brad somehow has connections in Italy. Naturally, I don't question Brad having connections in Italy, I just wonder about why Parker is all happy to go, especially after he's all reticent to listen to Brad's nefarious plans to dictate his life (according to Parker). Perhaps it has something to do with Brad changing tactics and using his persuasive voice...who knows. Anyway, Parker seems to have decided on Italy, letting Brad plan his life for him and seemingly being okay with the manipulation...again. Really, it's too easy for Brad in some cases.
While Brad is busy getting Parker to fall into line with his plans, he's also busy manipulating Ashleigh (again). He wants Star to race in some other stakes at Churchill Downs, and because Brad has ordered it, it's going to damn well happen. Ashleigh yet again bows to his will, which never ceases to amaze me, and because it's been proven that Naomi and Star are a no go, they are going to use Melanie on Star, who has somehow been proven to connect with Star enough to get results (I guess this happened at some point, because there is photographic evidence, but Mary never bothers to show us Melanie and Star interacting much at all, so I remain unconvinced). Christina is pissy some more about this development, and so is Melanie, because Melanie knows Christina has a bond with Star and blah blah blah. The problem here is, of course, that Christina has no license. This is because she hasn't mastered gate work yet. So she gets her ass in gear and starts to work on the gate. This takes up a lot of time, because she really sucks at breaking out of the gate. When Ashleigh gets her a gate test, she actually loses a stirrup and nearly falls off the horse, so while I appreciate that Christina isn't immediately perfect at this stuff (such as Cindy, and Ashleigh before her, not to mention Samantha's random steeplechase) I still have to wonder...why weren't they working on this way way way before their inevitable problem?
In the middle of her gate work issues, Christina decides to move Sterling to Samantha's farm, and subsequently sells Sterling. Samantha buys her and decides to lease her out to the new girl, Kaitlin. I will give Mary some points here, because I think she did a good job with...some of this. I wasn't too thrilled with Samantha suddenly going, "Oh, hey, I have money and can buy Sterling." Also the whole plot is still contrived and forced, given all the anti-racing sentiments other authors (Allison Estes, I'm looking at you) forced on Christina. That goes without saying. However, Christina didn't dump Sterling off with Kaitlin without putting thought behind her actions, and I liked the transition Mary made between leaving Sterling with Samantha and moving on to Star, so while I get the complaining about this, I would have had a far greater issue had Christina kept Sterling and managed to have the best of both worlds. So, frankly, I feel most of the angry reaction to "dumping" Sterling off on Kaitlin was exaggerated. There was plenty of discussion about what was fair to the horse, so I can't see what more we could have logically expected from Thoroughbred on this.
Anyway, we're getting closer to race time for Star and Ashleigh is still being all weird about letting Christina test again, even after Christina has worked and worked to the point of perfection on breaking from the gate. Why does Ashleigh stall on this? It's Mary Anderson's attempt at creating false drama, and that's pretty much it. She gives absolutely no reason why she wants Christina to wait...she just does. However, conveniently for Christina, Ashleigh wants to take Star and Melanie up to Churchill Downs for a week to prepare for the race. I guess Melanie no longer needs to be at school...I'm sure her dad is thrilled. This gives Christina a window to act irresponsibly (but always correctly) to go out and get her gate test done without Ashleigh's approval. She calls up Parker, insists on having him drive her and Sassy Jazz to Keeneland, and she tests wonderfully with Vicky and Tommy (jockeys who were apparently there way back when in Thoroughbred canon, but not, if you get my drift). Christina gets her jockey's license, and all is happiness and light until she gets home and realizes that Ashleigh has heard all about this and has rushed home to tell Chris that there is no guarantee that she'll ride Star in his race. Basically: "Congratulations! Oh, but this doesn't mean I'm letting you actually apply this to anything, sweetie. You disobeyed me, so feel my random, heartfelt wrath." Christina is crushed and feels the impending doom, probably envisioning Brad polishing his equine torture equipment.
So after this Ashleigh decides that they feel obligated to go to a flashy function, quite possibly the only function they've been to involving the Townsends that doesn't involve marriage vows. During the dinner, Ashleigh and Mike announce that Christina will ride Star, but then Brad comes along to rain on their parade by stating the obvious: Christina is not experienced enough! Or at all! She might, like, cause an accident, so he insists that he will make sure Christina doesn't ride the colt using his super co-owner powers. Ashleigh tries to cut in to argue, but he simply silences her by raising his hand and casually tells her that he'll protest and Star is as good as his. Ashleigh, completely astonished by how awesome he is, immediately surrenders. Like she always does.
Anyway, before the race, Melanie fakes an injury and Christina is swiftly ushered in as the replacement rider. Brad will never know because he always watches the races from the stands...which means he never visits the walking ring, or something? (Not to even mention this is totally not Brad's style, but whatever.) So Parker, of all people, gives Christina a leg up and she sees Brad looking all pissed off, but it's too late! She is on the horse and...yeah, like a horse can't be scratched at this point. Uh-huh. There's also this handy thing called disqualification, but we won't get into that.
So we have this super long race scene, where Christina spends most of the time freaking out as we get a furlong by furlong blow by blow of every tiny freaking thing that happens. Wow, that took a long time. Christina wins, Brad pretends to be happy (you know, he could be happy...I mean, what the hell?), Ashleigh and Brad have some weird off screen moment, Parker blows Christina a kiss and randomly tells her he's not going to Europe. He, like, never wanted to go in the beginning. Of course, I guess. Then everyone has a collective crazy moment over how fantastic Star is and how Ashleigh is so proud of Christina and everyone can rest easy. Star is staying at Whitebrook, everyone. Super!
- Melanie guided Heart through an invisible opening between the two leaders. An invisible opening?
- Mary has a tendency to simplify things to the point where she inadvertently changes facts. For instance, Ashleigh originally shipped Star off to Townsend Acres because she blamed herself for Wonder's death and seeing Star every day constantly reminded her of that fact. In Down to the Wire, this explanation has shifted to Ashleigh blaming Star for Wonder's death. I can see how Mary would make this mistake -- it's an easy one to make -- but it's just one of the many little ways she took a more complicated issue and dumbed it down.
- Also, Ashleigh did not ride Wonder in the Kentucky Derby. Why do we keep insisting on this, Mary? Why?
- Ashleigh says something about finding a nice maiden race for Star, and I guess all the nice maiden races were no good, or something, because she comes up with something called the Keeneland Futurity instead. By the way, this is all taking place in late March/early April...when two-year-olds aren't exactly running. Are we curious about the disconnect between Christina throwing a fit over backing Star a little earlier than expected and everyone totally being okay with racing Star before he's technically two? Yeah, I thought not.
- "I know it sounds pompous, but..." Wow, where have I heard this line before? Oh, yes. It was when Cindy said basically the same thing about being Glory's one special person in Glory's Triumph. Yes, Christina, it does make you sound horribly pompous to simply walk around telling people that they are not as special as you. Of course, in any real world this might rub someone the wrong way, but in Christina's world everyone more or less agrees.
- Everyone keeps shortening Samantha's name to Sam. This irritates me, because it was always shortened to Sammy, and even in the narrative it was always Samantha, not Sam.
- I find it weird that Parker is suddenly going to Henry Clay. Especially when Christina goes out to wait for Parker to pick her up after school. Like, couldn't she just walk out to his car with him? On top of that, no way in hell would Brad have his kid in a public school. There is about 0% chance of that being possible.
- I, personally, loved the scene where Christina had to go talk to the racing stewards before getting her license. There's something ridiculous about a few old men looking down their noses at Christina and saying something to the effect of: "Young lady, racing is dangerous. You know that, right?"
- Ashleigh spends a nice moment with Christina before the race, when she gives Chris her saddle that she used with Wonder. Only this occurs in the jockey's room, and jockeys don't bring their saddles out with them to the saddling paddock. But whatevers.
- Brad knows. Again. Christina assumes that he has been maneuvering to get Star back at Townsend Acres, but honestly I think he just likes creating drama while he gets everyone else to do all the work. He manipulates everyone, gets a winning race horse, and creates some havoc while he's at it. Sounds like a fun plan to me.