by Chris Platt
I always had the opinion that Chris Platt should have been an author on the Thoroughbred series, given that her background could have seriously helped add some realism to those plotlines. Instead, in true form for whoever was behind that series, she was put on the Ashleigh series...which never failed to confuse me. Author with jockey experience...stick her on a series that has relatively little to do with racing! Brilliant idea! It's this kind of thought process that never gets old.
The only reason I'm displaying a larger image of this cover is because of the denim outfit. I was in high school in the 1990s...I would have remembered if wearing all denim was fashionable...and I really don't think it was.
When thirteen-year-old Katie Durham learns that the owner of a neighboring Thoroughbred farm is going to destroy a newborn colt, she rushes to save him. Willow King's legs are badly twisted, but Katie fights for his life, begging for the chance to raise the foal.So, I recall when this book was published. I actually remember telling Chris Platt I would read it back in 1998 (don't ask). Ten years later, I finally get around to it. Nicely done, me! The important thing is that I've at least read it, and I have every intention of reading its sequel...whatever it's called.
Because one of her own legs is nearly an inch shorter than the other, Katie feels an immediate kinship with Willow King. Together they embark on a painstaking journey of training that becomes more harrowing than Katie ever expected. Yet, through it all, she remains determined to see this brave little colt grow into the beautiful Thoroughbred champion she knows he's meant to be.
This book begins rather abruptly. There is no easing you into Katie's world. Instead we plunge right into the thick of it on the first page, because Willow King has already been born and his owner has decided to destroy him because his legs are crooked. As it turns out, Willow King is part of the first crop of Beau Jest, the farm's would-be-prominent stallion. Mr. Ellis, owner of the farm, isn't taking any chances with his stallion's future, and determines that the foal is a black mark on Beau Jest's remarkably small record as a producer. Katie, being a horse story main character, is not going to let this happen. Quickly, she slaps the foal with a name and rabidly defends his life. Everyone backs down when it becomes apparent the foal can nurse by himself, but Mr. Ellis still doesn't want to foal on his farm, so Katie cuts a deal with him. He can lease Katie's horse, Jester, for his daughter, Cindy, for three years. In return, Katie gets to own Willow King and pretty much singlehandedly raise him. The deal is done, King and his dam go off to Katie's property, and that's that.
So, this obviously makes Cindy our antagonist. She's a little more unpredictable than most flat antagonists in these sort of books, in that she's duplicitous and a bitch most of the time, and then will turn around and have some completely unexpected break through by admitting she's "a jerk" and then turns around again and acts like a crazed banshee for no apparent reason. This is either more in line with the reality of rich teenage girls, or Cindy is mentally unbalanced. I honestly couldn't tell. More on Cindy later.
Willow King grows up and Katie raises him with the help of Jason, our heartthrob for this book. It's worthwhile to point out now that this book has a lot of similarities to the first three Thoroughbred books. Katie is Ashleigh, King is Wonder, John is Charlie (he even has a felt hat and calls Katie "missy" more than once), Jason is Mike, Mr. Ellis is Clay Townsend. The only thing missing is a Brad Townsend. So, obviously that needed to be rectified. The major difference is that you can tell these characters aren't completely expecting some sappy fantasyland in which they can play around to their hearts content. That was sort of nice. Anyway, back to Jason. He's a year older than Katie, and she's got a crush on him like you would not believe. Because Katie has this physical disability, she figures she's totally out of Jason's league, but because Jason is basically Mike Reese, of course this is not the case. At one point she thinks he's figured out she has a crush on him, and miraculously he doesn't go tell the whole school. Only then he accidentally says he'd never be interested in a thirteen-year-old, which Katie totally is, and that results in hysterics. She avoids him for eons (in teenager time, which is like a month) and then he up and says he's moving to Oklahoma for a year. Katie is all stunned, and he moves to Oklahoma.
Willow King finally grows up, and they do this whole thing with a horse swimming pool, and honestly I think right about here there was too much technical garble. Blah blah swimming blah blah legs blah blah timers and minutes and wait, Willow King is drowning...okay, don't worry, they didn't drown the horse. Eventually Willow King's legs straighten out by themselves and Mr. Ellis has that my horse is actually good looking moment. And he tries to trade Katie back, but she stands firm, despite Cindy over there being a complete asshat with her horse.
One thing I didn't really buy was Cindy's riding ability. Let me explain. Cindy and Katie compete in the same classes, yet Katie is such a good rider she actually starts to give Cindy lessons in order to prevent Cindy from inadvertently ruining Jester. When I say Cindy is getting lessons, I'm not talking about relatively advanced, even intermediate lessons. I'm talking about beginner stuff, here. Cindy's having trouble mounting and she can't figure out diagonals. Which makes me wonder how the hell Katie and Cindy are even competing against each other in shows.
Anyway, King starts to train for races, etc. Jason comes back and he's all older and more manly and such, making Katie swoon as she watches him help break the colt to saddle. Mr. Ellis offers Katie the opportunity to train King at his farm, and she takes him up on the opportunity. John has her exercise the colt, leading to more jealousy from Cindy, resulting in completely deranged teenager antics involving Cindy trying to race King with Jester. Obviously that didn't turn out well, and that's the last we hear from Cindy for the rest of the book. Mr. Ellis grounds her and gives Jester back to Katie. For all we know, Cindy could have died.
Then we pick up a little bit of plot from Wonder's Victory. King runs in his first race and beats a two-year-old that had designs on the Kentucky Derby. The trainer of this other horse is not to be trusted, and he starts doing some crazy antics, ie. he laces King's grain with bute, causing him to be scratched when John finds the tainted grain, and then dumps moldy hay in King's stall, resulting in colic. But it doesn't matter. King is so fantastic that he still beats the other colt in the final race of the book, the big Portland Downs Futurity. Everyone is estatic, so Katie starts to babble about the Kentucky Derby before John can rain on her parade by saying you have to nominate horses for that race. You can't, like, just show up and stick it in the gate akin to the Thoroughbred series, people. Crushed, Katie decides she'll get over it and King will be great without the Derby, but then John comes back and says he nominated King anyway? Like, what? What was all that about before, John? Huh? But Katie is too thrilled to care that John killed her enthusiasm about the exact same topic about five minutes ago because OMG Kentucky Derby. Then she dances with Jason finally, because he's still there being patient and such.
- Katie tried to wriggle out of his grasp, but he held her firm, steadying her like the wild colts she had seen him tame. I had to pull this out of the book, because it's so romance novel. Just imagine if that line had been in the Thoroughbred series. I probably would have died laughing.
- Katie and Jan constantly call each other "friend" and "pal" and I didn't know what was up with that.
- Willow King is based on a horse called King Hark. I suppose this is him?
Still, I wish Chris Platt and Mary Anderson had traded places.