Jan 18, 2009

If Brad Townsend taught us anything, it's that being awesome trumps actually winning.

Willow King: Race the Wind!
by Chris Platt
Published: 2000
Thanks to the faith and hard work of Katie Durham, Willow King is no longer a newborn foal with badly twisted legs. After painstaking training, the Thoroughbred colt has finally gained the strength and heart to compete in major races -- and Katie is determined to prove to the world that he's a champion

Katie is just as determined to prove that she can handle anything on horseback. Born with one leg an inch shorter than the other, she has always felt as if people were doubting her physical abilities.

If only she could become a licensed jockey. Katie knows the profession is dangerous, but she's sure she can master it. Unfortunately, her new ambition will present her with the most nerve-racking challenge of her life: riding Willow King in America's biggest race -- the Kentucky Derby.
I already decided that Chris Platt's first novel was a compounded version of the first three books of Thoroughbred, if that series had taken place in Oregon and Ashleigh had been slightly handicapped. In this novel, Chris Platt comes back to finish the job, sending Willow King to the Kentucky Derby and putting her main character, Katie, on the path to super jockey stardom.

Race the Wind! starts off at the beginning of King's three-year-old season. Jason has somehow become the assistant trainer at Willow Run Farm, and Katie is a gallop rider. There's also a new jockey thrown into the mix, Mark, who is here to teach Katie how to be a jockey and also be her competition for the jockey job on Willow King...despite her being King's owner, which you'd think would negate all competition. Honestly. Cindy, the antagonist from the beginning, is also around being spoiled and loud, as per the usual antagonist routine. However, she's also got a third cousin, Camela, who is around at the stables, but she's blind, so she spends most of her time sitting around, refusing to speak, and then, when she decides to open her mouth, she quotes her Irish grandfather. There was a lot of quoting in this book. The quotes almost outnumbered the random exclamatory sentences, which are your normal horse book staple.

Mark shows up and is dashing and gorgeous and immediately Katie is smitten. Jason? Jason who? She stares at Mark in a daze and is eager to ask him to help her with "jockey lessons" despite her insistence that no one know about her urge to be a jockey. She winds up telling Camela about her desire to jockey, and Camela has some motivational grandpa quote to give her when she's feeling less bitchy and more receptive to discourse with other humans. So she eventually asks Mark for the lessons and he's happy to provide his knowledge, although at this point he's also gotten on Camela's bad side by being a) alive and b) accidentally being stupid and saying Katie is no competition for him in front of Camela, who has convinced him that she's also deaf and mute. This, of course, means he is antagonist #2.

Katie starts her lessons, which basically is her wrestling with a crop for hours on end. Meanwhile, King has entered to race in some Portland Downs thing and comes in last because his gate misfired and Mark didn't want to push him on a nearly frozen track. Katie almost has a fit about this, and is brought back to reality by Old John, the Charlie Burke look alike, who tells her Mark was being completely sensible. After this, King is worked with his younger brother, Destiny (a spoiled, crazy colt that is naturally going to be given to Cindy, because that's logical, right?) and that goes all to hell when Destiny causes a wreck and King gets a giant gash on his shoulder. Katie hauls King back to the barn, tries to get Camela to be functional and help her, but only winds up traumatizing her. At this point, Cindy comes in to tell Katie the secrets behind Camela -- that she was in some riding accident and went blind and now is scared of horses, but wants to be around horses, which is why she's been taking her to the barn, so stop thinking she's so selfish, Katie -- and blah blah blah. Seriously, did we need this blind girl? Really?

So King misses his next race, the Jim Beam, and aims instead for the Santa Anita Derby. By this point, Katie is ready to start training in the gate, and Mark has a brilliant plan, you guys. He wants to take Destiny, who has never been gate trained, and use him to train Katie in the gate. Brilliant. Katie goes along with this, and it takes Jason to tell them they're all being idiots to get Katie to see reason. Too bad they're already in the gate. Things go reasonably well at first, but in their last run through, the horse has had enough and goes ballistic, flipping over in the gate and nearly crushing Katie. Drama ensues, the boys nearly come to blows, but everyone gets through it without dying, so it works out. Then King gets out of his stall and eats the grass that the sick horses graze on before going down to Santa Anita. By this point, Katie has started to jockey and has gotten her two test races in, so she can ride King in the Santa Anita Derby. He comes in fifth. Then he gets strangles. He gets over that and then they race him again at Portland Downs, and Mark blocks Katie and King in and they come in second. And then they go Churchill Downs and Katie, who is convinced that Mark is right -- experience does count for something -- decides to let Mark ride. Only then Mark gets hurt right before the race, and Katie rides in the Kentucky Derby. Of course she does.

It just occurs to me that I can't remember if she's 15 or 16 when all of this happens. Well, whatever. Katie rides and at the 1/8 pole her stirrup snaps off. Due to all those Wildfire episodes, I thought we were in for some catastrophe, but not Katie. Katie keeps her balance, kicks her other foot out of the stirrup and rides Willow King to second place. Without stirrups. So while they didn't win, they get most of the attention for being freakishly awesome.

Oh, and Camela has some break through and can walk around without someone helping her. Huzzah.

  • At a certain point...between the injury and the strangles, I decided too much was going on in this book. How Willow King even got to the Kentucky Derby after all of that is fairly crazy (given that I'm not all too sure, in terms of graded earnings, he would have even gotten into the race), but I did like that he didn't win once in the book. It was a little amusing, actually, to see the main horse character suck that hard, but still be touted as the best horse ever.
  • Nothing happens between Mark and Katie (I guess her tingling sensations ceased somewhere along the way) and Jason/Katie remains in some strange are they/aren't they friends zone.
  • Cindy is more multidimensional than in the first book, so that's a plus.
  • The Jim Beam Stakes didn't exist as a stakes race when this book was published. Jim Beam ended their sponsorship in 1998, so in 1999 its name changed to the Galleryfurniture.Com Stakes (yes, it's awful, and I can see why Chris Platt decided to ignore this), then in 2000 it became the Turfway Spiral Stakes. It's now called the Lane's End Stakes.
  • Willow King runs in the 126th Kentucky Derby.
  • At one point, Mark tells Katie that she can't own Willow King and be a jockey at the same time because it's a conflict of interest. She'll have to switch the ownership to her mother. Katie has a particularly horse story main character attitude about this: NO! Her mother did NOT believe in and hand raise that horse like SHE DID. Do you NOT UNDERSTAND? In the long run, she switches the ownership anyway.
  • Willow King does not run for anyone like he runs for Katie! Although, frankly, he seemed to be doing just fine for everyone else, so I sort of think that theory is all in Katie's head.
It's better than the first book, and I would still read a third if Chris Platt puts out another book related to Willow King. I'm too invested now.


Bookworm said...

This one was really good...I enjoyed it, but I haven't actually read the first one yet...oops. (:

Molly said...

One thing I don't quite grasp is how everyone in racing books can become a Derby-caliber jockey in, like, a month. They always seem to only start training not long after the two-year-old shows promise.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like it would take more than eight months to become that good.

Mara said...

You're definitely not wrong. Consistently through the book there is discussion about how little time she actually has, but then as an explanation for how she can actually do all of this they state that she's been gallop riding for a year. Derby caliber she definitely shouldn't be, and that's part of the fantasy.

One thing I did like: she used the crop and she didn't cry about it.

The first one plays to the horse book fantasy more than this one does, so I automatically like this one more.

Anonymous said...

This book and its kin popped up frequently in Christian gift catalogs as gift ideas for the tween set so I always avoided it. Now I see why.

Molly said...

Oh my god, not the CROP! Say it ain't so! (I always wondered what the heck was with Joanna Campbell that she hated them so much, considering that she WAS a horseperson and all...)

I suppose the wishful thinking aspects of these books were easier to swallow when I was actually the target audience's age. (Though even as a kid, Thoroughbred kind of bugged me in a lot of ways.)