by Alice Leonhardt
Hey, look. A Thoroughbred book!
I love this cover. If I had to pick, I would say this is my favorite cover in the series, right above A Horse Called Wonder, Wonder's Yearling, Wonder's Promise, and Wonder's First Race. I like it because it's the first scene in the book, and there's nothing outwardly offensive about it. Star looks great, Christina looks totally enraptured with Star, and it's just a simple scene. It doesn't have any random elements shoved in (see Ashleigh's Dream and Breaking the Fall) and it doesn't look like people are posing for no reason (Samantha's Pride, Cindy's Heartbreak). Good.
I have no idea where we are now in Thoroughbred time, but Star runs in something called the Spring Stakes, so I'll pick up on the hint and assume we're still in spring. I'm finding this hard to swallow, considering how everyone seems to like racing this horse every two to three weeks AND it's only spring, AND Alice is writing this one, the very same writer who was behind the spring yearling training hysterics of Star In Danger. What the hell, Alice?Can Christina measure up?
Ever since Christina Reese won her very first race on Wonder's Star, she's been feeling pressure to live up to her mother's reputation as a great jockey. The racing press is full of articles with headlines such as "Like Mother, Like Daughter!" and "Winning Races Must Be in the Genes!"
But after a disappointing finish in her next race, Christina decides there is no way she can meet such high expectations -- she'll never be as good as Ashleigh. After only two starts, will Christina give up racing forever?
Anyway, that synopsis sort of hits a fraction of the plot behind this book, and I give it credit for focusing on one of Christina's issues. The main issue is that Christina doesn't think she's good enough. The second issue pops up when Ashleigh decides to ride Star for one race, giving the media fodder for sentimental fluff stories concerning Ashleigh coming back from a twelve year retirement to ride her precious mare's precious son, spinning Christina in a merry-go-round of self-pity. The book is mainly about Christina's attempt to be better at her current career path/passion/whatever because, you see, she sort of sucks.
Starting out the book, Christina isn't exactly hunky dory, but the important thing is that Star appears more than thrilled to have Christina as his jockey. The horse is happy, so everyone is happy. This means that Brad and Ashleigh have decided to let their age old struggle for dominance rest so they can be chummy and eat brunch together with their less important spouses. Of course, Christina is still worried, and can't help reading into the nonexistent pressure:
"All they want is for Star to win, win, win. He's only two. I don't want him to burn out or, even worse, break a leg!"
Please take note: this quote occurs while everyone is eating brunch (or maybe it was dinner...morning became night in about five seconds flat right here), totally ignoring Christina, and for all we know the only reason Christina is saying this is because it's a requirement for the main character to worry about the well being of the horse at least once and then blame something (if not the horse's possibly not perfect well being) on the Townsends, even if there has been no legitimate reason for them to worry. This is normal behavior at this point.
So before the race, Christina has a bad encounter with George, this hard luck jockey who feels the need to personally educate every apprentice in the art of being harassed. Christina can't banter, so she's not exactly easing into the jockey banter, and when George decides he's going to make Christina's life difficult she doesn't react well. During the race, George and some other guy block Christina in. She doesn't see the hole on the inside, determines that (for absolutely no reason) it would be dangerous and irresponsible to go to the outside, and settles for fourth. I have no idea what the hell that was about, but I guess we can chalk it up as yet more random well being of the horse stuff. If anything, it would have been more dangerous going to the inside, but whatever. After this, Christina decides she's no good and will not jockey Star anymore because he deserves better. She decides that she needs more experience before she rides Star (which is exactly what Brad wanted in the last book, I just have to point out, and everyone was all "no! your realistic and down to earth opinion is so cruel!"), and Christina decides that this experience will come by racing claimers.
Ashleigh puts her foot down. Absolutely no claimers for Christina. Claimers are beneath her Whitebrook born and bred daughter (that isn't said, but it's what I was thinking), and Christina does the typical thing and goes and does it anyway. On a Thursday morning, so I guess school is out, otherwise I suppose Chris and Mel really aren't going to school anymore. Christina finds this Phil guy who is willing to put her on his horses, and she does moderately well. Eventually she gets Ashleigh to agree to let her race claimers, so that continues in a parent sanctioned way.
Meanwhile, Ashleigh has decided that she will ride Star. She is super excited about this, and the press goes nuts over it, making Christina feel left out and lonely and she wants her scrapbook for Star to be about memories of her, not her mother. Won't someone think of Christina's scrapbook? Ashleigh is acting like a kid again with Star, but Ian is not convinced. Star's times are poor, and he asks Christina to work the colt while Ashleigh is away to see what happens. Predictably, Star does this amazing level of well. The best Whitebrook work EVER, in fact. And they're all like "let's not tell Ashleigh, because that would ruin her attitude" or something. So either Ashleigh is a complete idiot, has lost her touch completely, or she knows exactly what's going on and isn't telling anyone for some reason known only to her. I don't know anymore.
So Ashleigh rides Star in his next race, and they win in the last few strides. There's all this talk of the Kentucky Derby and how he just beat "up-and-coming three year olds" and Christina is manhandled by crazed fans before she can get to the winner's circle because everyone apparently turns into a raving fangirl at the sight of Ashleigh Griffen on a horse. When Christina starts talking about how Ashleigh will ride Star in his next race, Ashleigh stops her and says that Christina is riding Star...blah blah blah. So that plot point comes to a swift end.
Then Christina rides one of Phil's horses, Favorite Game, who turns out to be way more interesting than Star could ever hope to be. Seriously, I loved that horse. He was adorable. Unfortunately for Chris, George grabs Christina's reins and makes it look like she interfered with him, disqualifying her and getting her suspended on top of it. Eventually Christina works things out with George, and then Ashleigh goes and uses her super powers to convince the stewards to lighten up Christina's sentence. Because Ashleigh is so different from Brad and would never use her influence to sway officials...uh huh. So Christina can ride in Star's next race, to the joy of all! Even Brad has to yell "go get 'em!" at her and Christina is too shocked to act like a bitch about Brad's enthusiasm. Then she wins. Like we all knew she would, because Star and Christina are a team, just like Wonder and Ashleigh, okay? Do we all see that clearly now?
- Brad and Lavinia are dressed up at eight in the morning, which is clearly a giant flaw to Christina. The New Generation is confusing about this, because they're insisting that Brad isn't a horseman (because he doesn't wear jeans, or something) while at the same time indicating that he is an accomplished trainer, knows what he's doing, and is, in effect, an all around horseman. Considering Alice was the last person who wrote Brad in a trainer role, I have to pose this question to her: what is up with this back and forth description, Alice?
- The navy jacket and khaki pants fashion needs to stop now. That doesn't make me think wealthy, powerful horse owner. It makes me think prepubescent prep school kid. This is not good.
- It's Alice's first real attempt to write about training a race horse, and so she's under some impression that people actually use starting guns. No one uses starting guns during training or during a race. There is a starting bell that goes off when the starter opens the gates, and the horses are trained to jump out when the gate opens. They aren't scared out of the gate by gunshot.
- Imagine this scene: Brad, Lavinia, Ashleigh and Mike having a light conversation during brunch. They are getting along. It's weird! I can't handle it when Brad is playing nice.
- Well, Star isn't a Townsend horse anyway. How so? Are people having a problem comprehending the 50/50 co-ownership plan again?
- This whole Townsend Acres black and red silks thing is annoying, especially when someone else gets the green and gold silks later in the book.
- Apparently Melanie and Kevin are a couple? And they double date with Christina and Parker occasionally?
- Ashleigh decides to ride Star and she asks Brad: "Is that okay with you?" And he says, "Do I have a choice?" I laughed at that, considering he's called every single shot and everyone has meekly scurried into line with his decisions during the past two books (or, if they didn't scurry, they had to break ranks using deception, which was absolutely priceless). Since when has he ever acted like Ashleigh had a decision? This whole "let's be friends" stint is so freaking weird.
- "And Wonder's Star wins the Laurel Stakes by four lengths! A colt to watch out for, especially since he's Ashleigh's Wonder's colt." Wow, announcers do not say that sort of stuff. Plus, it's so clunky and bad it offends me.
And now my rambling will cease.