Feb 24, 2009

Ultimate Risk: This title makes little sense, but that's okay because this is Thoroughbred.

Ultimate Risk
Thoroughbred #40
by Mary Newhall Anderson

I never noticed this before, but Mary's name is misspelled in this book. I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be Anderson, right? Not Andersen?

I like the action of this cover, and I like that it's different than all the others. However, Christina's silks are supposed to be green and purple, and she looks like a giant. That or Gratis is particularly tiny.
A great opportunity...

Now that Christina Reese and her cousin Melanie Graham are jockeys, they want to ride as many horses for as many trainers as they possibly can.

When Christina is asked to ride a difficult horse for one of the best-known trainers in Kentucky, she leaps at the chance to prove herself. But she'll have to race against her own horse--Wonder's Star. Is it worth the risk?

It's been about a month since I read a Thoroughbred book, but I am thrilled to report that Star is still winding his way through his hilariously incompetent two-year-old racing schedule. In the last book, I didn't touch much on this, but this time around I felt more compelled to do a few fact checks. Consider:

Living Legend takes place mostly at Ellis Park. Great! I love it. The problem is that Ellis Park isn't exactly a heavy hitter in terms of Grade I races, making it impossible for Star to complete the famously repetitive step ladder to Triple Crown fame (because all two-year-old horses in Thoroughbred are aimed to the Triple Crown, inexplicably enough). Ellis Park's biggest race is the Gardenia, a Grade III race for fillies and mares. You see Star's problem, surely. So in Living Legend he runs in the Debutante, which does actually exist and does live up to its name in that it is for two-year-old fillies. Amusingly enough there is a race simply called the Juvenile that they could have run him in, given that it's just for two-year-olds. These races are ungraded, $50,000 purses, totally confusing my expectations of what a Wonder foal should be participating in, but that's not the point. Because then Star runs in this big Ellis Park race called the Laurel Stakes. Which, as far as I can tell, never existed. But all of that is due to some nutty Alice Leonhardt plotting. Mary Anderson was released to play with these characters in Ultimate Risk, so let's take a look at what she does.

Mary picked up on the fact that Ellis Park has a set schedule. They don't just run horses there all the time...that would be silly! Or totally un-American. So she moves everyone over to Turfway Park, which happens to open up mid-September. Gasps abound, these people learned something and applied it to the books. The Whitebrook people are at Turfway, and it's mid-September. This is pretty much where the realism ends. I know, you can only have so much.

Melanie and Chris have apparently been living in a hotel room in Florence for weeks on end, working at Turfway and straining their relationships with their boyfriends. Melanie and Kevin have been dating since Living Legend, which seems remarkably impossible to me, but they are. Chris and Parker seem on the same page, content with kisses on the cheek and such things, despite Christina getting ready to enter her senior year in high school and Parker being in college, I guess? I can't tell what's going on with him.

Anyway, Christina is exercising Star on the track amidst what I know is Mary Anderson's attempt to impress us with her research skills. The problem is Mary is trying to convince me that horses tend to do slow works by the outside rail in a counterclockwise motion while fast works are done on the inside rail in a clockwise motion. Mary, I'll understand if you're dyslexic, but this just isn't right. Christina tries to merge in with faster traffic and predictably causes a scene with Steve Quinn, hated jockey, who is riding Gratis. Gratis freaks out at Star, plows into Christina's way, falls over, and Christina, who has obviously lost all control, can only jump over Gratis. And who is at fault? STEVE. Since Christina is still a godlike riding princess despite having no control over her horse. Afterward, the vet muses that she could have, you know, gone around Gratis instead of jumping him, and Christina is predictably offended. Christina, shut up.

But this run in with Gratis and his trainer, a blatant attempt at Charlie Burke (only wearing a fedora), Vince Jones, has the gears turning in Christina's head. She should ride Gratis! This will clearly earn her major points and push forward her riding career. Speaking of riding careers, Melanie has a serious case of seconditis, poor sportsmanship psychosis, and sore loser disease. Ever since she fell (which happened in Living Legend, although I can't at all remember it), she's freezing up and not taking any chances, losing races she should have won or making her losing mounts look worse. And she's not thrilled about it. She mopes and mopes and acts pissy at all opportunity. I would say this is annoying, but then I've been watching Jockeys and now know that moping and acting pissy is what lots of jockeys do about 75% of the time, especially when they aren't winning. Christina tries to cheer her up, but Melanie is insistent on talking with Steve, which Christina knows will surely upset Kevin because I guess Kevin is now a territorial, possessive jerk? Who knew that was likely? Well, he is. After races, everyone goes on a double date that is awkward. Christina is exhausted, Parker is clearly the best person sitting at the table, and Melanie and Kevin act like they're going to break up at any second.

Moving on, Christina makes friends with Fredericka Graber, owner of Gratis and Image, who has a little cameo appearance in this book. Freddy, as I will now call her because that is seriously a name I am not typing over and over, takes a liking to Christina and starts to stump for her cause. Eventually Vince decides to let Christina try riding Gratis, who at first acts intimidating before catching Christina's super magical scent and immediately calming down. I have no idea what exudes from Christina's pores, but I have a feeling it should be bottled and sold at tack stores everywhere. Or maybe it's just her body wash. Whatever it is, Gratis can't get enough of it, so they eventually make a fantastical team. Vince, however, still wants to put Steve up on Gratis for his next race, and Christina knows how this will turn out, and it's not well. Christina should look into fortune telling as a career, because Gratis freaks and is scratched before the race.

Somewhere in here Melanie and Kevin break up because Kevin thinks Melanie is boring. This is not shocking, because he sort of thought Melanie was boring back in Dead Heat. Melanie has a complete mental break, and Ashleigh determines that the only way to get Melanie back is to let her ride Star, who will challenge her so much she won't have time to think about freezing up. Christina, despite her immediate jealousy, goes for it. Melanie breezes Star for the "Breeder's Futurity" and does it an eighth of a second faster than Christina's time, which surely means that Star is just getting better! Yeah. Well, whatever. At least Christina justifies all of it by wanting Star to be better than a one-person horse, inadvertently dissing all the one-person horses before them, and making me smile.

So they go to this completely confusing post position draw for the Breeder's Futurity and somehow Christina is named to ride both Gratis and Star. I'm not getting into whether or not this scene is even possible, because it was so convoluted (I can't believe I even used that word to describe a Thoroughbred scene, but there it is) it's impossible to follow. Christina tears a page out of Brad Townsend's Super Awesome Book of Advice and Other Wise Sayings, and decides to ride Gratis because it's more beneficial to her career. Melanie should ride Star! It's all so perfect, until Melanie refuses to ride Star. Then she does decide to ride Star, because Vince Jones calls her a pussy. So they race and Melanie and Star win. Christina and Gratis come in second. Melanie and Kevin hug, which in Thoroughbred probably means they're back together, and Christina decides that everything is fantastic again. Joy!

  • Outside Kevin McLean was leaning against the side of the building, gazing up at the cloudless sky, his T-shirt tucked neatly into his black jeans, his red hair slightly wind-tousled. Parker Townsend stood nearby, wearing tan slacks and a button-down shirt, his suede jacket flung over one shoulder, his dark hair freshly combed. You can laugh at this. Go right ahead.
  • The "Breeder's Futurity" is probably the Breeders' Futurity Stakes, a significant Grade I race, run at Keeneland in October. There is no "Breeder's Futurity" run at Turfway.
  • Gratis's sire's grandsire is a son of Affirmed, and his dam is a granddaughter of Alydar. Christina take a moment to be awed by this breeding, while I roll my eyes. Then Freddy continues on to say that they bought Gratis's dam at auction, thinking she wasn't pregnant, only to find out that she was, resulting in Gratis. This, naturally, makes me wonder who they think Gratis's sire even is. It sounds to me like one of those freak accidents where a filly is bred during an auction. Usually you never find the sire in those cases.
  • Brad Townsend is badmouthed by Freddy, because he keeps wanting to buy back Townsend Mistress, which he sold to Freddy after a series of difficult pregnancies that convinced him she should no longer be bred. Of course, I read this and Freddy seems like the moron who decides to breed this mare multiple times, resulting in three healthy foals, despite concern that the mare might not be in the best shape. Maybe Brad just wants to rescue his mare from these idiots. Did you ever think of that, Thoroughbred?
  • Technically, I don't think Chris racing against Star is considered a conflict of interest. But it's pretty damn close.
  • Gratis shouldn't have even been in the "Breeder's Futurity." It is a very obvious plot device. Sorry, Gratis.

The writing in this book is still pretty choppy, still very early Mary Anderson. The dialogue is stunted, and most conversations don't really go anywhere, especially those between Parker and Christina. Those phone conversations between Parker and Christina probably would have been torture if they had been longer than three sentences. This one was ultimately a little tiresome to get through, but it wasn't horrible. As usual, I appreciate Mary Anderson's attempts at research. It's just that her writing is mostly flat.


Elizabeth said...

I guess Mary became Scandinavian for a bit there.

It seems amazing that the debut of Image! And Gratis! And Image! And Gratis! was so long ago. I had forgotten just how long this series limped on, while I kept buying the books but not actually reading them.

Heather said...

"Outside Kevin McLean was leaning against the side of the building, gazing up at the cloudless sky, his T-shirt tucked neatly into his black jeans, his red hair slightly wind-tousled. Parker Townsend stood nearby, wearing tan slacks and a button-down shirt, his suede jacket flung over one shoulder, his dark hair freshly combed."

Kevin: Dude, we should totally be on a romance cover.

Parker: ...How about you just get away from me.

Ace said...

Gasp! A Thoroughbred character does something beneficial to their career instead of riding their super awesome special horse!

Where can I find this "Brad Townsend's Super Awesome Book of Advice and Other Wise Sayings?" I would so pay money for that, especially if there was commentary from you guys, haha.

Anonymous said...

You know, reading your review of this book, I remember I managed to find this at my school library. I barely remember it well, but now it's slowly and softly coming back to me. I guess the reason I don't remember it is because it's so...Un-Thoroughbred. Christina was, for once, not the self-centered witch she was later on in the series.

As for the title, I think it's a good title, but just wasted because there is no 'ultimate risk' anywhere. A title should allude beautifully to the story without giving away more, or without being completely unrelated to the story in general. But there was no risk. None at all.