Gaston Giambanco Jr. never figured himself for a runaway. But then again, Gas never figured his mother would be killed in a head-on collision caused by an illegal Mexican. Or that his poor excuse for a father would
actually go too far and beat him. So he hitches a ride out of state without a plan, only to find himself working at a racetrack stable alongside a family of Mexicans--exactly the kind of people his dad always taught him to hate, the kind of people who caused his mother's death.
What will Gas learn about himself, and the true meaning of family? And what will he do when his small stature causes an unscrupulous horse trainer to promise him glory and riches as a jockey, even if he can't ride well?
Paul Volponi is the namesake of the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, which you can witness beating out many fine racehorses here if you so desire, and correspondent for The Blood-Horse. I mention this because these qualifications hint at the rarely seen, yet undeniably powerful duo: racing knowledge and ability to comprehend grammar! It is like a balm for my tired soul.
Homestretch is short, sweet, and to the point. Gas lives in southern Texas, a hotbed of illegal alien activity if ever there was one, and his life is changed for the worse when his mother dies in the midst of all this activity. His father goes appropriately crazy, and Gaston suffers the alcoholism and beatings until he decides enough is enough.
This isn't to say that, although he is escaping his father, Gas hasn't picked up on his father's rampant racism. He has, although for the most part he keeps it to himself. Any outward sign that Gas is racist toward the illegals he winds up hitchhiking with is cut down to basic moodiness. The Mexican brothers he finds himself with in the back of a horse trailer probably chalk this up to teenage angst and collectively move on with their lives. Meanwhile, Gas rails to himself about "beaners" and abhores the notion of eating enchiladas and tacos while he mentally envisions his mother's car wreck. The horror!
The trailer drops off the boys at a fictional Arkansas racetrack named Pennington, near Hot Springs, where the very real Oaklawn Park resides. There, the Mexican boys are given jobs as grooms, and Gas is demoted to hotwalker when Dag, the "unscrupulous" trainer, discovers he has no idea what he's doing. Therefore the Mexicans are earning more than Gas, prompting another volley of internal racial angst. Eventually, Gas finds himself exercising the local crazy horse, Bad Boy Rising, and because he manages to hang on during the horse's careening around the track, Dag gets it into his head that Gas would make an excellent bug boy.
Gas is totally inexperienced, and should not be on a racehorse in any way, shape or form. Dag is very well aware of this, and intends to set himself up to win big as a result. If only Gas will play along.
Short, sweet, and to the point. Regarding the race issues this book spends the first hundred or so pages on, I'd say it's a little too short and to the point regarding their resolution. However, I liked the rest of the novel well enough that this didn't really bother me. Plus, it is a horse racing book set in Arkansas that I happened to read while in Arkansas. And the semi-love interest is a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a little detail I apprecate because I am totally easy to please in that way.
Perhaps I am biased? Perhaps not. It's not a bad little book.