Nov 28, 2011

Thoroughbred #50: Team Player


Team Player 
by Alice Leonhardt 
2001 

It seems that Team Player had the misfortune of being too long when it was a Word document sitting on some editor's hard drive, and instead of requesting a little editing to trim the story down to an appropriate length, the editor decided it would be easier to highlight the entirety of the last chapter and hit the delete button.
Oh, Thoroughbred. It's this dedication to quality that makes me love you so.

Will Parker make the team? 

Parker Townsend and his Thoroughbred mare, Foxglove, have proven that they have the talent to compete in the Olympics in combined training. But they still haven't made the team. Parker can't figure it out. He's won more events than any of his competitors, and Foxy is in top form. No jump is too high for them, no dressage course is too technical. So why haven't the Olympic stewards asked him to join the team? 

His trainer, Samantha McLean, knows why. Parker isn't a team player. He always does his best and usually wins, but sometimes that's not enough. In order to compete, Parker must show the Olympic stewards that he can help out his team members and ride for the team.

This summary is a tad exaggerated. Parker has in fact not "won more events than any of his competitors," nor does he "usually" win. The sad state of affairs is more subdued, but that doesn't make for good summary writing, apparently. The fact of the matter is that Lyssa has actually been the winner of all the events the summary seems to think Parker has been winning, therefore making the question of why Lyssa has been picked to be on the team and not Parker far less of a head scratcher.

But whatevs. Let's get down to business.

Parker is super busy. He's got responsibilities (horses to ride, Foxy to train, Kaitlin to yell at, mountains of tack to clean because we all know tack is forever dirty even two seconds after it's been scrubbed to death), unappreciative girlfriends to placate (Christina), parents to avoid (The Townsends, in all their awesome hilarity), and so many things to worry about (the Olympics, school, maybe buying a new horse with no money). It's hard to be Parker, okay? 

Because he has no money, he's been reduced to teaching kids how to pull the manes of their school ponies, which is a tremendous lesson in patience while Samantha is persistently nagging him to buy a young horse while trying to hide the magazine that proclaims Lyssa the next Olympic horse goddess. Lyssa has gotten on the USET team's short list, and Parker has not. Parker attempts to not be bitter, and fails. Samantha makes a casual remark about that chip on his shoulder and then whirls off to be unproductive somewhere else as Parker drags his feet to Whitebrook to remark about how his relationship with Christina has changed, and it's not for the better.

You see, Christina and Parker never see each other anymore, both aiming for their completely unreasonable dreams because everyone knows that after the age of eighteen it's standard practice to give up on yourself and help children you kind of know and/or created accomplish greatness. In other words, life loses all meaning when you're an adult. Parker tries to seek support from Christina regarding this whole Lyssa development (come on, people, we know you all just want to bitch about her. Just do it already) and gets nothing but, "That's great! They're still accepting young riders!" Of which they have one, so do they need more? Just saying.

Parker trudges off to class and then goes home to Townsend Acres, where he decides that it's finally time to suck up to his parents and try to get back into his trust fund. Brad, because nothing is better than racing -- nothing -- has cut off Parker and made him drive an unreliable truck and be poor until Parker shucks off his Olympics dreams and gets into the family business. Only all he's greeted with is a buffet table of eggs and bacon, which Parker falls upon like a ravenous honey badger while Lavinia looks on in sheer horror and Brad mutters about how a Townsend doesn't wear jeans during breakfast. They wear suits and diamonds, naturally. 

Fresh from that comical interlude, Parker runs off to Townsend Acres Version Warmbloods so he can look at a horse that is outside of his price range, because Samantha doesn't get that he has no money. That's when they meet Wizard of Oz, or Ozzie, burned out stadium jumper who has no interest in doing work ever again. Naturally Samantha's all ooooh, this one! And so they take Ozzie on trial, but not before they look down their noses at Ozzie's successful and therefore "arrogant" and obviously horrible owner.

There's a three-day event of some such that Parker wins, attracting the attention of Captain Donnelly of USET fame, which leads to Captain Donnelly deciding to move his two short list USET people (Lyssa and a Jeff who is of no import) to Whisperwood so he can stalk Parker and cause him great emotional turmoil. Parker drops the ball when put on the spot, but then manages to save things when he's invited to a lesson with Lyssa and Jeff, only to drop the ball again when he gets all internally uppity about being told what to do. Nobody knows Foxy like Parker!
You know, it's a real wonder that Christina and Parker couldn't make it through this book. They are so perfect for each other. Unfortunately they split. Or "take a break" after Parker misses a date and decides that hey, he won't try to call or do anything about it until later. How do these people not have cell phones? This is 2001!

Well anyway, Parker takes Ozzie out to mull his decision about whether or not to go further into debt in order to buy him and Lyssa, giver of bad advice, says that he totally should. Just stick him in a round pen (which doesn't wind up working, of course) and all will be fine! Oh, if only we could all be sponsored like Lyssa! What a magical life she leads. I'm shocked Parker hasn't gone crazy. I really am.

So Rolex rolls around. Samantha and Kaitlin strong arm Parker into going to the party beforehand, which Parker is of course staunchly against. Parties might mean fun is afoot, and as we all know fun is the work of the devil! I'm surprised Samantha even wants to take part in this horror show, but I suppose that she is an adult, and her life no longer has meaning or ambition. All the more time for parties! 

Parker goes to the party, only to run into his parents, who have come to the realization that there are rich people around the Rolex also! Let's mingle! Brad remarks that it's quaint that the winner gets a Rolex watch. Oh, if only Parker were into racing; he could have all the Rolex watches he desires should he give up on this fool's errand. Mission to destroy Parker's confidence accomplished, so back to mingling!

God, that man is just so awesome.

Samantha gets Parker's mood back on track on the first day of Rolex, and he completely crushes the dressage test and skyrockets into third. Then the cross country comes along the second day, and there's much angst. It is hot! Horses are dropping like flies. The jumps are terrific and difficult. If only Parker would listen to advice. Samantha is here to help with her so-so wisdom! Captain Donnelly wants him to do well, but not invite him on the team so Parker tosses his advice and goes for broke. Foxy barely makes it through the course in an effort that puts them in first place, but this effort is too much for the horse and there is pandemonium and tears and screaming and oxygen tanks and hypodermic needles and Parker feels like a total loser because his horse is probably dying right there at Rolex and...

That's the end of the book. No closure for you! That's just the way Thoroughbred rolls.

In all seriousness, Alice Leonhardt was awesome and supplied fans with the cut chapter. I once had it in my possession, and I once knew what it contained. But that was in 2001, so I've clearly forgotten it entirely and have lost the chapter in all the computers I've left in my wake.
That all said, despite the mysterious ending, Team Player is a solid installment in the series. Granted, I have a hard time wrapping my head around Parker trying to get on the USET team, especially when he has these hilarious moments of enlightenment about how he's competing against riders who are worlds better than him at Rolex and he's still expecting to get short listed. 

Maybe this series was always about supporting delusions of grandeur. It's all starting to make sense now!

#51, Distance Runner, aka Christina Discovers California And Fails to Appreciate It, is up next. 

Nov 6, 2011

Thoroughbred #49: Rising Star




Rising Star
By Karle Dickerson
Published: 2001

Hey, you guys! So I haven't read a Thoroughbred book since February 2010. I had to look this up, because it had been so long. Then I had to look up just where this story had left off with Christina before Rising Star came along and introduced Whitebrook to Louisiana. Turns out they were in Montana previously. And then everything came flooding back. It was like watching scenes from Thoroughbred flash before your eyes in a crappy montage with music by Coldplay. It was horrifying.

So let's step back on the crazy train, shall we?

Is Wonder's Star a has-been? 

No one thought Wonder's Star would get well again. Everyone was certain he would never run another race. The racing press was calling him a has-been.

But Christina Reese never gave up hope. Slowly and steadily she's been bringing Star back into racing condition. In her heart of hearts she still has Triple Crown dreams for them, but the Kentucky Derby is only a few months away and they're running out of time! Instead of starting with an easy local prep race, Christina enters Star in a tough Derby prep race, praying that he can withstand the grueling pace. Is it too much, too soon? Or will Star shine like the champion that he is? 

In the previous Star/Christina book, they were in Montana learning about the itancan from Lyssa because Star isn't being all he can be three days post deathly illness. Then the whole trip wound up being useless because all they had to do was wrestle in a pond for five seconds and magically Christina and Star are best friends again. Hooray! Let's win the Kentucky Derby!

Only since we all know Thoroughbred is basically just a roller coaster ride through Christina's manic depressive episodes, this is bound to unravel completely. Because everyone around Christina is somewhat competent, professional, and experienced, she starts to lose her shit when they unanimously agree that Star is not on the path to Kentucky Derby immortality. This collective knowledge, of course, does not equal the simple fact that no one knows Star like Christina, a line that Christina mutters to herself at least once every other chapter.

While Christina and Ashleigh are having this unspoken battle of wills, a reporter from the Racing Reporter shows up to ask Christina lots of leading questions like "Is Star a total brat?" and "Are you suffering delusions of grandeur?" Apparently the only way this woman got on the farm is because Ashleigh somehow thought she was saying Daily Racing Form every time the lady told her Racing Reporter, which is the most awful of awful racing publications in the world. Ashleigh doesn't bother to hide her disgust about this lady's employer, right before she abandons her child with a reporter she clearly does not approve of. Nice going, Ashleigh! Another example of shady parenting accomplished.

While the reporter eagerly clamors for gossip about how Star is washed up and a "bad actor," Christina becomes infuriated that anyone could think any of these things about her precious baby. She proceeds to have a literal melt down, and takes her feelings out on the track to prove this reporter wrong. Of course, because Star is a sensitive snowflake, the shit hits the fan and Christina not only delivers the most stunningly awful work in the history of Whitebrook, but because she doesn't use a crop she resorts to smacking her wonder pony around with her hand. During a work. Because when all else fails, hit your panicking mount when you're zig zagging across the track going 35 miles per hour! Awesome thought process, Chris!

So it takes about a chapter and a half for Chris to a) verbally abuse Dani and Star, b) physically abuse Star, and c) receive no punishment except for realizing her own mistakes. Because that in itself is punishment, or something. Christina proceeds to almost fall off of Star before realizing she needs to "join up" with him...although how she does that while she's clinging to his neck is questionable. Nevertheless, it happens.

Armed with proof that Christina is a total nut job, the reporter writes a pathetically childish gossip story that everyone in the country immediately believes. Christina, for about two seconds, thinks this is fine. Let everyone think Star is a has-been! At least the reporters will leave them alone now. And then she gets all pissy when everyone thinks Star is finished.

Sigh. It's so hard being locked in this kid's brain, you guys. I can't even.

Then Ashleigh decides to ship Image to Florida, where Whitebrook has historically dominated for eons. Christina takes it for the slap in the face that it is: Image is Whitebrook's Derby horse...despite the fact that Image is not Whitebrook's in any way, shape or form. Nor has she proven to be Derby caliber, or even interested in racing. Who knows. I certainly don't. Christina goes all bonkers, crashes into depression, and decides to watch Wonder's Derby tape so she can throw it in Ashleigh's face and ask her why she's trampling all over Christina's dreams.

Ashleigh, naturally, takes this to heart and tells Christina about this fabulous place called Louisiana. It's a state! In America! And Christina is all, "Tell me more about this...Louisiana." And then she's immediately turned off because such a newfangled place could never have the competition in Florida. Christina, being passionate about running her horse into the ground, will only accept G2 Derby preps or better. Little, short, dinky races are not acceptable as come back races for Star.

But then Christina hears of the Louisiana Derby, which she supposes will do for her purposes. She attempts to sweet talk her mother into her race selection using bagels, but Ashleigh has experienced an unusual moment of forethought and entered Star before Christina could have a panic attack about it.

Now we enter Christina's manic phase. She's so happy! Star is going to be awesome and prove everyone wrong, especially that evil Racing Reporter lady and all the people she converted to the opinion Christina wanted them all to have. But then she learns that Celtic Mist, the Townsend Acres horse of doom, is racing in the Louisiana Derby, sending Christina crashing into depression...despite getting what she wanted? Didn't she just want to race Star in the Florida Derby against Celtic Mist...? I'm just going to stop trying to follow her thought process. It's way too hard at this point.

So, in New Orleans, a place that does not take itself seriously (which Christina notes disdainfully while telling herself she's taking everything seriously) Christina notes with horror that it is hot, and there is jazz music everywhere, and this place has culture that she refuses to appreciate because she's busy. And then Brad Townsend and Lavinia show up to go through a comic relief sketch only found in movies meant for eight-year-old children. Dani sprays them with a hose, and then Brad steps in manure...only to scrape it off his foot without looking because he's in the Intimidate Christina Using His Persuasive Voice Zone.

Then Christina crashes again, because Celtic Mist is awesome and she should just stop trying. No one believes in her, Parker doesn't want to talk to her because she's deferring college for a year, and no one needs to know that she should be on serious medication. So she calls Ashleigh, who talks her off the ledge. Christina is happy again! And then she crashes again. Then she listens to some random track workers talk about their jobs and she's happy again because if you're going to work on a track, you should at least own a wonder pony. Those poor saps! Christina is living the dream!

And then she wins the damn race like we knew she would and they talk about red roses being better than orchids, the Louisiana Derby flower. Yeah, screw orchids. Roses are awesome.

I could get into a list of points of interest, but I think Claire already covered them here. Plus, there's a lot I find enraging about Lyssa and her stupid itancan philosophy and the superior/anti-fun attitude Christina & Co. have toward everything that I don't think can be contained in this post.

I will be moving on to some book about Parker next, because he's got Olympic issues that take whole books to cover.