Apr 17, 2012

Thoroughbred: Cindy's Last Words (or Hope, I guess.)

Cindy's Last Hope
by Mary Anderson

Will Cindy have to scratch Gratis? for insane reasons we don't even bring up in this summary?

Cindy McLean and her totally platonic, sarcasm-using partner, Ben al-Rihani, can't find a jockey professional enough to ride Gratis for two minutes on a training track in the Kentucky Derby. The only person besides Christina Cindy who can handle the difficult horse is a persistently annoying stubborn and inexperienced groom/secretary/exercise rider groom named Wolf, whom Cindy wants to punch in the face. But Cindy ironically doesn't like Wolf's attitude, and refuses to give him a chance instead of firing him for being insubordinate. Besides, he doesn't even have his jockey's license yet. (Hahahaha!)

Cindy wants to ride Gratis herself probably bareback and alone, like every other time, risking irreparable damage to her already injured shoulder. Ben won't allow it. But stubborn Cindy is hard to stop. Will someone come to our her rescue before it's too late?

There, fixed!

Now to the cover. My feelings about this one have always been somewhere between sighing deeply and confusion. For one thing, the main character of the story isn't even looking at us. Is this because she's 32, and therefore horribly old, her decrepit appearance unsuitable for a book cover meant for tweens? Or is it because the cover artist decided to be really faithful to the book, wherein Cindy stands around staring at things a lot? If so, why couldn't they have taken this scene from another angle? An angle where we can see Cindy's horrifying thirty-something face? Other thoughts: Gratis looks like a carousel horse. I'm not even sure if that pose is found within any natural stride. The neck on that poor creature astonishes me as well. Also, everything about what I assume is Wolf on that cover amuses me. He looks like he's completely forgotten something important, like how to ride the devil horse underneath him which currently looks asleep. And finally, Cindy's hair. What mysteries does it possess?

So this book is yet another pre-Derby book in the span of volumes that overlap each other in a tangled mess that is hopeless to understand. It is maybe a week or two or five or eleven billion away from the Derby, but the Derby is right on top of us and will be here any second! Or maybe not. Maybe we have time for a race or two or five or...you get the idea. We even have time to drag in a few extra ridiculous books about Parker and Lyssa, because why the hell not? 

We begin this book with Cindy staring at Champion, asking Ben if he's ever seen such astonishing beauty. Ben replies that of course he has, because he's looking at Cindy. Cindy has never looked more "radiant." Because they're both mentally eleven, blushing commences and they have to talk about that time when Cindy and Champion lived in Dubai and how they "belong" in Kentucky. But with all this small talk and blushing, they've totally forgotten about Gratis and his upcoming jockey try out. Which is about to start...with no one present at the track at all besides the horse and maybe Wolf, this kid we'll get to in a second.

So Cindy and Ben speed over to the track, just in time for Gratis's groom to quit in a huff because he's been bitten one too many times. The nerve of that animal! So then Gratis goes and dumps his new potential jockey, who also storms off in a huff. Then, like the equestrian miracle she is, Ashleigh descends on Tall Oaks with her proteges Christina and Melanie to tell Wolf that he can't race yet, for he has no experience. Everyone agrees, despite all of their collective history muttering in the background that they are all horrible hypocrites with the memory of goldfish. 

Wolf is the new kid at Tall Oaks, along with Beckie, the Australian groom. That brings the total of employees at Tall Oaks up to exactly five, if you count Ben. And I suppose we have to count him, since he owns a truck instead of a "European sports car," which means he is less "rich owner" and more "I haul heavy things and sometimes work with my hands." So we'll count him. Wolf has a way with Gratis, but because Cindy is harboring dreams that her wrecked shoulder will magically be okay to race ride again, she's hesitant about doing the obvious thing and get the kid a jockey license. Wolf is arrogant! And persistent! And annoying! And inexperienced! I hope we all see the writing on the wall.

So then Brad pops up to tell Ben that it turns out he doesn't think Champion was ever legally sold, beginning the most ridiculous scheme Thoroughbred has ever tried to force onto Brad. And, naturally, Brad almost succeeds because these people are morons. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Upon hearing this news, Cindy immediately dashes for Champion's paddock in a panic, convinced that Brad has already used his supernatural powers to spirit Champion to Townsend Acres. As it happens, Brad shows up to wave papers around in Ben's face, but gets distracted by Gratis and starts to mumble about Affirmed and Alydar, both being in the colt's pedigree. So he informs Ben that he can either take Champion, or Tall Oaks can drop out of the Kentucky Derby.

This is pretty insane, actually. Since Gratis hasn't exactly done anything (you know, at all) there's no real threat to Celtic Mist at Tall Oaks. I'm going to assume that Brad does these things just to mess with everyone around him. Maybe he's just bored. But what really gets me is that everyone totally falls for it. They actually think that they might have to give in to this craziness, which is only possible because Clay is off in Europe and can't be reached by phone, e-mail, snail mail, fax, telegram, smoke signals, or carrier pigeon. Also, Ben's dad is apparently at death's door, or is old and ill and no one wants to disturb him or whatever. So Ben starts to think that yes, maybe they will have to scratch Gratis, because Brad might be right, and while they're trying to prove whether or not Brad is right...they're just going to let him do whatever he wants? What? The hell?

So now Cindy is really panicking. She wants desperately to ride Gratis, but her doctor won't let her. Even Ben's thoughtful reminiscing about those grand, emotionally turbulent days in Dubai cannot calm Cindy. So Ben decides to go buy some "desert horses." Ahem, I mean Arabians, with which they can trail ride around on the farm to cheer up Cindy, who only takes it as an opportunity to go dashing off and nearly giving Ben a heart attack. But Arabians are harmless! What possible trouble could she get into?

Then there are like five chapters saying the same thing. Cindy angsts, jockeys don't work out for Gratis, Brad and his lawyer threaten to take Champion away after they discover that Tall Oaks probably won't run Gratis in the Derby anyway, and Ben says over and over that he thinks Brad is going to win this little battle as he scrambles around for a document that says something coherent and sends his operatives to Europe to track down Clay, who is probably holed up in the Alps somewhere.

Eventually Wolf gets bored with everything that's going on around him and makes a comment about how Cindy is a has-been, causing her to flip out and fire him on the spot. Then she stalks over to Gratis and decides that today is the day she will ride him. On the trail. Where he has never been. By herself. Of course! So she does this, and naturally a quail convinces Gratis that the world is ending, and he bolts through the wilderness with a visibly hurt Cindy attempting to stay in the saddle. Then, of course, Wolf rides bareback up to Gratis on one of Ben's "desert horses" and saves the day. And he's still irritating. So Cindy tells him to take her to the hospital as repayment for saving her life.

So, now that Cindy has proven that she cannot ride Thoroughbreds anymore, she is sure that Gratis will not race in the Derby and Brad will sneak off with Champion. But, magically enough, Ben's dad speaks from Dubai and sends the necessary paperwork to prove that the whole sale was legal in the first place. Huzzah! Brad stalks off, plan foiled, probably thinking on the new details of his next dastardly plan as he drives off in his European sports car.

Then Cindy has her come to Jesus moment concerning Wolf, who is still irritating, since Ben has been dropping comments all over about how much he thinks Wolf and Cindy are alike. They are both equally irritating. So she gives in and gets Wolf his gate test, and decides to put Gratis in some unnamed prep race. Possibly the Derby Trial? Or something at Churchill Downs. Whatever. It isn't important. Gratis and Wolf win, and Cindy takes a moment to wave at Brad from the winner's circle before Ben kisses her in the win photo.

Yay. I guess.   


  • "I remember the year you spent at my father's stable." - Yes, Ben, I'm sure Cindy does remember. Were you afraid she'd forgotten again? After having spent twelve years brooding about it?
  • And then Ben attempts a "joke" that he then "laughs at." Meanwhile, Cindy rolls her eyes.
  • Ben tells Cindy all about Brad's nefarious "I still own Champion!" declaration and Cindy's first reaction is RUN. Followed by Ben catching up with her and asking her why she ran and Cindy becoming confused and saying..."I panicked?" I can't tell if this is satire...or not? Maybe it's a Joanna Campbell homage?
  • "Alydar and Affirmed had both raced in the Triple Crown series years earlier." Try decades earlier. Also, this is a completely ridiculous sentence that doesn't even come close to indicating the gravity of Alydar and Affirmed.
  • As it turns out, Ben did bring back all that tack Cindy bought in Dubai and failed to give it back to her with all her other stuff because it would "remind" Cindy of her unhappiness at the time. Like a diary couldn't have done that, or anything. Not so sharp, Ben. 
  • Ben's heart can't take surprise anymore. How old is this person? 
  • "You may be a small Arabian, but you have the spirit of a true Thoroughbred." Stupidest statement of the book award, right here.
  •  Ben asks Brad's lawyer what Townsend Acres "will do with the stallion" once Brad reclaims Champion. And the lawyer says ominously that this is essentially privileged information, and Ben cannot know what torture Townsend Acres has devised for a Triple Crown winning stallion. I'm sure it will involve lots of horse sex, and maybe a big stall, and a paddock, and more horse sex. Those bastards.
  • ETA: Ben's dad does give half-interest in Champion to Cindy by the end of the book. Without her knowledge, as if that is possible. Because he has apparently mellowed in his old age, and internet stalked Cindy while she was in New York, and eventually grudgingly admitted that she is kind of okay. 

  • So, we're almost there, you guys. I have a non-Thoroughbred book to post next, and then we're back to the adventures of Parker and Lyssa. The important thing to realize is that we are officially done with Cindy's point of view. Perhaps we are not done with her stupid decisions, but we at least don't have to hear about them first hand. So there's the slight silver lining to Cindy's Last Hope. I knew it was there somewhere.

    Apr 3, 2012

    Thoroughbred: Derby Fever

    Derby Fever
    by Mary Anderson

    Every so often, a book rolls around that reminds me how stunningly ridiculous stories somehow find their way into print. Thoroughbred as a whole is sort of a good example of this, but that's really too easy. Since the past two books in Thoroughbred are Distance Runner and Perfect Challenge, which are two pretty solid books in terms of not feeling the burning need to kick the main characters in the head, the bar was set quite high for Derby Fever. And it crashed right into that bar, stumbled around drunkenly, and then fell down while everyone stared and mocked it.

    This is not a high point for the series, is what I'm saying. But who cares! Let's get right back in the saddle.

    Can Ashleigh Help Christina?
    With the Kentucky Derby only a few weeks away, Christina Reese is stressed out. Star is in top form, but Christina is starting to wonder if the colt might be better off with a more experienced jockey in the saddle. Her mother the trainer, the renowned jockey Ashleigh Griffen, knows Christina is the only rider for Star. But she also knows what her daughter is feeling - she's been there herself.
    Flash back to the days of old, when Ashleigh raced Wonder in the Triple Crown. Drawing inspiration from the past, Ashleigh dreams up a plan to calm Christina's nerves and prep her for the most exciting race of her life!
    Okay, let's stop right here. I HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS. First, I don't know what that blurb is even trying to say. I just know that it is 95% wrong. Ashleigh does, indeed, come up with "a plan." That is the only thing that is remotely correct about this whole thing. Also, that cover. I am going to be maybe more lenient about this than Monique and Claire during their attempts to explain how this doesn't make sense, because I actually like the composition. It says to me that Melanie and Christina are on the outs (again...oh, yet again). And there's Ashleigh, which would be way more awesome if she wasn't turned away from us. She's a major character, so she gets to be included again. Although she is old, and therefore cannot grace us with her face. It might be too horrifying, despite the fact that she still looks like she's 14. The rest of it, however... Okay, look. Image looks like a gray, Star looks like some horrible mutt bred in someone's backyard, The Rein Situation confuses and dazzles me, and Ashleigh's left hand. What is she trying to indicate? What does it all mean? And, Chris, we will speak later about that outfit. I know this was like ten years ago, but that is no excuse.

    Now to the book, which spends about 65% of its time on Christina's invalid complaints and 35% of its time trying to rewrite Samantha's Pride from Ashleigh's perspective. Why is this happening, you may be asking yourself. This is the Thoroughbred attempt at a mea culpa, in which they attempt to convince us all that they aren't just publishing fan fiction. You see, lots of people were annoyed with the reinvention of the series and over the course of the New Generation TPTB tried several methods to get everyone to like them again. Cue Mary. Mary was the knight in shining armor. She wanted to give the fans some assurances that someone was listening to their wants and needs, championed bringing back old characters and forgotten history. And in true Thoroughbred fashion, this is what happens.

    Christina is super worried that they are about a month out from the Kentucky Derby and Ashleigh has yet to schedule Star in one last prep race. In fact, Ashleigh refuses to let Star do anything faster than jogging with the occasional trail ride thrown in for variety. Christina insists that the only way to keep Star in his winning ways is to keep racing him every week with breezes every other day, as this is clearly sensible. Ashleigh, showing a backbone and confidence for the first time possibly ever, tells her daughter no. Christina's reaction to this is to sucker punch Ashleigh with a classic "You're a Star-hater. You hate Star!" And then she flounces off, leaving Ashleigh to gaze at all the win photos that clutter her office and ponder why her daughter is such an irrational bitch.

    But, you guys, Ashleigh has her reasons! You see, when Wonder's Pride was racing, Ashleigh actually supported racing him too much. Because when horses are pretty and "spirited" they are clearly ready to race in grueling tests of stamina and strength! Only Charlie was there to set her straight, although Ashleigh persisted in this line of thinking and it was too late. Pride wins the Florida Derby and then the Blue Grass by many lengths and Charlie and Samantha are all DAMN IT, except Clay, Brad and Ashleigh are like yay, let's win the Kentucky Derby! But oh, if only Ashleigh had known then what she knows now and how will she ever get her daughter to understand how psychologically traumatizing it all was for her? Ashleigh is just trying to head Christina off at the pass where she overraces her horse, okay?

    Meanwhile, Christina has noticed that Star is too hyper to eat his hay. Proof positive he needs to race! So she gets up super early and takes Star out first thing, only to get caught and told in no uncertain terms that there will be no breezes for Star. In fact, Ashleigh is certain that Christina just wants to race regardless of whether it's on Star of not, so she schedules Chris to ride Raven at Turfway. Naturally, Christina is too busy thinking about Star during the race, makes a dumb move with Raven, and causes a giant wreck. But don't worry, you guys! Christina doesn't get suspended for being a moron, and Raven only severs every tendon and ligament in her leg, but isn't put down on the spot. People have to yell No! And Ashleigh has to tearfully admit that she wants to give Raven a chance. So they pack the filly full of sedatives and string her up in the stall, because that's what's better for the horse.

    The only upshot here is that Christina admits that she was in the wrong and she'll pay for all of the vet bills, and then she has the nerve to be stunned that her parents agree with her. Ah, gotta love ya, Chris. Only then Ashleigh insists that it's not Christina's fault, she must ride Star, and now let's flash back to the Derby, when Samantha got all pissy that they were even running in the Derby and Ashleigh can't understand what co-ownership means.

    But then Melanie comes home, fresh and super excited to be racing in the Derby. Since Melanie loves all black horses, she immediately shuns Christina for essentially killing Raven and "riding into a wreck." Okay, Melanie, you can be angrier than that. Christina caused the wreck! Go for the throat! Anyway, Melanie glares a lot and proceeds with the silent treatment. Because reporters instantly know when something uncomfortable has happened between Chris and Mel, one of them shows up to ask Christina all about her internal feud. Then they dash off to jog Star some more, while Brad drives up to take a look at the competition and cause conflict, because obviously. He drops a few remarks about how glad he was to offload Star, which I bet he is considering the boatload of drama surrounding him at all times, and then drives off, his work here done. Ashleigh flashes back to the time she told Brad that she wasn't going to bring Pride back to Townsend Acres to train (possibly the one moment she didn't give him whatever he wanted and wasn't forced to give up something big and extraneous in return for her refusal, stunningly). Then we have the Preakness, where everyone freaks out when Pride basically can't lift his head anymore. He's so tired! But he's so pretty! And Triple Crown! Ashleigh literally cannot make sense of any of this.

    So anyway, because we only do things in the morning at Whitebrook, Christina is sent to Keeneland to pick up tack before school and happens to see Parker and his "new girlfriend" cozying up with the Townsends. Desperate to get out without anyone seeing her slovenly attire, Christina runs off to Tall Oaks so she can see Champion and talk to Cindy, who tells her to listen to Ashleigh and stop being pitiful. Because this is coming from Cindy, I'm having a hard time accepting it, but accept it Chris does and decides that yes, she will mind her mother, although her mother is only going to lead Star down the path to trail horsedom. That will show her!

    At some point Melanie gets in a car wreck, probably because she was overwrought thinking about Raven, who, as it turns out, is perfectly fine! She can even have babies, when previously the vets were all predicting certain doom. So, things are sort of better. Only then Ashleigh has another flashback to the Belmont Stakes, which is pretty inconsequential because it stops right after Pride loses the race and we don't get to see Mary's take on Brad's verbal tirade in public. Oh, how magical that would have been! Only then Samantha shows up and says, "Yeah, I never wanted to run Pride in those races. In fact, I would have just let him graze all day every day if it had been up to me because I am this annoying. Listen to me be uppity and condescending!" Then she tells Ashleigh that she's wrong and Christina is right, overracing a horse is definitely okay? Um. I... Wasn't she just saying that no one listened to her about overracing Pride, but because Pride and Star are different horses...it's okay to overrace Star, haver of the Doom Virus? Where Pride had nothing but...sensitive feelings?


    So Ashleigh's irked and confounded. How will she tell Christina she was right all along, and how will they get a race into Star before the Derby? Why, they will just stick Star, Image, and Catwink on the track together and force them to duke it out in a speed duel. I guess that will work okay, too. Everyone comes by to watch, except for Samantha and Tor because they are "busy." Image and Star tie during their makeshift race, and then everyone makes uncomfortable statements about how one of them has to win the race and damn it, it's going to be Image/Star/Gratis. It will!

    Interesting Points I Sort of Remember:

    • I find it exceedingly strange that Samantha's Pride can be twisted in such a way that you've got Ashleigh's character reduced to "Pride is pretty and spirited, which must mean he wants to run." How does that even happen?
    • Brad's quote that they lost Pride's Triple Crown thanks to a geriatric trainer and an inexperienced teen is priceless. 
    • Ben shows up wearing slacks, and yet no one castigates him for essentially raiding Brad Townsend's closet. Also, I want Cindy to force him into jeans just once.
    • The Triple Crown isn't closed to horses born outside America. That is ridiculous. Shut up, Ben.
    • Red-gold and red-brown have names! They do! (I wonder if Joanna Campbell's penchant for "red-gold" rubbed off on Mary?)
    • In my mind, Raven died. Okay, I said it. She died and Melanie did her Joanna Campbell-esque run off with the car, and then she got into a wreck, and then she broke her arm, and then she couldn't ride Image and then Chris and Star STILL lost the damn Derby. And then Celtic Mist won. He won ALL THE RACES. Hahahahahaha.
    • Oh, yeah, Parker's "new girlfriend" is in fact his cousin, product of the unnamed Brad Townsend's Sister. Apparently she's just as anti-Townsend Acres as Parker. That was disappointing.
    • Ashleigh's training is pretty shoddy in this book, too. I mean, honestly. You'd think she had PTSD or something.
    Okay, that's it. I can't anymore.