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-usingpartner, Ben al-Rihani, can't find a jockey professional enoughto ride Gratis for two minutes on a training trackin the Kentucky Derby. The only person besides ChristinaCindy who can handle the difficult horse is a persistently annoyingstubborn and inexperienced groom/secretary/exercise ridergroom named Wolf, whom Cindy wants to punch in the face. But Cindy ironicallydoesn'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 ourher rescue before it's too late?
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.
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.