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.
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.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!
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.