Jan 13, 2013

Christina's Shining Star is not all that shiny. Thoroughbred #58: Christina's Shining Star

Christina's Shining Star
Thoroughbred #58
By Mary Anderson
April 2003
Can Christina and Star pull off a victory?
As Christina Reese's high school graduation draws near, she's filled with questions and not enough answers. Has she sacrificed too much to follow her dream of taking Wonder's Star to the top? She and Star failed to place in the Kentucky Derby. Can they win the Preakness and still have time for Parker, Melanie, the prom, and graduation?
An unexpected brush with the trainer of Affirmed—the famous 1978 Triple Crown winner—not only leaves Christina with some amazing insights, but confirms her belief in Star. Will Christina be able to show everyone how special Star is? Or will her doubts and distractions keep them out of the running … again?
The Summary:

Eh, 50% credit. I think they could have left out everything except the last two sentences, because that's basically what this book is about. It's amazing how you can stretch three weeks to fill 160 pages.  

The Cover:

I don't know what happened -- they must have switched to a new artist or something -- but starting with this book, some of the covers have this weird, cartoony, almost video-game-ish look to them. (Just wait till I get my hands on you, The Price of Fame.) I guess Star is curving his head around from his body, although it looks kind of like Christina has her hands on two different horses here. And what is she wearing? Is it ... the uniform of a Catholic schoolgirl? The puff sleeves that Anne Shirley so wistfully coveted in Anne of Green Gables? Yet another style of Whitebrook silks? The world may never know. What I object to most is the tagline "Can the legendary racehorse Affirmed inspire Star to glory?", which has little to nothing to do with the inspiration that actually happens in this book. Also, Affirmed died in 2001.  

The Plot:

In one of those awesome split-book-type-scenes, Christina's Shining Star picks up from the end of the Kentucky Derby. While Image is shooting across the finish line and breaking her leg, Star is getting boxed in and finishing dead last. The rest of this chapter is a total loss, since it helpfully informs us of things like the fact that Celtic Mist came in second, Gratis came in third, and Image gets moved to Townsend Acres to recover. This is why split-screen tends to work better in movies than books.

As for the actual book, it basically follows a pattern of something happening and then Christina whining and moping. She and Ashleigh have a couple of arguments about why Star got boxed in. One night at dinner she plays with her food, lining up her veggies " so that they formed the same bunching that had held Star up during the Derby." Aside from the fact that it makes Christina sound like she's two years old, this is kind of cute because it reminds me of the time she made a jump course out of her food. How times have changed.

Christina takes a little break from moping to go to the prom with Parker, but she puts her foot in it by asking Katie who came up with the theme, when Katie has told her several times that she was in charge of the decorations. Oops. The night gets even better when Parker tells her point-blank, "Your ego got in the way," and "if you had been more focused on the quality of horses Star was running against and not stuck on the idea that Star deserved to win, you might have done better." Christina throws a hissy fit and demands that Parker take her home, then wonders "why life had to be so complicated."

The next day, Cindy and Samantha come over to talk to Ashleigh about some breedings, including Sterling to Jazzman. Because he was trained as a jumper. Just like that time he ran in the Pimlico Special. Boy, there sure are some great jumps on that track, aren't there? Anyway, Christina whines and mopes to Cindy and Sammy how stressed she is, what with racing Star and fighting with Ashleigh and taking some finals in those, like, two classes she attends. One of them is "contemporary world problems." I'm not sure what that means. Maybe it's to show that Christina's whining and moping issues are nothing in the grand scheme of things. No, more likely it's to show that Christina's problems are as weighty as the problems of the world. Speaking of which, Katie is still ticked off at Christina, which is just so rude and unsympathetic because doesn't Katie know that Christina is the only teenager in the history of the world who's ever ridden in a horse race?

 Ashleigh and Christina fight some more about how Christina didn't pay attention during the Derby and needs to do better in the Preakness. At this point, and we're only about a quarter of the way through the book, I want to drop both of them in a pile of manure. You know, I feel bad for Ashleigh most of the time because it seems like she spends a lot of time caught up in boring administrative stuff and not doing what she wants to do, but all she seems to be doing here is telling Christina she needs to do better without actually giving her suggestions about how to do it better. Maybe that's Ian's job. He's still around, isn't he?

 The next day, a reporter shows up at the farm and writes a bitchy article about Christina and Star, which causes Christina to whine and mope. She goes to visit Melanie at her fancy Townsend Acres cottage and whines and mopes on the way home. She goes over to Tall Oaks and whines and mopes so much that Cindy suggests that she bring Star over to train there so she can get away from Ashleigh. Cindy also says that Gratis is such a handful because he has both Affirmed and Alydar in his bloodlines. Get it? AFFIRMED and ALYDAR? Remember those guys? Oh, do you not know who they are? Well, that's okay, because we will be glad to explain it to you! Honestly, sometimes these characters walk around sounding like they've swallowed Wikipedia.

Cindy thinks it's great to have Christina at Tall Oaks because Wolf needs to learn some good old-fashioned jockey manners. I don't think Christina is the person to teach him about that, but okay, whatever you want, Cindy. She and Christina go on a trail ride, and Cindy says she's going to start taking courses at community college this fall, so that she can be "more of a help to Tall Oaks than just a horse trainer." Very subtle. Of course, Cindy is the one who came up with "Wonder's Champion," so … never mind. Wolf and Christina work their horses together, and Christina accuses him of interfering with her, but Wolf tells her that he never touched her and she's just being too timid. Christina whines and mopes.

Christina takes Star to Pimlico a few days before the Preakness, where she just happens to run into Steve Cauthen, who won the Triple Crown on Affirmed in 1978. Right, Affirmed! Remember him? The horse we were just talking about? Purely coincidental, of course. Anyway, Ghyllian Hollis and Vince Jones are also there with a colt called Wild 'n' Free, also a descendant of Affirmed, who's racing in the Preakness too. I think we're supposed to care, but honestly, I have a hard time keeping track of all these different farms/horses and which ones are supposed to win/place/show in which races. Later, some other awesome horse named Magnifique turns up too, and he is magnificent. Get it?

Christina overhears some of the other jockeys talking about Wolf's reckless riding style, but decides not to say anything to him, particularly after he makes fun of her for losing a race on another one of Ghyllian Hollis' horses. Dani tells Christina more than she ever wanted to know about her college course schedule, which is "worth the effort because I'll be able to help the animals I love." Is anyone seeing a pattern here, or is it just me? No? Just me. Okay then.

Brad and Lavinia come by Star's stall, explaining to a group of investors (? Friends? Groupies?) that Christina bought out his interest in Star, and that they are so pleased that she's turned him back into a nice riding horse, even if he no longer has the competitive spirit. Christina rallies and says Brad is lucky "to be able to buy a colt with such good bloodlines, since you couldn't produce one worthy of the Triple Crown at Townsend Acres." Oooh, if this were a movie, there would be a cool sound effect right now. Ghyllian Hollis comes by to agree that Brad is a pompous jerk and to invite Christina to a party that night, where she runs into Steve Cauthen again. His sage advice is that "all you need is a little more confidence in your connection with your horse. Going out there knowing you've got a great horse under you is really important." Funny, this is exactly the same logic I use when I play the lottery. You can see how well that's worked.

Then the Preakness happens. This has to be the most boring race in the history of Thoroughbred. (Note: I have not read, um, most of the books lately, so I'm willing to take nominations for the actual winner of the "most boring race" award.) It is 14 paragraphs of actual race and the only thing of note is that Wolf cuts Christina off, and Star comes in fourth. Ian and Ashleigh tell her what a great/terrific job she did, though they don't sound particularly enthusiastic. Christina says they only placed fourth, but Wolf was disqualified, so Star is moved up to third. Celtic Mist wins, Wild 'n' Free comes in second. Wait, that was it? And the point of this would be … what? When you stop whining and moping and just have confidence in your horse, you place third? Sounds like a solid game plan to me.

And thus we enter a dark age of Thoroughbred, where every book includes an encounter with a famous person/horse that is supposed to be somehow relevant to the plot. I can't decide if this is better or worse than the famous-horsie-trail-ride that Cindy took in Ashleigh's Farewell -- at least those horses weren't real.  

Points of Interest:
  • "Christina had been so sure that Star's start from the number three position would put them in a good place right at the beginning of the race, she hadn't thought beyond it. She hadn't anticipated Perfect Image, Gratis, and Speed.com getting into a speed duel right from the start. All I could think about was the fact that I'm actually racing Star in the Kentucky Derby. What am I going to do? she berated herself, searching intently for a way to move Star ahead." I always like when Christina (and characters in general) acknowledges that she was stupid and that she did something wrong. Unfortunately, this scene occurs very early in the book, and none of it seems to carry over into the rest of the plot. So Christina was too confident, and the solution is … to be more confident?
  • "[Christina] thought of Miss America's bay colt, Royal Blue, wondering if the Blues King foal might be her next chance for a Triple Crown win. She quickly dashed the idea away, feeling as though she was being untrue to Star by thinking ahead that way." Right, because if Christina really loved Star, she'd figure out a way to invent time travel so he can run again next year.
  • For the prom, Christina wears a blue dress that is "almost the same color as her racing silks." Wait, didn't Cindy do that once?
  • Christina's "pearlescent blue" dress also catches the golden light as the "sun shone brightly through the bedroom window." I'm pretty sure Cindy's horses also used to do this during morning workouts.
  • Parker brings her a blue-and-white corsage and picks her up in a blue limousine. What the hell? He must have inherited that decorator gene from his mother.
  • Parker wears a black tuxedo to the prom. This is how you can tell this book wasn't written by Joanna: it's not white.
  • I haven't been rereading in order, so maybe I missed this, but Christina mentions (perhaps for the first time) that she regrets giving up Sterling and Legacy, and wonders what she'll do after Star stops racing. I know I made fun of all the anvils about college, but I think that's actually pretty logical given that she only got into racing because of the angry fans with pitchforks Star.
  • Christina refers to Brad as "Bradley Whiplash," after the way he disappeared from the horse cabana in the last book. Ha.
  • Sammy has been looking "pale" lately. Gosh, I don't know what that could mean. She must be … um, not getting enough vitamin D. Yeah, that's it.
  • Celtic Meadows' silks are "dark green shamrocks scattered over a white background." Ghyllian wears a green sundress to the race. I guess she went to the Lavinia Hotchkins-Ross Townsend Decorating School, too.
  • Mary's favorite vapor lights make an appearance at the beginning of chapter 9.
  • Christina is jealous that Jazz is writing a love song for Melanie, because "Parker would never do something like that." Um, Christina, that is because Jazz is a singer and a songwriter. It's his job. He gets paid for it. Parker's job is to muck out stalls and little teach kids how to tack up their horses. I'm sure if you asked nicely, he'd muck out a stall for you.
  • Ashleigh tells Christina that there will be more horses running at Pimlico. Except that the field is the same size, with Wild 'n' Free replacing Image. Last I checked, Ash, nine was the same as nine.
Next up: the Belmont. I'm off to play some more lottery numbers! I'm feeling very confident.