By Mary Anderson
It's Star's last strike. …
Christina Reese has always known that Wonder's Star is special. But as the third race in the Triple Crown approaches, it's unclear whether Star is up to the challenge. The competition is getting tougher every minute, and Christina's so stressed out, she wonders whether all the pressure she's feeling will affect Star's concentration.
But then Christina gets some fantastic tips from an unexpected source: a jockey who claims to have raced the legendary 1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew. Star and Seattle Slew have more in common than Christina ever realized. With this new advice—and the amazing support of her family and friends—Christina feels ready to take on the world at the Belmont! But will Star come through?
Oh look! A big fat 0% on this one. I guess Star's imaginary three-paragraph illness is supposed to be the "is Star up to the challenge?" part. Christina is far less stressed-out and annoying than she was before the Preakness, and she never actually talks to said legendary jockey at all. One point for both Seattle Slew and Star nearly dying of a viral infection, but otherwise, that's a solid F+, HarperEntertainment.
What on earth is Christina wearing? It looks like a polyester business suit. The shoulderpads, the ribbons … is she riding in the Belmont, or going to be a secretary in the 1970s? Also, apparently Whitebrook's colors have become black and blue, not blue and white, and I'm not sure Christina's helmet is fastened there, so it's good she didn't fall off in this book. I'm going to guess that on the left, that's Emilio Casados on Celtic Mist, so I'll give them credit for a) the horse being a gray, and b) the jockey wearing some shade of green, although I'm pretty sure that's a green sport coat he's wearing. And to the right, on the black-ish horse … what is that, the pink blob of Belmont?
Christina is in the starting gate for the Belmont, having a flashback to the way Image broke her leg during the Derby two books ago. Damn, that was quick. No 150 pages of whining and moping before the Belmont? No, never fear, life would never be that kind, for it turns out that it's just a dream and Ashleigh wakes Christina up.
Then we get into a rehash of basically all the things that happened in the last book, such as: Parker is worried about Brad's designs on Melanie and Image. Christina is not sure what she wants to do after high school and after Star finishes racing. Dani tells Christina how glad she is she's going to college and how excited she is to be a vet. Image won the Derby, Celtic Mist won the Preakness, and Wild 'n' Free (that colt from Celtic Meadows) came in second in the Preakness. Wait, I think some of this was already rehashed in the last book. Well, that's okay, there's nothing like a good comprehension check in the middle of the story. There's going to be a quiz at the end, you know.
Ashleigh, Melanie, and Christina visit Ghyllian Hollis and Vince Jones at Celtic Meadows, which is apparently the U.S. offshoot of the main facility in Shannon, Ireland. Hmm, I bet this will be important in about seven books or so. Vince is looking for a jockey for a colt named Celtic Knot. Melanie is riding for Townsend Acres, so Christina says yes.
Christina wins a race on Charisma, and brings Celtic Knot in second. Melanie comes in second on two Townsend Acres horses. She's clearly been drinking the Kool-Aid, because when Brad suggests breeding Celtic Mist to Image, Melanie says that might be "one incredible foal." Don't worry, though; Vicky Frontiere is still there to reaffirm that we hate Townsend Acres and she doesn't want to ride for them.
Ian calls the track in a panic to say that Star is sick, but by the time they get home, he's fine. I guess this is supposed to interject half a chapter of tension into the story before we finally make it to the Belmont in Chapter 10. The next day Christina exercises Gratis because Wolf quit working at Tall Oaks after he was suspended after the Preakness. Christina suggests that Cindy ask Melanie to ride Gratis in the Belmont.
Christina and Melanie graduate from high school and go out to dinner with Ashleigh, Mike, Samantha, Tor, and Parker. Samantha and Tor announce that they're having a baby. For some reason they don't go out with Ian, Beth, and Kevin (who is not mentioned in this book at all, but in later books they talk about how he's going to college in the fall). I might as well take this moment to rant about the fact that this is not possible at all. Melanie was born in the spring, Christina was born on Christmas, and Kevin was born the next spring. There's no way the three of them would be in the same class. Either Henry Clay has a September 1 cutoff, which means that Christina and Kevin could be in the same class but Melanie couldn't, or else they have a January 1 cutoff, which means that Melanie and Christina could be in the same class but Kevin couldn't. I can't begin to guess. My only fanon theory is that maybe Melanie got held back at some point. But trying to make this work logically is like trying to make the ages for Sweet Valley Twins line up, so I just don't even try anymore.
They take Star to Belmont and meet some famous people: Karen Taylor, Seattle Slew's owner; and Jean Cruguet, Slew's jockey. Oooh, I bet one of these people is supposed to be Star's inspiration. Five dollars, anyone? Cindy takes Christina to visit the farm where Legacy is at stud. The farm isn't all that nice, but the people are. They tell Christina and Cindy how much they love Legacy and how sweet he is. On the way back, Christina point-blank admits, "I never should have let him go." This is a rehash from earlier books too, but I like the way this whole thing plays out: Christina admits she was a brat, although probably no more so than most twelve-year-olds; we continue to acknowledge that Ashleigh was wrong to push racing so hard; and Legacy is fine, it's just sad that Wonder's supposedly-last baby never really got a chance. Bittersweet stuff all around.
Then we get back to Belmont and morph into a crossover with The Saddle Club: Speed.com has been stolen! Speed.com, if you remember, is trained by Alexis Huffman, who worked (dishonestly) for Fredericka Graber when she still owned Tall Oaks. I think I have that right. Check out the recap for #44: Perfect Image if you want to know more. Christina remembers that before the Preakness, Speed.com looked like he might be going lame. She speculates that Alexis arranged for him to be stolen. Gasps all around. All right, now let's get Deborah Hale to write an article and we will skulk around and get people to admit that … whoops, wrong series. Instead, Christina and Melanie skulk around in a car and try to find the horse. Right, because whoever stole him would be keeping him in a paddock next to the highway. They see a horse that they think could be Speed.com, and report it to the track security manager. Christina tells Melanie she's thinking of becoming a vet.
They draw positions for the Belmont:
Gratis – gate 1
Magnifique – 2
Derry O'Dell – 3
Wild 'n' Free – 4
Star – 5
Celtic Mist – 6
TV Time – 7
War Ghost – 8
For those keeping track, there were 9 in the Derby and 9 in the Preakness. I don’t know who we're missing—Ingleside, I guess. Granted, I know there have been small fields in the Belmont before, but I suspect that this painstaking listing of horses/gates/jockeys is because we're supposed to feel a deep kinship (or at least name recognition) with all these horses, and I really haven't been paying enough attention for that to work.
There's a pre-race party at Will and Susan Graham's the night before. There are a whole bunch of people there: Magnifique's owner, Ghyllian Hollis, Jilly Gordon and Craig Avery (hey, remember them? I'm sure they WON'T become an important plot point in about ten books). Will announces that they found Speed.com after Christina and Melanie's anonymous tip led them to a farm outside Elmont. It turns out Alexis did, indeed, engineer the theft of her own horse. Way to go, Christina and Melanie. That was the most boring Saddle Club mystery ever.
Finally, the goddamn Belmont happens. At first Star breaks badly, then he gets blocked in, then sees a hole and goes for it. She tries to keep Star under control, then remembers what Jean Cruguet said about Seattle Slew: "He just hung on and let the horse run the race his way." This is truly hilarious because the only person who ever actually said those words was Cindy, who was quoting something she read. Though really, Cindy probably would have been about as much help as Jean Cruguet here. A mere 118 words later, in the most underwhelming race scene/denouement ever, Star wins the Belmont. Turns out Parker came to watch the race and kisses Christina (even though they were still broken up or something like that), and Christina knows that "everything was going to be just perfect." Ugh.
There is a super-inspiring biography of Seattle Slew at the end. I guess it's supposed to be inspiring because Seattle Slew "nearly los[t] his jockey, Jean Cruguet, at the start of the 1977 Kentucky Derby" just like Star and Christina did here? I don't even know.
So there's your Triple Crown, folks.
Derby: Image, Mist, Gratis
Preakness: Mist, Wild 'n' Free, Gratis (disqualified), Star
Belmont: Star, Gratis, Mist. (Not sure about place and show—Gratis and Mist were fighting it out down to the wire but they don't confirm the exact finish. But it's not really supposed to matter because Star won !1!!1eleventyone!!)
Points of Interest:
- The vapor lights make an early appearance in chapter 1.
- At one point, Ashleigh says, "We had some great years at Edgardale when I was young" and gives a "heavy sigh." Christina knows "her mother must be thinking about the horses they had lost because of the epidemic." Ah, very observant, Christina. Good thing you want to become a vet and not a psychologist.
- For the party, Christina wears a "sleeveless blue-and-white dress." Okay, we get it, Christina. You like your horsies. You are allowed to pick other colors, you know. Maybe something else would set off your ever-changing hair better.
- Jilly is described as the person who "jockeyed Ashleigh's Wonder until a broken leg kept her from racing, forcing Ashleigh to get her jockey's license so that she could ride Wonder in the Breeder's Cup." Which is actually mostly correct. +1 for Mary.