By Mary Newhall
Christina saved Star from a stalker, but can she protect him from Brad Townsend?
When Christina first moved Star to Townsend Acres to keep him safe from his stalker, she couldn't stand the thought of keeping him under Brad's roof. But now that they've settled in, she can't complain: The facilities are great and Brad is keeping a polite distance. But just when Christina begins to let down her guard, she makes a shocking discovery. …
It turns out Brad is under a great deal of pressure from his investors to produce more moneymaking horses—horses bred from winners like Star and Light Fandango, a descendant of the famous Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer. Christina begins to suspect that Brad will force her to breed Star with one of his mares as payment for boarding Star. Christina will do anything to keep Star safe from Brad, but will she have a choice?
This is probably the most accurate summary I've read lately. In fact, I considered just copy and pasting the first paragraph below, because that's basically the deal: Townsend Acres is beautiful and well-managed, but Christina and Melanie wonder what on earth they're doing there. Of course, you have to deduct about six points for the two famous horsie references in the second paragraph.
Oh man. I'm pretty sure this travesty was the reason I wanted to get back into writing recaps. That, and because it pays so well. Anyway, the style is just completely bizarre, sort of like a cross between anime and CGI. Or is anime all computer-generated these days anyway? Well, whatever. It looks 100% strange and cartoonish. Christina's eyes (assuming that's Christina) are as big as Star's and I guess it's just the angle at which she's lovingly and protectively lying across his neck, but she also looks like the fattest jockey in existence.
So after Christina's questionable taste in new friends, she retreats to Townsend Acres with Star, even though the stalker left for California at the end of the last book. I'm not completely clear on why Christina didn't just take Star back to Whitebrook and agree not to befriend any more weirdo stalkers, but I guess they had to get Christina to TA somehow, since, as we all know, Melanie isn't good enough to carry a plot on her own. I mean, it wasn't good enough that Melanie wanted to be a jockey and Christina wanted to event, oh nooooo, Christina had to want to race too. Whatever. So Melanie is working with Jinx, who is even crazier than Image. She's also agreed to let Brad breed Image to Celtic Mist.
The first third or so of this book involves Townsend Acres being beautiful and well-managed, but Christina and Melanie wondering what on earth they're doing there. Christina overhears Brad and Lavinia talking about a syndicate meeting that Brad has to attend. Apparently this means that Brad sells shares of his horses to investors so he can keep having cash to make improvements to his beautiful, well-managed farm.
Brad invites Christina and Melanie to dine with him (complete with "chilled forks"—is that a thing?) and asks them to exercise-ride some horses for Ralph Dunkirk. Most of this dinner is actually taken up by Brad's snide comments about Christina and her parents. Confession time: I am not a big Brad fan. I don't think he's Batman and I had a really hard time writing that Brad/Ashleigh challenge ficlet that Mara asked for one time. But here he's probably the most interesting he's been since the OG books because everything he says is true: Ashleigh and Mike have never really shown off Whitebrook. Almost every great winner they've had did come from TA bloodlines (except for Glory, and TA owns half of Glory anyway). Brad says, "The animals we breed and train are income-producing stock. The challenge of breeding for racing excellence, to become the best, is what it's all about." Christina counters with, "Horses are glorious, magnificent creatures with personalities, and there's nothing so wonderful as connecting with one of them," and while that's probably what we're supposed to think, it sounds pretty ridiculous right this moment. There was an early Saddle Club book that featured horse-racing and Carole coming to the realization that some horses are not just for fun and worth a couple hundred or maybe a thousand dollars; for some, they are big money and it's almost like they're not the same animal as a pleasure horse at all. Sorry, Christina, but I think you lose this round.
Oh, and this is so important that it gets its own paragraph: after Christina's little declaration, Brad comes back with, "I don't need to get attached to the horses to enjoy the benefits they provide me." I guess maybe it's true; he never did love another horse after they had to destroy Townsend Prince.
Christina rides some horses with incredibly stupid names: Townsend's Silver Spoon, TA Illumination, and Pride's Light Fandango. Light Fandango is the one who's supposed to be important, because he has Northern Dancer bloodlines (famous horsie reference of the book). Also, I think some of those names exceed the 18-character limit, unless that's supposed to mean "Silver Spoon who belongs to Townsend" and "Light Fandango who belongs to Pride" … no, that doesn't make any sense.
Surprising no one, Light Fandango is amazing and all that. Ralph asks her to ride him in the Kentucky Cup. At first Christina says no, because "Brad would never want me to race a Townsend Acres horse." Ralph says that's true (zing!) but they need a jockey, so Christina says yes. Jinx has been performing well, so Melanie plans to enter him in the Kentucky Cup. She can't believe it when Christina says she's agreed to ride Light Fandango for TA. Christina tells Ashleigh, who is clearly pissed but decides to go the passive-aggressive route and say she doesn't mind.
The Kentucky Cup happens (that was quick). Melanie wins on Jinx, Christina brings Light Fandango in second, one of Ghyllian Hollis' colts runs third, and a Whitebrook horse named American Jazz is fourth. Light Fandango is really tired, so Ralph says they'll leave him at the track overnight. Christina gets back to TA just in time to find Brad showing off for the investors, who do not seem impressed. They don't want Celtic Mist's bloodlines, they want a Wonderpony, and Brad failed in his quest to get Champion back to TA. They ask if Star will stand stud at TA.
Christina freaks out and wants to move Star right away, accusing Brad of planning this. Brad just rolls his eyes and tells her, "I didn't find someone to stalk your horse so that I could offer to let you keep Star here, I didn't call my foreign investors and invite them to have an unplanned stockholders' meeting so that I could show off Star and Image, and I didn't tell them Star is mine." Brad tries three different tactics: first he tells her, "We're really not all that different, you and I. We both like to compete and we both like to win. … For all your righteousness, you're as aggressive and focused as I am. The big difference is that I recognize it in myself, and I'm okay with it." When that doesn't work, he says that if she loves Parker, she should want Brad to be successful so he can inherit TA someday. When that still doesn't work, Brad tells her that if she takes Star away from TA, he'll buy Image from Jazz. Well, that does it. Christina's not sure what to do.
Melanie gets back to the farm and gets a call from Jazz. Turns out Brad has already made the offer, and Jazz is considering it. Melanie is heartbroken.
Christina spends several pages stewing and moping, until she comes up with a brilliant plan. (Note generous use of "brilliant" in that sentence.) She goes to Whitebrook to talk it over with Ashleigh and Mike. They agree, but to draw out the suspense, we don't find out what the plan is for about 10 pages.
Christina goes back to TA with a ginormous check for Brad—the amount of money she won in the Belmont. Christina says it's to pay for Image's therapy and for Brad to relinquish his interest in her first foal. She and Brad get to do a little more verbal sparring, in which Brad tells her that "I get the same thrill out of cutting a smart business deal as you get winning a race. We have different priorities, but it's all about using your skills to come in first," and Christina can't really disagree. In the end, Brad agrees, but adds one condition to the deal: "A breeding with Star to the mare of my choice." Christina figures he's just trying to get a foal out of Image, so she stipulates, "Any mare that is owned by TA." Brad grimaces and says, "You outmaneuvered me on that one," which I don't really get. I mean, they haven't signed anything, so they could just as easily continue to argue about it (though maybe the whole point is that Christina figured out what Brad was trying to get out of the condition?). Christina's final condition is that Brad not tell Melanie or Parker about their deal. Brad tells Christina that he'll call Jazz and she should get off the farm that night.
Then we have one more chapter in which Image is no one's Wonderpony and refuses to get on the damn trailer, and Christina and Melanie go back to Whitebrook and we end with a scene so sappy it rivals Full House, in which "all the nice stuff in the world doesn't mean a thing if it doesn't feel like home." Thanks, Ashleigh. That would mean a lot more coming from you if you weren't the worst mother since Alice Wakefield.
Points of Interest:
- Ah, OG canon check: passed! "Aunt Caroline" did indeed date Brad before he met Lavinia.
- Melanie is thinking of "Misty Image" as a name for the foal. That's great Mel, because we don't have enough horses that sound like My Little Ponies. I guess that's better than Perfect Celtic.
- One of the investors says that Townsend Pride "hasn't sired a foal of any renown for years." If he were still alive, he'd been awfully old by this time. In Ashleigh's Diary he is four, which I've always thought was a bit of a weird retcon given that Wonder would have been conceived that year, and the way they were talking about Townsend Pride's foals, it seemed like he'd been at stud for a lot longer than that. But okay, if we accept that he was born when Ashleigh was seven, he'd be 35 years old now. Maybe he needs horse Viagra.
Next up: Sorry, I forgot that The Price of Fame hadn't been recapped, so next it really is the Samantha weddingfest of Bridal Dreams.