Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Derby, Rachel, Badminton and oh, right, a horse book - Pretty Penny Farm (1987)

Calvin Borel takes a third Derby aboard Super Saver in yet another Kentucky Derby I forgot to watch (most years I completely forget until, oh, 8pm) The horse will run in the next race of the long-idle Triple Crown, Baltimore's Preakness Stakes, on May 15th, and I will remember that if only because NBC will broadcast a 90-minute look at the 2010 Rolex **** immediately before their Preakness coverage. So the Rolex program starts at 3pm, then they switch over to the Preakness at 4:30. Assuming the inevitable hockey playoff game doesn't go over. Which it will. NBC has a nice incentive to renew the Derby broadcast contract, which expires this year - the 2010 had the most viewers in 21 years. Just not me.

In other interesting racing news, the 2009 Horse Of The Year took a second loss last Friday. Rachel Alexandra lost the La Troienne (formerly the Louisville Distaff Stakes; the original La Troienne was renamed the Eight Belles Stakes in 2009) to Unrivaled Belle. She was second to Zardana in the March 13 New Orleans Ladies. Meanwhile, the Eight Belles Stakes was won by a filly whose name rivals the Derby winner's - Buckleupbuttercup. The Kentucky Oaks - the Derby for fillies, essentially - went to Blind Luck.

In other eventing news, Paul Tapner and Inonothing won the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trialslast weekend; Oliver Townend, who had the ugly fall at Rolex, is reportedly recovering from a cracked collarbone, sternum and ribs; and here in New Jersey, the Jersey Fresh 3-star and 2-star events begin on Thursday, May 6.

Horse Channel on NBC's Preakness and Rolex coverage
Baltimore Sun - Super Saver Headed On To Preakness
New York Times - Blind Luck Wins Kentucky Oaks By A Nose
Pedigree Query on Super Saver
WinStar Farm LLC
Todd Pletcher Racing Stables
Badminton Horse Trials
Jersey Fresh CCI
Horse Park of New Jersey

And because I realize that the whole news aspect of this blog is rather beside the point, if not actually suspect, a review of an actual horse book. Nice painting (can't find artist) but oh, the nostalgia of those superlong eighties polos.

Pretty Penny Farm

Joanne Hoppe

1987, Troll Books

"She's a creep! Sophie Chmielewski is a fat slob, that's what! Bouncing boobs! That's her nickname. Bouncing boobs!" Beth's voice rose higher and higher. "What are you trying to do to me? Everybody makes fun of her. I'll be the laughingstock of the school!"

15-year-old Beth Bridgewater does not react well to the news that her mother has not only arranged for them to spend the summer in New Hampshire on a farm, far from Beth's sleek crew of mean girls, she's also arranged for the queen bees' main target to join them there. Beth's a coward, a sidekick who frequently congratulates herself for being silently 'uncomfortable' with the way pals Amy and Tory treat Sophie, but she has no intention of joining the fat girl on the hot seat. And she knows very well what her "friends" will make of her spending time with the outcast. Parental plans prevail, however, sweetened with the promise that Beth, who loves to ride, can rent a horse for the whole summer.

Let's recap. Beth pulls a Grade A meltdown and says ugly, vicious things about a classmate while screaming like a banshee at her parents, and is rewarded with a horse.

Ah, for parents like that. Back to the plot.

At the farm, Beth falls immediately for a spirited chestnut Thoroughbred whose owner Dave, the secretive college-aged son of the farm owner, reluctantly agrees to let her have him for the summer. Sophie, who Beth is pointedly ignoring, hesitantly agrees to use the quiet mare Dolly.

Charmin' tossed his head, putting pressure on the bit. He did a little sideways dance as she kept him in check. "Wanta run, don't you, boy?" His energy seemed to flow into her knees as she tightened them against him. "Go on, then." She tried to ease him into a canter, but he quickly broke from it and they pounded up the gentle incline. The horse took great bounding leaps into the air. Exhilerated, she crouched lower in the saddle, her heart thudding against his neck as he gathered speed. With so much power under her, she was on the edge of control.

This little 'canter' turns into a chance for Beth to ride Charmin' at the local racetrack, where a high school friend of Dave's is preparing a filly for a race. She has a ball, but when Dave finds out he's angry. In fact, he's unusually angry every time someone mentions how fast Charmin' is, and he becomes downright prickly whenever anyone mentions how odd it is that Dave won the horse in a bet during his first semester at the University of Virginia - and that the horse's former owner, a wealthy family of racehorse breeders, gave him up. It becomes pretty clear where that plot is headed.

Meanwhile, Beth is slowly, reluctantly and with maximum nastiness coming to appreciate that Sophie is - wait for it - human too. Beth suspiciously listens as her mother draws the uneasy fat girl into revealing that her mother is dead, that they used to live in a friendly Polish-American neighborhood, that her and her father are very close, etc. Could it be that this freakish girl could be more than the sum of her 30 extra pounds? Really, Beth actually calculates how much excess fat Sophie's carrying around, and likens it to a toddler or 6 bags of sugar. Luckily for Beth's growth as a human, she does finally break down and befriend the fat girl, who accepts her overtures with a grace that seems either mentally lacking or superhuman, considering their prior relationship. Together, they break the case of Why Is Dave So Cranky All The Time? and Why Is Charmin' So Freaky Fast If His Racehorse Breeder Owners Gambled Him Away?

A pretty cover, but a disappointing book. The action scenes are not bad, the atmosphere is workable, the main character is certainly strong (if repulsive) but it just doesn't work out. Too many odd bits of dialogue interupt the action, and far too many minor characters clutter the stage. Charmin' is limited to being a plot device, and Sophie isn't even given that much respect; she's treated as a vehicle for Beth's personal growth, meekly acquiescing to her hosts' decision to put her on a diet and even change her name.

Horse oddities - it seems odd that nobody questions handing a 15-year-old kid a young Thoroughbred stallion as a pet.


I googled "Chmielewski" and discovered it means, basically, 'one from the place of the hops.' Interesting, given that the author's name is Hoppe.


Dolly - bay mare

Charmin' - chestnut stallion with blaze

Josie's Babe - racehorse


Hoppe wrote only four books, all teen thrillers. Only Pretty Penny Farm has a horse aspect.

Dream Spinner

The Lesson Is Murder

April Spell


Joanne Hoppe died in 2001. She was an English teacher in Greenwich, CT for 21 years.


Troll was established in 1958, based in NJ. The once healthy company entered a fatal run through a series of buyers starting in 1995, when Penguin parent company Pearson bought 49%. At some point it became Troll Communications. Canadian megacompany Torstar Corporation bought it in 1997, and it went to private equity firm Willis Stein in 1999. They sold the company's book fair operation, once a rival to Scholastic's, to Scholastic in 2001. The remainder was sold to a private equity fund, Quad Venture Partners LLC in 2002. Troll filed for bankruptcy in 2003, owning over $3 million to its printer.


Moggypie said...

Your book review reminds me of a story I read back when I was in my early teens that made me so angry I threw it across the room even though it was a library book, a cateogry which I usually treated with Utmost Respect. In brief--horse crazy girl spends summer at a ranch, comes home, now thinks horses are a silly passion if they're just used for idle pleasure, suddenly focuses on non-equine things, and voila, the school votes her to be president of the student council. They practically carry her on their shoulders. That last chapter showed me I'd been hoodwinked into reading a morality tale about How Limiting It Is to Be Horse Crazy.

Hmph. And nobody ever handed over the reins to any Thoroughbred stallions to me when I was a kid.

Sarah said...

Me neither. #*(@%#$*

Your book - which intrigues me, as I've never come across it - reminds me of a similar stealth message horsey book I once read. Two boys, a ranch, a palomino stallion - perfect, right? Then on page 2, Billy turned to Jimmy and gravely asked him if he'd ever accepted Christ as his personal savior. Argh! Those sneaky Christian publishers!

Moggypie said...

LOL! Yes, my own horse-crazy kid nearly fell for a whole series like that. Anytime big agendas like that appear by surprise in a book, it's like discovering that the nice chicken stir-fry you're enjoying actually contains gizzards (if you're not a gizzard aficionado, that is).

Wish I could remember the name of that awful horse book for you. I am quite sure that being so dreadful it simply did not stand the test of time and probably was disposed of in a library sale at some point.