Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Black Stallion's Filly (1952)

The Black Stallion's Filly
Walter Farley, il. Milton Menasco
1952, Random House

Black Minx came into the ring held firmly by the white-coated attendants who handled all the horses up for sale. She was coal black and small. She had a quick, competent walk as she was led about the ring, and it was apparent to those who watched her that her limited size was misleading, for she had more muscle than was noticeable at first glance. Her head was light and beautiful with great breadth between sharp eyes, a slightly dished nose, a narrow muzzle and sensitive nostrils. Her only disfigurement was a short tail, so short that it was barely more than a stump.

Henry Daily, bored with life on Hopeful Farm after he retires Satan from the track, decides to buy himself a racehorse. He buys a two-year-old filly by the Black despite her dubious history (she took her last jockey through the rail, breaking his collarbone), sure he can fix her. Alec, content to stay home at the farm, isn't so sure, but in his quiet, reliable way decides not to argue but do everything he can to help his old friend achieve his goal - to have this wild, wilfull, contrary filly whose last race ended in the infield, ready to run in America's premiere classic, the Kentucky Derby. And win.

...[Alec] went back in memory to the days when Henry had taken him and the Black under his wing, when Henry had encouraged him to race the Black because he had confidence in Alec's ability to handle the stallion on the racetrack. At the time, Henry's enthusiasm had sounded just as fantastic... But it had turned out the way Henry had said it would. He had ridden the Black to victory over the best horses in the country.

First, Henry and Alec have to fix the filly's horrible ground manners, which include biting and kicking. In a sequence which is ground indelibley into the minds of anyone who reads the book, Henry finally resorts to a baked potato to cure Black Minx's willingness to bite. I won't spoil it by quoting, but that chapter alone makes the book worth reading.

While Henry is the trainer, Alec is the jockey and he quickly realizes that the filly's other issues are nothing compared to her indifference to racing. She has speed, but when Alec tries to work her faster, the filly placidly continues at the same pace as before, ignoring his urging to speed up. Henry's face, always grim, matches the winter weather of their New York state farm as he ponders how to best Black Minx and make her a racehorse.

In the meantime, Henry and Alec watch the televised races of warm-weather racing from Florida and California, where other Derby hopefuls are being honed. California darling Golden Vanity shows blistering speed in winning the Santa Anita Derby, Eastern colt Silver Jet lives up to his status as an early Derby favorite by winning the Flamingo Stakes, a filly named Lady Lee in the Louisiana Derby, and Wintertime and Eclipse in the Experimental.

An interesting book in that gruff, rough Henry has something personal on the line this time, and even loyal Alec sometimes wonders if he's seeing clearly. Farley's racing books tended to give the reader an extensive look at the competition, which creates a sense of realism, showing Henry and Alec studying the races of the horses and jockeys they'll be going up against in the Derby.

Black Minx - black filly
Golden Vanity - 17h chestnut colt
Moonstruck - bay colt
Silver Jet - grey colt
Lady Lee - filly
Wintertime - blood bay colt
Eclipse - brown colt

Ruth Sanderson paperback from the 1970s.

The most recent paperback edition.


Christina Wilsdon said...

Thanks for sharing! I remember the baked potato episode well--as a young girl I recall stowing that bit of info away along with M. Henry's admonition in "Album of Horses" to warm a bit on a cold winter day instead of just jamming frozen metal into a horse's mouth; I vowed never to do the latter, and to keep in mind the potato trick when I had to deal with a vicious filly...LOL, I've never had an occasion to use either bit of wisdom!

Dom said...

Great blog :) Always looking for good horse books. The Thoroughbred series is my guilty pleasure.