Tuesday, August 25, 2009

They Shoot Horses, Don't They

Marguerite Henry is most famous for her Chincoteague books, but she's also written many other books, mostly about horses or ponies. I just read Black Gold, which tells the story of a real Kentucky Derby winner. It has the strong bond between a jockey and his horse, and lots of good detail about the life of Black Gold and his mom, but reading it as an adult I found it hard to concentrate on the main character when the men around him were behaving so shamefully.

Al Hoots owns Black Gold's mother, and wins everything in sight with her, apparently because of this great trainer he's found. Then he loses the right to race after he reneges on a "claim" race that his all-wise Indian wife asks him not to enter. He comes home with a plan to race the mare's foal by registering it in his wife's name, and sends the horse off with the trainer to a Kentucky stud farm. Then he dies, and is much mourned by everyone who apparently doesn't mind that he's an idiot.

Black Gold grows up to be small but fast, and loses a lot of races under the care of the acclaimed but useless trainer, Webb. Luckily, our human hero, jockey Jaydee, has grown up and fallen in love with the horse, so he talks the trainer into hiring him (a bit of a hard sell, because our incompetent trainer thinks he's a cheat). Jaydee and Black Gold understand each other, and start winning everything in sight, including the Derby. Webb lets the fame go to his head and enters the horse in a zillion races until he gets injured. Then great-trainer Webb ignores all advice and races the horse some more. Jaydee finds that only an operation will save Black Gold, so he arranges everything and quits. Trainer promises to do the operation, but forgets because it seems like too much effort. Then he races Black Gold some more, the horse breaks his leg, and dies. Everyone is sad, but figures that the horse would have wanted to go out racing.

Indian Wife (the owner?) is completely ignored. I sure hope she found a good lawyer to sue the pants off that so-called trainer. My copy of the book is dated 1992, which made me very uncomfortable with the depiction of Indians, but I believe the book was written in 1957, so I cut it more slack. It's written in a cheerful and hero-seeking manner that is very typical of many older kids books; I sure hope I would have noticed the callous and unscrupulous behavior of the men as a kid, because the text is very kind to them. B-

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