A Day at the Races
Fyfe lives on a struggling farm near Churchill Downs with her father, the famous jockey Roscoe Flynn, She sells peanuts at the racetrack and her father usually rides for their neighbor, Colonel Epsom. When the Flynn's have a mare die the same night that Epsom's Gilda loses her foal, their animal (named Shadow) stays with Gilda until Epsom flings the horse back at them. Living with the prize winning Gilda, however, has imbued Shadow with the strong desire to race. This comes in handy after Roscoe has a terrible accident during a race. When he is told that he will never ride again, the Colonel not only fires him, but refuses to take him on as an assistant to his trainer AND blackballs him in the racing community so he cannot find a job. Fyfe and her father struggle to make ends meet by farming, but the crops can only come in so fast. When they realize that Shadow is a great racer, they work on training him. Epsom, of course, makes a feeble attempt to take the animal from them, which only strengthens their resolve to make Shadow the best. Things rarely go smoothly, however, and even though Shadow wins a race, Fyfe's attempts at riding end badly twice. How can the Flynns, as well as Shadow, hold on to their dreams of winning the Derby?
There will always be middle grade readers, especially girls, who love a good horse story. Marguerite Henry has always been my go-to writer for these tales, but after 70 years, her books don't hold up as well as they used to. There are some good horse stories that have come out more recently-- Macadoo of the Maury River by Amateau, The Georges and the Jewels series by Smiley, and The outside of a horse by Rorby.
The small line drawings that accompany some of the chapters are rather charming, although I was a bit surprised when the horses started conversing among themselves. This is still a realistic fiction book, since the horses didn't talk to people, and they only discussed topics that horses would discuss.
Epsom reminded me of Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life in his single minded devotion to squashing the Flynn's for no apparently good reason. I definitely envisioned him as Lionel Barrymore in a stuffy suit, complete with bowler hat!
There are lots of details about racing and life at the track, and this seems to be set during a time around the Great Depression. It's not explicitly stated, but Fyfe wears wool pants and has to masquerade as a boy so she isn't disqualified, but there are automobiles. The struggles the small family face are realistic and met with a can-do attitude as well as some ingenuity.