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*The Black Stallion's Sulky Colt* by Walter Farley- young readers book review

Also by Walter Farley:

The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt

The Black Stallion's Sulky Colt
by Walter Farley
Ages 9-12 224 pages Yearling May 2006 Paperback    

Bonfire’s racing exploits continue in The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt by Walter Farley. All of the major characters from Farley’s previous book, The Black Stallion’s Blood Bay Colt, are here once again, with the addition of two people in particular: Alec Ramsey and Henry Dailey, who take over as the two main characters. Alec and Henry were both written about by Farley in the original The Black Stallion and others in the series, which come before his novels about Bonfire. As much as I liked The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt, at first it took a little getting used to the shift from having Tom Messenger, George, and Jimmy Creech around as much as they were in The Black Stallion’s Blood Bay Colt.

“Sulky” does not refer to the temperament of Bonfire, but rather to the type of cart that he and other harness-racing horses pull. The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt opens with Tom Messenger still on as the driver and trainer of Bonfire. Jimmy Creech, Bonfire’s owner, is recovering from stomach problems and the ulcer surgery he had in The Black Stallion’s Blood Bay Colt, but he is still pretty sick. Jimmy’s good friend, George, is there to be Jimmy’s surrogate, since he is not at one hundred percent, and to help Tom care for Bonfire and get him prepared to race. They are experiencing money problems once again and desperately need Bonfire to race well - and to get prepared to race at and win the Hambletonian, the most famous harness race of them all, which is only a couple of weeks away.

Enter Alec Ramsey, stage left. Alec, the current owner of the Black, Bonfire’s sire, has come to see how Bonfire is doing. He has heard a lot of good things about the now three-year-old colt. He is, himself, a jockey, and while jockeys in general want nothing to do with harness racers, to whom they refer as “tail-sitters,” he is intrigued and offers his assistance to Tom and George. Alec is about the same age as Tom though he looks a few years older; he knows the great responsibility to Jimmy that Tom is feeling, and that when a racer thinks he needs to win, he may often take risks that he ordinarily wouldn’t take.

This is exactly what happens without Tom even realizing it. During a night race at the Roosevelt Raceway, Tom tries “to take his colt through the small opening between Silver Knight and Lively Man.” When Silver Knight moves closer to Bonfire and the sulky shaft strikes the blood bay colt, Bonfire jumps suddenly and they go “down in a terrible huddled heap of thrashing legs and tangled sulkies.” Bonfire’s left foreleg gets pushed “through the wire spokes of Silver Knight’s sulky wheel” and has to be freed quickly before the horse tries to fight to pull it free, which could “easily rip a tendon and maim it for life.”

Tom knows that the Hambletonian is coming up fast, and despite the fall, he has Bonfire out on the track the very next day. He has to find out how Bonfire will handle being passed by another horse. Alec’s warning to him that he is rushing things too quickly is met by Tom unwelcomingly, but Alec is just trying to consider what’s best for both Tom and Bonfire. Sure enough, Bonfire rears up again, and though no one is hurt this time, Alec “felt certain that Tom’s impatience had ruined a truly great colt forever.”

Though Jimmy Creech has always insisted that his horses run “clean,” when Alec hits upon the idea that a blinder might work with time running short, Tom gives it a shot. To test it out, Alec drives a cart pulled by a brown gelding and attempts passing Bonfire on the right. Everything seems to be going okay until Alec gets past enough for Bonfire to see the gelding. The colt jumps up again, and Tom is thrown from the sulky onto the track. Bonfire isn’t hurt, but the sulky that Alec drives runs over Tom and breaks his thigh bone. He will need surgery and won’t be able to race again for six months.

This is when Alec begins to take over the storyline. He calls Black’s trainer, Henry Dailey, to come out to look at Bonfire and offer advice. Henry is hesitant at first, but because he and Jimmy are old friends even though they are involved in different types of racing, he finally shows up and takes over training Bonfire, and Alec becomes the colt’s new driver.

This was kind of disconcerting to me at first having read about Tom in The Black Stallion’s Blood Bay Colt and grown accustomed to him as Bonfire’s driver. It really does not seem to be the kind of thing Farley would have had Tom do in the previous book; even if he were feeling lots of pressure and responsibility--a major theme in the novels--it would be out of character to put either his or Bonfire’s careers in jeopardy. Still, it didn’t take me long to like Alec and Henry on their own merits. In all, The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt is ultimately even better written than Blood Bay, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes reading about horses and feel-good stories about fighting against all the odds and winning.

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  Douglas R. Cobb/2006 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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