Book Review: The Black Stallion Challenged by Walter Farley
Alec Ramsay and his faithful trainer Henry Dailey are wintering in Hialeah, Florida, where they hope to race their prize horse, the Black Stallion. Provided, of course, that the Black has fully recovered from the hoof injury he received some months back. One day Alec receives a piece of fan mail asking for his help. It seems that young Steve Duncan has a horse he’d like to race, a stallion named Flame…if he can convince the racetrack officials to let him.
Unbeknownst to Alec or Steve, Flame and the Black have met before, and feel a strong rivalry towards each other. Plus, Steve needs to make a lot of money very quickly, in order to save Flame’s island home. The stage is set for a thrilling match between the two great stallions!
This is the sixteenth in the Stallion series penned by Walter Farley, and the last that’s a straight-up horse racing story. There’s some time compression involved; the first book, The Black Stallion, clearly takes place in 1940 when it was written, and this volume takes place in 1964, but the Black is most assuredly not twenty-four years older.
However, the main attraction of the series is less the plausibility of the setting (one book had aliens!) and more the detailed descriptions of horse care and racing, and Mr. Farley delivers well in this volume. (Some details are different–the rules of horse racing have changed since the 1960s, let alone the 1940s.) The final race in particular is exciting as the outcome is in doubt until the horses pass the finish line.
The Stallion series is nominally children’s books, so I should mention that there is an operation on an injured horse that may be too intense a scene for sensitive readers. Several characters smoke; one specifically mentions that he neither smokes nor drinks alcohol for his health. I am told there’s period racism and sexism in some of the volumes, but this one manages to avoid that.
The book starts slowly; a one-page letter gets stretched over an entire chapter in a manner that does not build suspense in the mind of anyone who read the back cover copy. A couple of scenes stuff a lot of telling about the personalities of supporting characters in, rather than showing by their actions. And to be honest, Alec, Henry and Steve are not deep characters. (Steve’s a bit more of a hothead here than in his solo appearances.)
But all of that pales compared to the exciting race scenes and the bond between the riders and their horses. The hardback edition with illustrations by Angie Draper may be hard to find, but there are inexpensive paperback reprints which you can probably get through interlibrary loan. Recommended to young horse lovers and horse lovers young at heart.
And now, the trailer for The Black Stallion movie, starring Mickey Rooney as Henry Dailey. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GlZJ4wVLdA