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Item - Race of the Year

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Series: Choose Your Own Adventure for Younger Readers — no. 49
Translated Into: La carrera del año (Spanish)
Author: Montgomery, R. A.
Illustrator: Tang, Susan
Date: May, 1989
ISBN: 0553156969 / 9780553156966
Length: 51 pages
Number of Endings: 5
User Summary: You have been asked to watch your uncle Bill's horse, Straight Shooter, to be sure that nothing happens to him before he is entered in the Kentucky Derby.
Demian's Thoughts:

There's a higher text-to-choice ratio than usual here. This aids the story but seriously cuts down the replay value; having only five endings doesn't allow for too much diversity.

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KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts:

Long, textured narrative segments aren't what the Bantam Skylark Choose Your Own Adventure series is known for, but R. A. Montgomery attempts something of the sort in Race of the Year. With only four decisions and five endings, there's room to develop a richer story, like some entries in the main Choose Your Own Adventure series. You are a lucky kid: your uncle is Bill Kirkpatrick, a horse breeder who has allowed you to be the caretaker for his star racehorse, Straight Shooter. Uncle Bill hired renowned trainer Fred Grady to prepare Shooter for his racing career, but it was you who fed and groomed him every day. This afternoon, Shooter will run in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, a race sure to define his legacy. You, Uncle Bill, and Fred would be jubilant if not for a rumor that someone plans to sabotage him. You have volunteered to personally guard Shooter, but this plan hits a speed bump when a man in a business suit comes to the stables at Churchill Downs and tells you Uncle Bill was in a car accident in the parking lot. Sick with worry, your impulse is to go, but you promised not to leave Shooter for a moment. What should you do?

One can't blame you for dashing off to the parking lot, but something sinister is going on. You find there was an accident, but your uncle isn't involved. A cold sensation in your stomach tells you that leaving Shooter was a mistake; you must get back before he is harmed. Should you alert Churchill Downs Security, or head back to the stables on your own? If you go to security, precious seconds tick by while you relay your story. The officers order all exits closed until Shooter is confirmed safe, but a communication disruption at Exit B has them worried an abduction is in progress. Should you run there and confront any would-be thieves, or leave it to the police? If you elect not to involve security in the first place, everything seems okay when you return to Shooter's stall, but you can't shake the feeling that something is wrong. You may not discover the problem in time to preserve his shot at the Kentucky Derby crown...or to save his life.

What if you don't go to the parking lot after the report of Uncle Bill's accident, insisting he would want you to stay with Shooter? The man in the business suit changes his tune immediately, and claims he was kidding about the emergency. He leaves without giving his name. You've been on guard duty with Shooter for a long time and haven't had a real chance to see Churchill Downs, so when Uncle Bill returns he sends you to relax a while and have fun. You could have a quick breakfast, or scout out the horses competing against Shooter a few hours from now. This turns out to be perhaps the pivotal decision of the book. Returning from breakfast you learn that José Verdi, Shooter's jockey, has food poisoning and cannot ride. Because of your close relationship with Shooter, Uncle Bill wanted to substitute you as his jockey despite your total lack of experience, but he couldn't find you soon enough and had to pick another jockey. Can Joachim Concha ride Shooter to glory, or did your breakfast cost you and Shooter both the championship? If you skip breakfast and scout the other Derby horses—including Desperate Devil, Shooter's chief rival—then you're in luck when your uncle sends a jockey to ask that you replace José as Shooter's rider. Being slated to ride in the Kentucky Derby is a surreal feeling, but no one has a more intuitive connection with Shooter than you. Years of hard work and sacrifice by Uncle Bill, Fred, and yourself will come down to two minutes on a dirt track. Can you and Shooter pull off a miracle that will be spoken of with awe in the annals of sport?

Race of the Year is smoother and somewhat deeper than most Bantam Skylark Choose Your Own Adventure, but it falls well short of excellence. Our emotional connection to Shooter could be a lot stronger, and the narrative consistency is sketchy; in one story branch you identify the real Shooter from an impostor by a secret mark you put on his riding gear, but in a parallel branch you never mention the mark, though doing so might have saved Shooter's life. Certain aspects of the story are implausible, but its overall gravitas is fairly compelling. Susan Tang's artwork is pretty good; she's mainly known as illustrator for Ann M. Martin's long-running Baby-Sitters Little Sister series from the 1980s and '90s. Race of the Year isn't R. A. Montgomery's best, but I appreciate the shift in style from most entries in the series. It makes for a more absorbing read.

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