Beyond There be Dragons

We are heading into uncharted territory. Finally, after seven years of training, we have a Good Horse. And that means the weeks ahead are about to get quite interesting.

I thought Ella Diva was quite a nice filly when I bought her out of a claiming race for my English owner. We’d been looking for a horse for months, tried to claim a few and failed, and were getting increasingly frustrated at the process. But we kept hunting, and in late June at Clairefontaine, there was a claiming race for two-year-olds that looked promising. We liked two or three on paper, and Ella Diva was one of them. When I saw her in the parade ring, she ticked all the boxes. Physically, she was just about perfect – not too big, but well put together, with straight legs, a clear eye and good, harmonious muscle. Even more impressive was her demeanor. She had only run once before, when she debuted a winner in Craon, but she was strolling the parade ring like she had done it a hundred times – calm, confident, paying no attention to other young horses acting silly.

She ran like an old pro, too, relaxing in midfield and then accelerating smartly to win when it was time to get serious. She looked like the real deal, and my owner agreed. She was in for the top price of 40,000 euros, so to be sure we got her we put in 43,511. Not too many horses get claimed for that kind of money, and the trainer said he wouldn’t defend, which made me slightly nervous until he explained that he had only paid 8,000 euros for her as a yearling, so with the two wins and selling for that price, he and his owners would make a more than tidy profit. I was even more nervous when the claiming box was opened and ours was the only bid. Turns out, I needn’t have worried.

Ella settled into our yard like she’d been there her whole life. She didn’t seem to care where she was, as long as there was a good bed to sleep in (there was) and a regular supply of good food (there was that, too). I had claimed her to race at the week-long summer festival in Vichy, and she trained up to that race perfectly. It was a step up in company, and Ella was perhaps mildly surprised at the effort required to win, because she managed it only by a nose. But win she did, so now it was time to play some serious poker. Could she step up again? We came back to Vichy two weeks later for a Listed race, the Prix Jouvenceaux et Jouvencelles. And she did it again, but showing tougher stuff this time. She was headed in the stretch, but fought back just enough to get a head in front when it counted.

And now, all of a sudden, we are in possession of an undefeated, black-type two-year-old filly. That, of course, is when the phone starts ringing. We have offers for eight times what we paid for her. The smart money says “sell.” She has done what we have asked, but only just, and she will now have to face much, much tougher company. Can she do it? The stakes have been raised considerably.

Her owners are no strangers to racing, and they know that the Good Horse comes along only rarely, if at all. If they sell, they will buy two or three more – and probably not have one as good. Or maybe they will.

We got together the other night for dinner to celebrate the Listed win. It was a family affair, there was singing, laughing and drinking out of the trophy. Selling, for the moment, doesn’t look likely. Who can blame them? The logical program for this filly is a Group 3 race in Chantilly, then on to a Group 1 try at Longchamp on Arc Day. We’re entered for Chantilly, and we’ll enter for Longchamp, too. For the moment, the owners want to go all in. Should be quite the game!

5 thoughts on “Beyond There be Dragons”

  1. Congratulations on her recent success. And bravo to the owners who are willing to ride this out in spite of lucrative offers.

    Appreciate the poker analogy; I’m a part time player who has now used my profits to pay for a passport and half airfare to Paris.

  2. I played golf with a stakeholder in Dabirsim on Tenerife.A few weeks before having to be retired they were offered 10 million.Good luck to you and the owners.

  3. Generally,take the money is the name of the game, especially with winning two year olds, but sometimes your heart rules your head.
    It would be a fantastic rags to riches story, if the filly can crack itin Group company,

  4. Outstanding! Ella Diva lives up to her name and the door cracks open to having a Big Horse. You chose her, you trained her, it’s what you’ve been working for and the owners want a Big Horse, too. Seize the day!

    But be wily. Is the straight path of big jumps to a G1 on Arc day as a 2 year old the only path for Ella Diva? I ask because of the concern you mentioned about her shorter margins of victory. Unless she burns out she’ll be better at 3 and still better at 4, so it’s an option to give her more time to mature and shop for a G3 that will suit her. Her value will go way up with a win and the owners will be encouraged. You’re the trainer and you know the race record of her dam and sire and their other progeny which could indicate her timeline of development.

    PS I’ve been following the progeny of Invasor who has been very disappointing as a stallion. He’s an anti-precocity sire, totally out of line with US racing where the Triple Crown is the Holy Grail. His offspring don’t show real speed until they are older. His handfull of stakes winners were 4,5 & 6 and had wily trainers. Very few looked good at 2 and those didn’t train on (no exception!). That’s what’s behind the post, hopefully it’s not relevant.

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