The white pigeon showed up about four weeks ago. The yard lab Vladamir the Impaler was the first to notice him, of course, and sat fixated on the roof where the pigeon perched, looking out of his element trying to grip the clay tiles that the ordinary pigeons navigated with ease. I pointed him out to Agata, who glanced up and said “It’s God. He’s here to check on us.” It was, after all, just after Pentecost, if you believe in that sort of thing, so the timing would be about right.
I don’t know if God had anything to do with it, but our first two runners after he showed up were both in the money: Grey Falcon was second in Angers and Gorki Park was third at Longchamp. God then disappeared for a few days, and it was probably a coincidence, but Eternal Gift’s comeback race at Le Lion d’Angers couldn’t have gone worse. God must have decided that the food wherever he went wasn’t as good as the stuff he was getting in our yard, so he came back. No one told Gold Knight, though, and he ran a dismal race in Chantilly.
Just after that, God got brave enough to start eating out of our hands. As a matter of fact, he preferred it that way, because the other, ordinary pigeons kept their distance, so God got all the food. God had pretty much settled in by the time Grey Falcon and Hard Way headed down to Durtal, where Grey Falcon ran a good fourth and confirmed he was starting to understand the game and Hard Way ran 6th, a good effort after six months off in a race that was too short for him.
God is getting quite fat now, and I’ve said that if he attains the size of the neighboring trainer’s chickens, we’ll have to eat him. This suggestion didn’t go down well with some in the yard, who argued that he was clearly bringing good luck. We’ll get a chance to see whether or not that is the case on Sunday, when Deep Ocean runs the nightcap on the French Oaks card. It is a pretty good entry for him, and I’ve given him plenty of time to prepare. Deep will the third runner I’ve had on Oaks Day, and I haven’t had much luck so far. Something always seems to go wrong, and I’ve decided that next year, unless we have a horse in the big race itself, I will be watching the Oaks from the comfort of my couch.
But who knows? Maybe God can turn things around. He’s been eating a handful of Red Mills High-Oil Racehorse mix morning and night, and he certainly seems to be doing well on it. He prefers that to the other blends, like Cool Mix for horses not in work or Endurance Mix, which is meant to put on weight. He is now twice the size of the normal, grey-and-speckled pigeons, and he cuts quite an imposing figure, snow-white with red feet and a pink beak. We have no idea where he came from or how long he’ll stay, but as long as the horses are running well, God can keep eating out of the palm of my hand morning and night.
It’s hard to believe it’s almost June, when the weather says November. But the yard is rolling along, and we are making big plans for the summer, in the hopes that it one day might come.
Grey Falcon has finally turned the page, and while he is still galloping quite green, the jumping in training has helped his coordination and he ran a very good second in Angers last week, beaten just a short head. It’s doubly good news considering he still has quite a bit of improving to do. We’ll keep jumping in training, and he might eventually run over hurdles because he really seems to like it and is a nice big horse, so he’s built for it. Meanwhile, though, he’ll continue on the flat. His next target is June 9 at a country meeting in Durtal, a race that might well also see Hard Way make his long-awaited comeback. There is a new series of races at various country tracks and the prize money is nice, so we’ll probably try to run a few of these. The one on June 9 is a 2,200-meter handicap, which suits both horses. The other two options for Hard Way are closer to home, but not as attractive: a mile handicap at St. Cloud, a track he loves but a distance that is really far too short, and a 2,400-meter handicap in Maisons-Laffitte, which is the right distance but the wrong track. Hard Way hates Maisons-Laffitte, so there’s really no point in bothering with it.
Gorki Park will go back to Longchamp on Wednesday where he’ll have another crack at the second division of the Quinte handicap, the same sort of race he won in St. Cloud. He gave us a scare last week when he got loose and banged himself up a bit, but he’s a tough little horse and seems, thankfully, no worse for wear. A stirrup broke when his rider was pulling him up, the saddle turned and the rest, as they say, is history. Unfortunately these kind of things happen from time to time, and we were lucky things ended up OK. Despite his handicap penalty for the win, he still will have a chance on Wednesday with a decent draw. We’ll know post positions tomorrow.
Deep Ocean is preparing to run a nice handicap on June 16, the day of the Prix de Diane at Chantilly. He’s had a tough spring season, so we’ve taken the foot off the gas a bit to have him good and ready for Chantilly, which will be a very nice race for him. Our new recruit Gold Knight did not run a great race in Chantilly in his debut for us and his new owners, Foxtrot Racing, but he’s coming on and should do fine once we get him situated. He stumbled coming out of the gate and almost landed on his nose, so we’ll have to throw that race out and look ahead. He is likely to run a handicap on June 5 here in Maisons-Laffitte. He’s still too highly rated, so even if he doesn’t finish in the money, it will do to get his rating down for better races this summer.
Eternal Gift is just about ready for his comeback after his big equipment change. He’s doing very well and I’m looking forward to having him back as a gelding. He doesn’t seem to notice that anything is missing, except that he’s finding it easier to gallop without the burden of manhood. His comeback race is likely to be June 4 in Lion d’Angers.
Two more horses are rounding out the team for summer: King Driver is back and new recruit Not Bad for a Boy has joined him. They have been in pre-training with Xavier Richard and hopefully it won’t take too long to get them up and running. We had a lot of health problems with King last year after we discovered he had picked up a tapeworm, which led to all sorts of complications. He was put away for winter and has been in light work for a few months now, and he looks very well. I had forgotten what a wonderful long stride he has. If his health doesn’t fail him this year, he should be a very interesting horse to watch. Not Bad was a very promising two-year-old in England but then had a dismal three-year-old season after gelding. He’s starting over now in France and he looks promising, too.
Now all wee need is the weather to cooperate and we’ll be in for a good summer. We’ve already started off the year very well, and I’m looking forward to continuing the good form we’ve seen so far this spring.
Our spring season has been made considerably brighter by Deep Ocean’s untiring efforts and the revelation of Gorki Park, who has shown us he knows how to be a proper racehorse.
Deep ran 4th in the big handicap a week ago at Longchamp, showing he does have the ability to run competitively in tough company despite his heavy penalty in the handicap ratings. He may have another crack on May 18th over the 2,000-meter straight course here in Maisons-Laffitte, or he may wait a bit longer. At some point he’s likely to come off form a bit, because he’s been working hard and running great. The problem is he really can’t ever have much of a break, because he gets too fresh around the yard and turnout time isn’t an option given the state of his legs. He just has to keep training until he decides he doesn’t want to any more, and he seems quite far from that point. Horses with arthritis issues are like people – you can’t stop moving or you’ll stop permanently. In any case, he seems to be good spirits and happy to keep working, so we’ll keep working. His fourth place in the Tierce netted him another 6,690 euros and brought his career earnings to 105,000, making him our first horse to top 100,000 euros. (In all fairness, he already had 30,000 on the books when he came to me, so I can’t claim total credit.)
Gorki Park, meanwhile, confirmed his promising second place at Longchamp with a win at St. Cloud last Wednesday. He overcame a horrible draw and really gutted out the finish, because about 100 meters from home he looked like he might be beaten. But he fought to the wire with the second- and third-place finishers and managed to get his nose in front this time, beating a field of 19. The race was the second division of the Tierce, so he took home the winning prize of 15,000 plus the French-bred premium, taking the total purse to 24,600 euros. He came out of the race fine and I think he’ll probably do this again in the not too distance future. He picked up a 2.5 kilo penalty for the win, but I think he can still be successful off that mark.
The other horses are coming along, and we’ll have a few runners at the end of next week. Grey Falcon might test his wings again in Chantilly; he didn’t get off the ground last time out in Compiegne, but he’s a huge, late-developing horse and seemed to be going through a growth spurt (again!). He is improving steadily now and we should see something from him soon. Our new recruit Gold Knight is likely to have a go as well, and before long Eternal Gift will be back in action. His gelding went extremely well and he seems to have lost nothing (except some unnecessary bits).
Hard Way had a MRI scan last week to check on the status of his neck fracture. The news is mostly positive, in that the bones have healed in a way that will not compromise the spinal cord and all the fragments have fixed themselves in non-threatening places. He is having some arthritis in those vertabrae, though, and it remains to be seen how he handles training going forward. So far, it seems he definitely wants to race again (and soon, if he has anything to say about it), but we’ll have to wait until early June because he will be positive from the general anesthesia for five weeks.
And a bit of sad news on the home front: We lost our old basset hound, the Professor, last week to a combination of old age and heart failure. He was just shy of his 14th birthday, and he had a long and very good life. Coco the doberman is still not sure what to do with herself, since Prof was the head of the household and definitely told her what to do and when to do it. But she is adapting and I think we’ll be a one-dog house for the moment. We all do miss the crabby old man, though.
So here we are, again gearing up for my least-favorite race, the Tierce handicap (well, the Quinte handicap, actually). Deep Ocean has no choice since he jumped up the ratings with his two wins, so we have to run with much tougher competition now. We almost got lucky and made it into the second division, but in the end, we missed by one: He’ll be number 16 of 16 at Longchamp on Sunday, running for the big money.
Actually, he did very well the last time we were stuck in this position, just over two weeks ago at St. Cloud. He had nothing going for him: Left-handed track, heavy ground and a big, big step up on category. All that said, Deep always tries his best, and he finished 8th, beaten just two lengths and missing money by a head bob. Unfortunate, really, because he ran too well to get his handicap lowered and not quite well enough to make money. But he seems to be still in good form, so it’s not out of the question that he could make some money on Sunday. We have a good draw for once, breaking out of the 7 hole, and even better news is that our neighbor in stall 8 is a horse called Monofar, who tends to go to the front and set a good pace. If all goes well, we’ll just follow him and hope we get a good trip. It’s right-handed, he’s already run well at Longchamp and the ground should be to his liking. Fingers crossed he’s up for the run.
Gorki Park, meanwhile, ran a cracker the same week at Longchamp, finishing second by a nose-hair. He fought well to the end and confirmed he’ll be a useful little horse. I had thought he was coming into form, but his run at Amiens was so dismal I wasn’t sure what would happen at Longchamp. But a proper track rather than the potato field up north made all the difference, and he really distinguished himself. Hopefully, he’ll run at St. Cloud on May 1, but we’re not sure to get in. Start declarations are tomorrow and I’ll have a better idea then. He also holds a backup entry at Longchamp on May 2, but that race will be too hot, so we’ll have to find something else if we don’t make the cut in St. Cloud.
The rest of the yard is coming along, but needs a little more time. Grey Falcon has hit a growth spurt, which explains his horrible effort at Compiegne. Like a typical teenager, he’s sleeping all morning and incredibly uncoordinated. He’s starting to pull himself together, though, and by mid-May will be ready to be back at it. Eternal Gift is now a gelding, a fact that doesn’t seem to bother him one way or another. He’s been trail-riding with Hard Way as a way to keep his form up, and he won’t be delayed for too long, I don’t think. Hard Way, on the other hand, seems to be having a bit of an issue, and I suspect one of the fragments from his neck fracture may have shifted. So unfortunately, instead of running his comeback race next Saturday we’ll have to wait. He’s going in for an MRI scan on Tuesday, which will shed some light on whether this could be a serious problem or not.
Gold Knight is progressing very well and still has May 17 as a target, although he may well be ready before then. We’ll see. And King Driver and Not Bad for a Boy are just about ready to come in from pretraining and get down to serious work. Bring on summer!
In our last episode, Deep Ocean was going to try for a second straight victory in Lyon, but he ended up in the first division of the race, which I thought might be harder to win. It wasn’t. He won, and won well. The handicappers at France Galop were not amused. They walloped him with a four-kilo bump in his rating, sending him up to 34.5 and effectively ending our chances to win again soon. With that rating, and the amount of money he’s earned so far this year, we have two choices: Claiming races, which are off the table because the owners don’t want to risk losing him, and Tierce handicaps, which are fiercely competitive and damn-near impossible to win.
The plan after Lyon was to keep him ticking over and run the Tierce handicap at Longchamp on April 28. Deep doesn’t have the best legs in the world, and he was pretty stiff for a few days after his last race. But that was only for a few days. After a week, I could hardly hold him in the morning, and he clearly did not understand that there wasn’t a race around the corner. So we had a change of plans, and he now will run the Tierce at St. Cloud on Tuesday instead of waiting for Longchamp (which he will probably run, too). I’d love to give him a bit of a break as a reward for recent efforts, but he’s not interested, so we’ll kick on.
Deep is better right-handed than left-handed, and St. Cloud is a left-handed track. He’s also better on the fibersand than on turf, and St. Cloud is turf. He’s gone up seven kilos in the handicaps in the past month, and he’s running against company that should easily outclass him on Tuesday. But he doesn’t know that, and he will try his best, as he always does. His owners have been fantastic, and they’re just happy to be racing at this level, so they understand if he doesn’t bring home money this time. I hope. It’s pretty easy to get a little spoiled with a horse like Deep.
As for the rest of the yard, we have some work to do to get everybody else up to speed. Grey Falcon ran yesterday at Compiegne and it went pretty dismally. He’s not back to form yet from Cagnes, but we need to get his handicap rating down a bit so we went for a grass gallop. The only thing is, I had a tough time find a jockey so I put up an unknown apprentice. The Falcon was running his first race on a track that wasn’t flat. Compiegne is on a hill; the backstretch goes down and the home stretch goes up, and the ground was – well, hard to say what it was. Horses were sinking in and kicking up huge divets, but the ground was dry so it was like galloping in a grass-covered sandbox. The Falcon bowled down the hill with the poor kid hanging on for dear life. He really needed steadying up and collecting a bit, but he got no help from the saddle and when he changed leads in the stretch the kid very nearly fell off. He quickly dropped his hands in surrender and practically trotted over the finish line. Grey Falcon, for his part, tried his best but manged to strike into himself on both front legs just below the knee galloping like a rabbit in the bad ground. He’s feeling pretty sorry for himself today (although that didn’t stop him from eating). He’ll be fine in the long run, but he needs more back muscle so he can carry his big frame properly. He’ll come to form in a couple of weeks, I think, and then we can look for more from him.
Eternal Gift ran decently at St. Cloud last week over a mile, but the distance was probably a little too long and we’re going to finally accept the fact that he really needs to be a gelding if he’s going to be an effective racehorse. He’s scheduled for the equipment change on Wednesday, and if all goes well he’ll be back to racing in about two months. He won’t really lose too much training time if we don’t have any complications from the surgery.
Gorki Park will run Thursday at Longchamp if we’re not eliminated. We’ll know tomorrow whether we make the cut. He’s working well and will definitely appreciate Longchamp more than Amiens. The race is likely to be split into two divisions, and if that happens, we should have a good chance. He hasn’t done too much so far, but I like this little horse, and I do think he’ll start to hit the money soon.
Hard Way is on the comeback trail and training well, and his target remains May 4 at St. Cloud in the same race he won last year. He has all-American owners, and we like to keep busy on the first Saturday in May!
Lastly, a big welcome to our new addition Gold Knight, who I claimed yesterday for Foxtrot Racing, a partnership in England. He’s a lovely little horse, and I think we’ll have a lot of fun with him in the coming months. He has 9 places from 13 runs, so he’s a useful horse. Once he settles in, he’ll be one to watch.
Deep Ocean is heading back to Lyon tomorrow to try to do the near-impossible: Win a second handicap in a row. He went up three kilos in the handicap after winning on Feb. 27, and he’ll run the same course and distance tomorrow. He likes Lyon (at least one of us does), but I had . . . → Read More: Road Trip
I haven’t had a runner over the sticks in several years, since I decided I’d rather concentrate on the flat because frankly, I don’t have the stomach for the risks involved to horse and rider. That said, I do have a lot of respect for the discipline and I love to watch the best jumpers . . . → Read More: We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming…
Deep Ocean made our stopover in Lyon on the way home from Cagnes worth it, winning his handicap by three lengths. It was a great evening’s racing, because his owners came down and were dressed for the photo, so good thing Deep delivered. I was pretty sure he would – he was feeling great in . . . → Read More: Rolling in the Deep
Where do I start? We finished the Cagnes season with a win, six places and just over 22,000 euros in prize money, so it was a success. We would have liked to find the winner’s circle a few more times, but most of the horses ran well and they’ll be far ahead in their training . . . → Read More: Cagnes: It’s a wrap!
We’ve had three more places since the last post, but we’re still looking for our first victory down here in Cagnes. Magical Flower ran fourth twice and Deep Ocean finished second. Magic is running well, and with a little luck she just might hit the winner’s circle here. Today she got stuck making the running . . . → Read More: Down to work