Deauville calls

We’re off to the Deauville February Mixed Sale tomorrow. The catalog isn’t all that interesting, but there are a few lots worth seeing: No. 44 is a half-sister to the crack sprinter Overdose. She is sold as out of training, which is a shame, so she must be injured and going as a brood mare prospect. Some others will be worth looking at, and it’s always interesting to see what the market will do these days. The sale is a mix of two- and three-year-olds, some raced but most untried (obviously all the 2YOs) a smattering of older horses in training and a good number of brood mares, in and out of foal. The highlight of the day is most likely to be a dinner of line-caught sea bass at Les Vapeurs. Since I’m not actually going up there with a horse to race, I get the luxury of staying for dinner!

Nicanor (the other one) update

I posted recently on the Nicanor that is NOT Barbaro’s brother, who was getting ready to return to racing after a nearly three-year layoff. He did just that on Saturday, making his steeplechasing debut in heavy going at Gowran Park in Ireland. He finished 4th of 17 runners in an effort judged “no more than satisfactory” by the Racing Post. The jockey opted for prudence rather than pushing the horse, which certainly seemed wise for a return after that kind of layoff.

Nicanor holds two entries for the Cheltenham Festival in March, both over fences. His trainer said Nicanor “got very tired in the gluey ground” on Saturday and might race again in Ireland rather than going to Cheltenham. He said he was very pleased with the horse’s jumping, though, in what was really a promising return.

Getting the word out

The folks at France Galop in charge of recruiting foreign owners have finally figured out I exist, and to make up for lost time, they’ve declared me “trainer of the week” in their newsletter and online:

Mark, meanwhile, has been working tirelessly to get speaking/race days set up with the numerous expat groups around Paris, and we are making progress. We’re also off to the sales in Deauville next week. A big attraction for American owners, I think, is the chance to lease a horse rather than buy one. This gives all the benefits of ownership (name in the program, on-track access, prize money, win photos) without the responsibility of having to make arrangements for the horse if there are career-ending injuries or if the animal is just not good enough for the game.  If a leased horse can’t race, it goes back to the lease-holder. I’m working on putting together a few horses to offer on this program, and they will be added to my web site when they become available.

As for the current group of trainees, we’re making what progress we can given the weather. The high winds arrived as scheduled, and luckily moved on as scheduled, too, so we were able to get some training done around noon. Skid’s gelding went off without a hitch (perhaps not the best choice of words). In any case, he seems not to know anything is missing, and we should be able to bring him back home from Normandy in three weeks or so. Turfani will start galloping on the all-weather track tomorrow, and Tommy will start to go a little quicker, too. In another month, we should be racing, and that thought keeps us moving through this crappy winter.

More weather hell

OK, have I said this before? This global warming thing is just NOT working out for me. We had another blizzard today, it melted just enough to slush things up this afternoon, and now the whole sloppy mess is freezing overnight. All due to melt on Monday, just in time for the apocolyptic tempest that is due to arrive Tuesday, with winds gusting to 100 kilometers per hour. We got the horses out today before the worst of it hit, but tomorrow will probably be out of the question. Monday, yes, Tuesday, no way. Damn hard to train horses this way. One thing is sure: They will all be well-rested for the spring season, if spring ever comes.

On the home front, the toilet sprung a leak, which I didn’t notice until I went down to the wine cellar and began to wonder how it was that the wooden crate housing my Chateauneuf de Pape was wet. So Tim got to spend the evening replacing the guts of the toilet while I rearranged the cellar and opened a bottle of the Chateauneuf de Pape just to make sure it was still OK (it was). Cocoa the dobermann puppy helped with the toilet. Several wrenches are now missing. I’m sure they’ll turn up strategically buried around the house (or possibly the yard). Winter. Ugh.

That empty feeling

We took Skid up to Normandy yesterday for his date with destiny on Monday. Hard Way, meanwhile, seems to have twisted his ankle, which puts him out of action for the next 10 days or so. That leaves the T’s: Tyke, Turfani and Tommy. Only three operational horses at the moment leaves me severely under-employed, so I’m programming myself for a round of presentations on racing to expat groups in Paris. The barn must be filled, and with spring around the corner and horses being practically given away at the sales, now is the time to find the owners. Luckily, I just met an American racing fanatic that can help. Mark Tronco, a New Jersey native, is marooned here while his wife toils away at a big French bank. Let me tell you, he’s suffering: his schedule is packed with walking tours, wine-tasting, volunteering at a local food bank and other social events. I was able to nab him for company on the trip up to Normandy with Skid with the bribe of explaining France’s somewhat archaic pari-mutuel system. In return, he has given me several ideas in the search for owners. We had a good day, and once the racing season gets going again, I’m hoping to entice him out to come and help spiff up a horse or two on race day. It’s always a pleasure to have someone enthusiastic around the barn…now I just have to find more occupants so he won’t be lonely!

Nicanor – the OTHER one

Endless amounts of ink (digital and otherwise) have been spilled over the past year as Nicanor, Barbaro’s brother, finally saw a racecourse. But on this side of the Atlantic, another Nicanor is drawing just as much attention – and this one’s a winner. Nicanor the elder is an eight-year-old French-bred hurdler who has won five of his 11 starts and has only once been out of the money – and that was when he fell. He came back to win three races after that spill, but he has been out of action with a tendon injury since 2006. He  is poised to make a comeback this week (if the snow clears off enough to allow racing) and then holds two entries at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

I don’t know what the American Nicanor will end up doing on the race course, but I am absolutely sure that whatever it is, he will not still be doing it at the age of eight. If he manages to win a race or two, he’ll be hustled off to stud duty. If not, he’ll probably be retired for one problem or another by the time he’s four. That’s the beauty of jump racing – the stars stick around for a good long time. OK,  most of them are geldings, so what else have they got to do? But it’s nice to hear the jumps trainers make comments like “he’s still a young horse” about a seven- or eight-year-old. These guys take patience to new levels – the Europeaen Nicanor didn’t even run until he was four and he’s now been off the course for nearly THREE YEARS. Now that’s faith – and deep pockets. If the snow melts enough to allow racing, it will be interesting to see what Nicanor does this weekend.

Where there's smoke…

Last year was the first year new anti-smoking rules took affect here, banning smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants. Bar-owners feared they would lose business, and the folks over at the PMU, our pari-mutuel monopoly, were worried the betting handle would fall off because so much betting is done at corner “Tabac” shops. I don’t know how the bar-owners are faring, but apparently it’s not necessary to smoke and bet at the same time, because the overall betting handle went up 4.8 percent, to 9.3 billion euros. Of that, 540 million was bet online, up from 431 million the previous year. Nothing stopping smokers from puffing away in front of their home computers.

According to a psychiatrist who studies addictive behavior quoted by the PMU, the types of gambling that suffered the most because of the smoking ban were repetitive games like slot machines or keno. As for the economic crisis, the psychiatrist, Jean-Luc Venisse, said there was no apparent impact on gambling, because two mind-sets offset each other: gambling offers a refuge from the crisis and the hope of winning, vs. gambling requires disposable income that is no longer available. Hmm. Gambling may have ridden out the smoking ban, but the numbers this year will offer a better look at whether Venisse is right on the impact of a weak economy.

The Big Snip

Yup, we’re going to stop wringing our hands over this and just go ahead and do it. Skid goes for the Big Snip on Thursday. I’ll truck him up to Normandy, where he’ll be done at the farm and spend three or four weeks recovering before coming back here for light work. If all goes well, in two months he’ll be working again and never notice anything is missing. And he’ll probably be a lot more comfortable.

An uncomfortable problem

Warning: If you are a man, you may want to stop reading now. There’s nothing about the way I can explain this particular horsey problem without making you squirm. We decided to leave Skid keep his private parts this year, but now I think we may have to revisit that decision.  Seems like his private parts might be causing a problem.

Before he went on vacation, Skid pulled up lame behind after a gallop on the fibersand. He walked off the track fine, but on the way home, his back leg slipped a bit, and all of a sudden he was on three legs. I hopped off, hand-walked him home (luckily not far away) and called a vet to come straight away, because I was afraid something might actually be fractured. By the time the vet came a little over an hour later, the horse was fine. Trotted out fine. Flexion test fine. Absolutely no sign of a problem. I thought, well, fine, we’ll turn him out for a bit over winter anyway, and see what comes back. He seemed perfectly sound since he’s been back, but last week, he walked out of the box with a funny step behind, and after about 10 minutes it completely went away. Hmmm, I thought, maybe we need the osteopath; maybe he’s knocked something out of whack rolling in his box. We were puzzling over this when Jean-Yves asked if we had taken a close look at his testicles. I admitted I hadn’t, except to notice that he had them, there were two and they seemed in the right place. Funny thing, though. When you pick up a back leg, the corresponding reproductive organ slips right back up into the abdomen. Ouch. That explains everything. A false move behind, or too high a movement, or stress while galloping can send that little puppy right up where it doesn’t belong. Now the question is what to do about it. I hate to stop for a full castration just when we’re only a month or so from a race, but there’s no point in carrying on if this is going to be a recurring problem. I will speak with my panel of testicular experts (meaning vets and anyone else who has experience with this problem) this week to see what must be done.

En selle!

Today was the day to start Tommy and Skid back under saddle, Skid after a month of vacation and Tommy after his knee surgery. Tyke, being already back in action one whole week, was the veteran of the group. To complicate matters, rain was dumping from the sky, punctuated by gale-force wind (which didn’t really start to pick up until after we had left the yard). Skid had changed very little during vacation; he kept nearly all his muscle tone and maybe grew a little. Tommy also looked as if he’d been regularly cantering, not sitting in his box doing nothing. This has always been the case with Tommy – you take his feed down, do nothing and he still walks out gleaming and ready to go.

“Il est trop beau,” Chantal, our stable owner, remarked. “He’s too good-looking.”  Meaning we were likely in for a wild ride, because clearly the horse thinks he’s ready to run at Longchamp, not trudge through the mud at a walk on the round track. The upside is that this horse is probably the healthiest I’ve ever seen, and he has a pure racehorse mentality. He loves his work. The downside is that it’s always tough to start back, when he needs to keep calm walking and trotting and not re-injure himself. (Vetranquil or other forms of chemical help have no effect on him, and even seem to make him worse.)

So off we went, and Tommy gave us approximately 100 meters before he decided to let us know that he thought he was in charge, the other two horses should get out of his way and we should get on with it. My rider Thibault was able to handle the ensuing rodeo pretty well, and I told him to just take Tommy out front and not argue with him. We put Skid behind and Tyke in the middle. At which point Skid’s nose got a little out of joint, and he tried to remind everyone that he was the only one of the three that still had all his private parts, and perhaps HE should be out front. But Agathe was able to settle him reasonably well behind, where he decided to sulk by prancing rather than walking. This finally got on Tyke’s nerves, and he decided he was tired of bing the trainer’s pony and maybe he’d like to play, too. So he let loose a squeal and started to kick up his heels. Just then, the skies opened up. It had been raining steadily anyway, but this was like someone had turned on a vigorous shower tap.  I’m sure all three horses thought we had done it on purpose; it was like throwing a glass of cold water on a misbehaving puppy. They all skulked down and started behaving – at least temporarily. So as miserable as the rain was, it served its purpose.

We’ll see if we can’t keep Tommy down to a dull roar tomorrow. It is forecast to keep raining…