The pheasant that could have ended my life this morning chose not to, for which I was grateful. Far away into my own thoughts, I didn’t see him preening alongside the trail until the last second – Hard Way was nearly on top of him, bowling along toward home in a huge extended trot. Too late to stop, all I could do was crouch lower to the saddle and hope he didn’t choose that second to fly off, which would have resulted in me flying too, probably straight into a stone wall. The pheasant stayed put, and Hard Way coasted past – he probably didn’t see him, either.
So it seems this blog is all but dead. My fault. Facebook’s fault. I resisted, in the beginning. I hated the idea of Facebook (not least because that was what the New York Times called their personnel directory, which seemed insulting and…well, impersonal). But a few years ago I cracked. My excuse was that I needed to be on Facebook for marketing purposes, which turned out not to be wrong. Facebook has been a useful tool for that. It also has been a colossal time-wasting addiction, but I digress. And it has also eaten my blog.
Facebook, for better or worse, is an extremely quick and easy way for me to update anybody who cares or claims to care about all the comings and goings in the yard, the races, the results and just random tidbits (that would contribute to the time-wasting part). I have a pretty large following there, and I have been resorting to communicating that way instead of by blog, which some of you have actually noticed. To those of you who still check back here regularly, I apologize. And once again, I will try to do better. Meanwhile, if you’re not already signed on to Facebook, just do it. It’s really not so bad. And if you’re paranoid that signing up to Facebook will open your entire private life in every intimate detail to cyberspace, don’t be. Facebook only knows what you want it to know, so just don’t tell it anything. They don’t need to know your birthday, your address or anything else pertinent. You need an email address and a name. That’s pretty much it. Sign up, “friend” me (yes, Facebook has verbed the noun) and I’ll add you to the Gallop France group there and you’ll see everything that’s going on.
Right, so some of you are still resisting. For you guys (all five of you, so I hope you appreciate it!), here’s what’s going on in a nutshell: Hard Way has resisted retirement yet again, and ran a comeback race down in the country yesterday at the ripe old age of nine. He finished third of eight runners. I had hoped he would win, because to say the competition was weak would be the nicest thing you might say. But third still requalifies him for handicaps, and he probably needed the run after six months off. Despite rock-hard ground, he seems to have come back OK.
Gorki Park also ran his comeback race, finally, after nearly six months off, and he came 4th in a 20-runner handicap in Maisons-Laffitte. He looks like he should be just as useful this year as last. He’s grown up a bit and will stretch out in distance this year – if we can find him a decent race, which is easier said than done at the moment. King Driver, our other stable banker, is just back from a short break. He finished third at St. Cloud in mid-May, but chucked off his jockey (twice!) and ran loose for quite some time around the racecourse before he got down to work. That was him telling us as clear as he could that he was ready for a vacation, so he got one. He’s back in training as of tomorrow after having spent a month at the spa – a stud just north of us that specializes in massages and has a great water-walker to keep the muscle tone while on vacation.
Melrand and Pahlavan also had short stays there, as did Risk Well Taken, an unraced two-year-old who went for two weeks after coming up with sore shins. Risks’s stay there was nothing short of miraculous – she came back nearly 20 kilos heavier and bulging with muscle. Our other unraced two-year-old, Impulsive American, was almost ready to debut when he picked up a virus of some sort, which will set us back a few weeks. Pahlavan and Ray of Hope also got it, but they all seem to be on the mend now.
Charitable Act has been retired; his iffy joints were getting the best of him so we decided to stop while he was still sound enough for pleasure riding. Greatest has also moved on to greener pastures, but is still racing and just finished 2nd for his new connections. We wish him well – I always thought he was a good horse, but we were persistently unlucky with him. Clearly, a change was in order!
La Mer seems finally on track after having just about every problem a growing horse can have. She is back galloping, and will hopefully run a maiden in Deauville in early July. Eternal Gift has finally come down in the handicap to a mark he should be able to win from, and he’ll get a try in Amiens on Saturday. Gut Instinct also should be able to win a small race soon, but she would be better on softer ground. She has some good entries coming up, though, so I’ll have to decide whether to brave the good ground or not.
That rounds up just about everyone, I think. And reading back, I see the other problem Facebook has caused. Since I no longer write much more than a sentence at a time, it seems I’m losing the knack. I’d better get back to it, or I won’t be able to write that novel I’ve been talking about for the past two decades!
I’ve waited years to finally get a winner at Longchamp, and this month we got two: Hard Way won his handicap two weeks ago, and Eternal Gift followed it up with a win last Saturday. Hard-working Deep Ocean was in the money again this past week, and King Driver ran a fantastic comeback after a year off to finish third. Grey Falcon dropped in a check, too, confirming that the yard is definitely in form.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks. Hard Way followed exactly the same pattern as he did last year: After his comeback race out in the country, he was ready to tackle Paris and found his favorite jockey, Christophe Lemaire, who rode a perfect race to give me my first winner at Longchamp. It was a 3,100-meter handicap, and Hard Way aced it carrying top weight of 60 kilos. His efforts got him back into the Bloodhorse magazine in America, with his longtime fan John Gilmore doing the honors. The next day, Grey Falcon stepped up in class and distance when he ran second division of the Quinte handicap in Maisons-Laffitte, trying 2,400 meters for the first time. He nearly wired it, just getting caught at the post to finish second by a short head. He has been really unlucky not to win yet, but he’s knocking on the door and it should happen soon.
Eternal Gift finally stepped up his game at Longchamp last Saturday, winning a mile handicap by a neck. I knew he was progressing, and he certainly showed us that he preferred the good ground and galloping track of Longchamp to the muddy traffic circle he found in Amiens. It was his third race back after gelding, and I think he’s going to be a useful horse now. He picked up three kilos in the handicap ratings, which isn’t great, but he still has margin for progress.
We barely had time to get him off the truck Saturday night before we loaded up Deep Ocean, Gold Knight and Not Bad for a Boy for the trip down to Vichy and the week-long racing festival there. Deep Ocean finished fourth in the Quinte on Sunday (we were all sure it was third, but there was just the shadow of a nose in front of him), but Not Bad didn’t distinguish himself in his claimer. It was his first race back in a year, though, and he has been a bit sore in the back, so he deserves another chance or two. Gold Knight showed quite a bit of improvement in his claimer on Monday. He didn’t get up into the money yet, but he did give us hope that we’re on the right track.
The star of the week, though, was King Driver, who was coming back after year off almost to the day. He had some serious health problems last year, and I was never able to get him to his potential. He showed that those seem to be behind him now, though, running a strong third. It was a very easy field of 18, and he would have won if he had kept to the rail instead of coming out to the stands side. He is still very green, having run only six races in his life before Wednesday, and there was a good crowd at the track and it was a night meeting, so once he hit the front, he just looked at all the people rather than pay attention to racing. He has come back very well and is likely to run in Deauville in early August.
In between the racing, I went to the Newmarket sales, where we found an addition to the yard optimistically named Greatest. He is a four-year-old gelding by Anabaa out of a stakes-winning mare, and he seems to want soft ground to run his best. So we’ll build him up and get him ready for a fall campaign. A half share in him is available, so contact us if you’re interested.
Next up might be Hard Way and Grey Falcon on Thursday in Chantilly. I don’t particularly want to race them against each other, but they are in the second half of the Quinte handicap and there aren’t many runners declared, so it might be too good to pass up. In any case, I’m pretty sure Hard Way will go, but I’m still undecided about Grey Falcon, who might prefer softer ground. Hard Way is really a soft ground horse, too, but he doesn’t really care what he gallops on as long as he feels good and wants to run. Both will gallop tomorrow morning, and I’ll decide for sure then. All of the horses are struggling a bit with the heat, and storms are forecast for Tuesday, which might make the going a little easier.
After that, we’ll gear up for Deauville in August, although we’ll probably have fewer runners than in July. Competition is tough there, and unless we have very good entries, it makes more sense to wait until September. In any case, the horses will tell me what they want to do. All I have to do is listen.
Satwa Sunrise was eliminated from her race this past week so didn’t get a run, but she is certainly ready to race. She’s been working very well, and there’s been no sign of any respiratory distress that would indicate a bleeding problem. (Her previous trainer galloped her on Lasix, even though she couldn’t race on it – thankfully.) Her next entry will be Dec. 21, and we have a priority after being eliminated last time, so hopefully she will get a run. Only a race will really test whether conditioning trumps pharmaceuticals, as I believe it will.
It’s very tough to get into races in Deauville; there were 134 horses entered for Satwa’s race, and 96 start declared for 16 spots. This results in ridiculous “double” and “triple” priorities by the end of the meeting. I hope to race Surrey Storm next Saturday, but there are 71 entered. I have to hope for a lot of forfeits and that France Galop will add a second race.
Deep Ocean was supposed to run next Saturday, too, but he has come down with something and is out for the moment. He had a fever and was coughing this week; we have had a terrible year for viruses even though we have taken every precaution in disinfecting boxes and making sure every horse has their own tack. Vitamin C is helping, too, but it’s been very frustrating. I can take some solace in knowing I’m not alone; there are lots of horses coughing out there in the morning from various yards. I was hoping we had already had our share, and now Deep comes down with it (whatever “it” is – lab results are due back tomorrow).
The rest of the team seem fine, touch wood. Now it’s just a matter of finding the races we need.
Can’t help but venting a bit after watching the Breeders’ Cup races last night (or what little of the Breeders’ Cup races Equidia chose to show us). I have to say this year more than ever has left me with the impression that horse racing in the United States has absolutely nothing in common with horse racing anywhere else on the planet. First off, the Americans have shown they have absolutely checked their horse sense at the door with the handling of Announce in the Filly & Mare Turf.
Maxime Guyon was hacking the filly down to the start when she spooked at something and managed to touch a trailer of some sort parked on the track. The contact was all of a split second, and about two seconds later the outrider was over telling Guyon to dismount and unsaddle, because track veterinarians had decided to scratch the horse. One wonders what the hell was a large piece of equipment doing parked on the side of the track? But no matter – Guyon handled the situation very well, and as soon as the filly touched whatever it was behind her, she settled down and moved forward, like a sensible horse will. Apparently there was a tiny cut. There were rumors that it later needed stitches (I’ve seen no confirmation of this). Clearly the horse was sound, and if a vet had bothered to take a look at the horse, this would have been evident. And clearly, connections of Announce were paying the price of the ineptitude shown in last year’s Breeders’ Cup when Life at Ten was allowed to race despite every indication that there was a problem.
Earlier, another filly in the sprint, Shotgun Gulch, also was scratched at the gate because a vet apparently saw a sign of lameness when the horse was warming up. How this could happen is beyond me, since the American horses “warm up” with their head twisted toward a lead pony, so they all trot sideways. No news yet on whether anything was actually wrong with the horse.
Obviously, an unsound horse should not be allowed to race. But if the vets stationed around the gates at the Breeders’ Cup are able to make that sort of diagnosis in less than 10 seconds without getting within spitting distance of the horse in question, they are a talented bunch of doctors indeed.
Another thing that always jars me when watching American racing is the loading process at the gate. It seems the gate crew try to outdo each other in proving their testosterone levels by slamming the back of the gate as hard as possible behind the horse, and the more flourish the better. Are they looking for high marks for artistic impression? I do appreciate the speed with which they work, but is it really necessary to do it all with that much yelling, slamming and gesticulating? And don’t get me started on the insanity of crawling up into the gate with the horse and holding his head.
All that mayhem at the gate means they jump out fast and terrified. The first fractions are usually faster than the finish – sort of like watching Arabian racing here. And gunning into those tight turns makes me hold my breath and hope for the best. Then there’s the added unease of knowing nearly all of the horses out there are racing on Lasix and probably Lasix adjunct and anything else permitted by the rules. With all this, I found myself watching the races by peaking through my fingers like a kid at a horror movie.
So what will I be doing tonight? Watching anyway, because I can’t help myself. I have to cheer on Goldikova and see how So You Think adjusts to both dirt and blinkers. Come home in one piece, guys.
Two big events this past week: King Driver finally is officially a racehorse, and Hard Way has come home. King debuted Thursday on the fibersand in Deauville. I sent him there not because I thought he would be particularly adapted to the surface, but more because the big Chantilly trainers tend not to send their very best on the sand for a debut. I also realized the race 1,500-meter race would probably be on the short side for him, but he needed to learn what it was all about. I was right on both counts. There were a couple of decent horses from Chantilly, but I doubt next year’s Derby winner was among them. And King figured out he needed to stretch out and accelerate only about 50 meters from the finish, which was, of course, far too late. But he learned some very good lessons, and I’m very pleased with his debut. We drew our least-favorite far outside post, No. 15, which left us sort of hanging out to dry, but since all the horses were debuting, they all ran in a wide pack rather than arranging themselves in the usual ordered peleton. King was with the leaders until they started moving away from him at the turn, at which point he was wondering where they were going in such a hurry. Now that he understands a bit better, I suspect his next race will be quite a bit more interesting. And that should probably be on Nov. 3 at St. Cloud, a mile on the turf. The surface and distance will suit him better, although he’ll eventually need to stretch out closer to 2,000 meters. But he’s going to need a few races to learn the game, and there’s no need to push him too much. He is going to be a very useful horse if we do things right with him.
Hard Way, meanwhile, has come out of retirement. For the moment, he’s sort of the stable pony, but when I had a hack through the woods with him today he certainly felt more like a racehorse than a trekking pony. He is bright-eyed and seems very happy to be back. We’ll see what he tells us he wants to do.
Magical Flower ran her first handicap last week and finished only 7th, but she was carrying 59.5 kilos and the winner 53.5. Luckily, she’s now come down 1.5 kilos, so rated 30 we should be better placed next time out. She is a nice horse and will win somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 meters. She’ll be entered in both on Nov. 4, and we’ll take whichever race we can get into; unfortunately by not being able to grab 5th last week, she is still “exclu” because she hasn’t passed 3,000 euros in earnings and will be the first eliminated.
And we gave Rendition another shot yesterday in Pornichet, but the race confirmed what we pretty much knew: while her heart, head and upper body are in the game, her legs can’t keep up. So we’ll look for new horizons for her.
Meanwhile, I’m getting ready to head off to Newmarket tomorrow for the annual fall Horses in Training sale. The catalog looks enticing, as always, so anyone needing a racehorse to run down in sunny Cagnes-sur-Mer this winter should speak up! Buy yourself an excuse for a weekend in Nice in January!
George left the yard yesterday to start a new life with the aptly-named Ecurie Second Chance. He is sound and could race again, but most likely will be reschooled as a riding horse. He has such a wonderful personality and is very fun to ride, so I’m sure he will do well. He’ll have some turnout time now, too, which he very much needs. We’ll be able to follow his travels to make sure things go well for him.
Strictly Rhythm will be off this week, too, for a bit of much-deserved vacation in Normandy. Coming home will be Hard Way. I had decided to retire him, but I’m now rethinking that decision. He is not very happy standing around in a field and he’ll come back to see how he adjusts to life back at the yard. There will be no pressure; he’ll basically by my stable pony for the moment and we’ll see where it goes. (Although having Hard Way as a stable pony might be a bit optimistic on my part – he can be quite a handful to ride at times, so I may regret my decision.)
Magical Flower, meanwhile, will go to Clairefontaine on Monday for her first handicap and her first try stretching out to 2,900 meters. She seems in fine form, so if she gets the distance, and I think she will, we should have every chance here. King Driver is still on track for his debut on Thursday in Deauville. He’ll have a gallop tomorrow morning and then it’s time to start declare. We’ve been this far once before without quite making it, but I’m hoping this time we can really go ahead.
I’m sure horses get as frustrated with us as we do with them when things get lost in translation. But Strictly Rhythm knocked us over the head with the message today: She is ready for vacation, and NOW. She ran at Compiegne in what should have been a pretty easy handicap. Like all trainers with talented by still-maiden fillies, I really wanted to get a win on the books this year because Strictly is likely headed to stud at some point. But I knew we were in trouble when she went into the starting gate like a lamb. Usually, she throws a tantrum behind the gate, and the bigger the tantrum, the better she runs. The few races when that hasn’t happened were her few bad performances. Today, she was slowly into her stride, comfortably settled into second place, accelerated a bit in the stretch but clearly wasn’t going to push it when the other horses went with her. For the first time, she didn’t really try and wasn’t interested in racing. She came back hardly blowing and was more interested in bossing around other horses and looking for food than anything else.
Her owners have yet to decide her future, but I’m really hoping we can give her a bit of a rest and then come back at it as a four-year-old. She has been very unlucky not to have won already; she’s finished with a length of fillies that have gone on to place and win at Group and Listed level. Her handicap mark has now dropped to a reasonable level, and I’m absolutely convinced she will win if we get the chance to go on.
Meanwhile, I’m hoping Rendition doesn’t get eliminated on Friday. She’s entered on the all-claiming card at St. Cloud, but there were 80 entries and only 15 forfeits, so there will surely be eliminations. She has a backup entry at Deauville next week. She has been off after a hairline fracture this spring, and we’re eager to see if she has the stuff to be a racehorse or not. Like Strictly, I’m sure she’ll let us know.
Our last visitors left today after a great week of racing, touring, eating and drinking. The Arc weekend was fantastic, as usual, plus the weather was more like Deauville in August than Longchamp in October. Put simply, we roasted. It was wonderful. Our party took over a good part of the paddock restaurant, and we couldn’t have been better placed to have a look at all the Group 1 horseflesh on offer. No one saw Danedream coming. The crowd of 50,000 were stunned into silence by her record-breaking victory. Even Frankie Dettori, on third-placed Snow Fairy, couldn’t believe it – and who could blame him? He was sitting pretty going into the home stretch, with only Sarafina’s leader and some unknown orange silks in front of him. But Sarafina’s leader, Shareta, ran the race of her life and the unknown orange silks happened to belong to a feat of German engineering called Danedream. Frankie settled for third.
It was also too bad to see Goldikova get headed on her last appearance in France, but she’ll still go to the Breeders’ Cup, where I suspect she still has some ass to kick. Nice to see Sole Power take a good third in the Abbaye; he is Sotka’s half-brother, and this bodes well for her season next year. And another one to keep a close eye on is the undefeated Dabirsim, who showed amazing acceleration in the Grand Criterium.
We left the crowds of Longchamp far behind on Monday to head off to Argentan with Magical Flower, where she finished 5th in a maiden and took her first check in France. She is now qualified for handicaps, and there is a good one for her next week, if she gets a low enough rating. I’m reluctant to enter in a handicap straight away, but this would be the best race for her. She has to be rated below 32 to qualify. Based on what she’s done so far for us, she shouldn’t be rated higher, but sometimes the handicappers do unreasonable things.
While we were out in deepest Normandy, we took the opportunity to stop by and see my other horses near Orbec, where Triple Tonic is recovering, Hard Way is bored in a field and Well Done Clare is happily in foal to My Risk. Triple Tonic will be ready to come back in early November, I suspect, and I’ve decided to bring Hard Way back home. We’ll see how he goes, but it’s not out of the question that he could race again.
Anyway, in all the excitement this past week, I haven’t gotten a chance to say that I’m very pleased to be part of a new alliance of bloggers called Turf. Have a look at the web site. It includes some very well-written blogs by people in and around the thoroughbred racing business all over the world. I’m very pleased to be part of the group, and it will give me a chance to address wider issues now and then, in addition to the laundry list of what the horses in my yard are doing. There will be various themes tackled by all of the bloggers in the group (and the current one is the Breeders’ Cup, and I’m behind…so stay tuned!).
Strictly Rhythm is either the luckiest or unluckiest racehorse out there, depending on how you look at it. We went to Lyon on Tuesday with a good chance; according to the form, the worst that could possibly happen is we would run third. But racing is racing. It has been unseasonably hot and dry in France, which can turn some synthetic tracks, like the one in Lyon, to mush. Fearing just that, the groundskeepers poured water on the thing all morning and then sealed it, and sealed it good. The tractors were rolling nonstop for three hours Tuesday morning. I thought they would have to then follow with a harrow, but no, they were going to leave it like that, the president of the course said. I thought the surface was awfully hard, and didn’t like it, but Jean-Claude Rouget, who was running the favorite against us, said he thought it was safe. “We’ve never had an accident,” the president chimed in. Famous last words.
Strictly was laying second behind the leader coming out of the final turn, and just as they started to accelerate, the horse in front of us shattered a leg in one of the ugliest accidents I have ever seen on a racecourse. Strictly avoided the crash by millimeters, thanks to quick thinking by Fred Spanu, our jockey. Strictly ran on well, but the bobble to avoid the accident costs us third place by a short head at the line. Rouget, of course, won. Strictly still brought home money, and she came back sound (and alive, which is more than the connections of the other horse can say). So we were very lucky. But we’re still looking for her first win. The bright side is that her handicap mark has now dropped to a reasonable 32, which means I can now place her in some easier races. She will probably go to Compiegne in just under two weeks.
Meanwhile, we’re off to St. Cloud today with George, who will get his blinkers this time. This probably really WILL be his last race, so we just want to have fun and come back safe.
Then it’s on to Longchamp for a weekend of being a spectator for the Arc and associated group races. We have lots of out-of-town visitors and we’re planning quite an Arc party. I can’t get too carried away because I have to get Magical Flower to Argentan for a race on Monday.