Category Archives: Training

Let’s Cook!

The day I wheeled the hay steamer off the truck, you’d think I’d just brought in the first motorcar of the industrial era. A small group of curious onlookers crowded around the new, mysterious machine with a mix of skepticism and apprehension. Chantal, the landlady of our stable, immediately started pacing the yard. The machine would consume two things she holds most dear: Electricity and water.

“You’ll need a special outlet for that. It’s going to take a huge amount of power,” she said, pacing around the steamer unit at a safe distance. I left her alone to digest the new contraption to go and watch the lot of horses I had just sent out to work. When I returned, she was measuring the length of the steamer box itself, an imposing, black casket-like box that could hold a bale and a half of hay or two bodies, if you were so inclined. “Where will this go? How much steam will come out when you open it? Where is the instruction manual?”

I continued to go about my work, and after the next lot, she had brought down her husband, Alan, to survey the situation and had read most of the instructions. “You’ll need a longer hose, too,” she decided. She spent most of the day fretting about how it would all work, and the next day our electrician friend came to install an outlet – and a meter so we could pay our share of the cost. “It’s not that big of a deal,” he said. “You mean I don’t need to build that nuclear power plant in the back yard?” I asked. Chantal, overhearing, stormed away. It was time to get started. We filled up the reservoir, put the first bale in the coffin, snapped it close and hit the button. An hour later, we popped it open to see the results, and they were impressive: The hay smelled wonderful and it was dust-free.

Mark, an owner who also doubles as our yard man, took to the new machine with the fervor of Heisenberg. He set his cell-phone alarm for every cycle, calculated how many bales we’d need for the day, came up with a system of rotating them through and – most importantly – kept water in the thing so it wouldn’t burn dry. We were cooking. And I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but the day we started feeding steamed hay, the horses started running better. We sent out six runners in the week after we started using the machine, and every one of them made money. Now this is what we’re more used to around here, and we desperately needed it after a dismal run of luck.

Fanoos started us off by hanging on to 5th place in a very hot condition race in Fontainebleau. She was only beaten a length and would have been closer if she hadn’t slowed down to watch the horses walking in the stabling area just next to the course about 200 meters from the finish. Gut Instinct followed up with fourth a couple of days later in Nancy, and then Hard Way won in Chantilly. It was the old man’s fourth career win and put him over the 100,000 euro mark in earnings. It also broke our losing streak. Just 20 minutes earlier in Craon, Alice’s Dancer finished 3rd in a Listed race, surprising us all. It was a fantastic run and fulfills our objective of getting some black type for her breeding career. Barbe a Box and Impulsive American rounded out the results, with both of them finishing fourth – Bbox in Lyon and the Imp in Maisons-Laffitte.

So it seems that we’ve turned a page, at least for now. We still have some problems to solve, as usual, but the recent run has made everyone breathe a little easier. Even Chantal, who has been convinced that maybe the new machine is harmless. And apparently quite helpful.

The agony and the ecstasy of social media

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!

Sunrise on Solstice

Satwa Sunrise will finally debut for us on Wednesday in Deauville, running a 1,900-meter claimer for a tag of 17,000 euros. We paid 2,000 for her, partly because she was allegedly a mild bleeder; her trainer told me that he galloped her on Lasix, which is a rare thing for European trainers to do. Since she arrived here at the beginning of November, I have seen absolutely no sign of any respiratory problem. She has been everything her sales price, pedigree and past performance suggested she would be: a blue-collar horse that tries her best to do everything we ask of her. She is unlikely to set the world on fire, but from what she has shown me in the morning, she should have every chance to be a useful horse in the right category.

Sunrise is a big bay four-year-old filly, who didn’t start racing until this year – very late, so I’m sure she had her problems growing up. She was trained in France before moving to England, and now she has come full circle. She was third last time out when she raced on the all-weather track at Wolverhampton, a dismal place (from everything I’ve heard – never been there myself) tucked up in the north of England. She was bought for an owner to have some fun with during the winter season in Deauville and Cagnes sur Mer, and I’m sure she’ll do the job for us. She has taken on condition and her morale has improved quite a bit since she came here – she even gave me a good buck today while hacking around the Rond Poniatowski. She has never needed the vet, dives into her Bailey’s Racehorse mix at every meal and never even turned up her nose when the winter staples of Vitamin C, seaweed and codliver oil were added at lunch. She works 1,800 meters (a mile and an eighth, or nine furlongs, if you prefer) twice a week, usually head-to-head with a stablemate. On other days, she hack canters a couple of miles or treks through the national forest.

Her owner has spoiled her by stopping by with heart-shaped sugar cubes, and I’m sure she’ll bring plenty more of those on Wednesday. The race looks like a decent entry; there are five horses who look tough to beat, and the rest of the field looks very mediocre. I have no idea how Sunrise will race, but it seems fitting to debut (well, she’s debuting for me, anyway) a horse so named on the shortest day of the year. Gives us something to hope for during the darkest days of winter.

Sunrise on a recent morning out.

 

On the edge of the storm

In just over an hour, we are expected to start seeing the leading edge of a weather system called Joachim, a depression that is supposed to bring with it a tempest to rival the one we had a decade ago. It’s been a gusty, rainy week already, but Joachim promises to be much more than all that. For the moment, it is sunny and still, and maybe Joachim will not turn out to be as big and bad as forecast. Or maybe he will. In any case, all the horses got a good workout this morning in case they’re stuck in their boxes tomorrow. Hard Way and Sunrise galloped, Milly and Magic got a long tour through the forest and Deep Ocean and Strictly Rhythm took a couple of turns around the Rond Poniatowski.

Milly got eliminated on Saturday, as did 22 other horses in her race. It takes practically an act of god (if you believe in that sort of thing) to get into a race in Deauville in the winter time; there are just too many horses needing a race, and almost everything on the card draws 100 entries. She’ll have a priority for next time – but so will the 22 other horses. Now we have to wait until Jan. 2 for the next good chance for her.

Sunrise is entered for next Wednesday, and she already holds a priority card after getting eliminated last time out. She is working well, although she did give me one cough in her box after galloping today. It’s probably nothing, but I’m hyper-alert to any sign of trouble because we have had such a horrible problem with viruses this year. I’ll be watching her carefully for the next few days – and taking her temperature at least twice a day, too. Deep Ocean came down with something after his canter just over a week ago; luckily, he tested negative for both rhino and flu, and seems to have bounced back strongly. He also is entered for next week, but that’s probably a bit too optimistic after just being sick, and I’m far from sure we’ll try to run. Triple Tonic also has a fever again.

Solidly on the healthy list, at least for now, are Magic, Hard Way, Milly and Strictly Rhythm. Hard Way is galloping twice a week now and he’s training like he has a date at Longchamp next week. Strictly is going to bounce back quickly from her vacation, and the rest of them just need a race.

Shit Mountain
Shit Mountain and its primary architect.

But meanwhile, we’re waiting for the storm. All of the doors have been attached, stray forks and brooms stored and buckets picked up. We’re all worried, of course, about the fate of Shit Mountain, which could be blown to bits with the right gust of wind overnight. Have mercy, Joachim!

November: Why?

When T.S. Eliot penned “April is the cruelest month,” he obviously had forgotten about November. But then again, he probably wasn’t involved with racehorses. For those of us who are, November has to be the most miserable time of the year. The days are so short that you start work in the dark and you finish in the dark. Thankfully, this year hasn’t been nearly as cold and snowy as last year, but it has featured bone-chilling high humidity. A thick fog has blanketed Maisons-Laffitte for the past few mornings, and it gets heavier in the hour after sunrise, already the coldest of the day.

The horses don’t appreciate it much, either. They change their coats, pushing out winter wool, which we then have to clip off so they can work and sweat without catching cold. The heavy rugs have come out, but get alternated with the lighter polar fleeces during the day, because the winter rugs are too hot in the afternoon. Changing their clothes three times a day adds to the work load, and wiping all the runny noses and seeing to the coughs and sneezes are keeping us running, too. It’s the time of year when we need to decide who should push through a winter campaign and who needs a break. The turf racing is almost over, and the all-weather races in Deauville and Cagnes-sur-Mer are ahead.

We’re counting the days until Dec. 21, when we start to add back those precious minutes of sunlight that make such a huge difference. By then, too, the horses will have adjusted to winter. The coughs and niggling health problems that come with the change of season should be behind us – to some extent, it seems we’ve already turned that page, because most of the horses seem to be coming up in form. All that Vitamin C and echinacea extract has paid off.

Satwa Sunrise has started galloping without the aid of Lasix, and seems to be completely fine. We haven’t done head-to-head work with her yet, but will start that next week, and she should run in two weeks (or at least she has an entry – we’ll have to see if she gets in. Magical Flower seems to be recovered from her brush with a cold, and even Triple Tonic seems back in form, except that she popped a splint on her near fore and will have to have an easy week to let it set.

Deep Ocean is a lovely horse, and the infiltration and Tildren treatment seem to have made him pretty comfortable. He had a gallop yesterday that was quite impressive, and I’m looking forward to seeing him race in December. He has to switch boxes and go to a bed of shavings, though, because he has threatened to colic twice in the past week after trying to eat his entire straw mattress.

Little Milly (Surrey Storm) is giving us no trouble at all, and seems to be balancing up a bit better. Hard Way is training up so well I’ve had to cut his feed back because I can’t hold onto him any more. He was supposed to be spending the winter as essentially the stable pony, and he’s only eating pony food, but he thinks he’s ready for Longchamp. I had forgotten what a magnificent stride he has – even going slow he opens up huge distances from the others. Anyway, we’ll try to keep him turned down to simmer for the moment.

The enigma has been King Driver, who just doesn’t seem to have a great immune system. He ran two nice races, but then we had to give him a flu shot, after which he promptly got a fever and a cough. Just when I’m ready to pick up the phone to call the vet to come and geld him, though, he seems to stage a miraculous recovery. He’s not quite 100 percent yet, but he’s fighting hard to get there.

Pretty much everybody can race in December, I think, and then we need to decide who goes to Cagnes. Strictly Rhythm will come back into training in December to get ready to go down south, and Sunrise, Magic and Milly will probably also go. Deep Ocean can’t because he can only run left-handed (Cagnes runs right), but King and Triple can go if they are healthy. I have six boxes, so the final roster will wait awhile to be determined.

Meanwhile, dreaming of Cote d’Azur sun will get us through November, which, apologies to T.S. Eliot, really is the cruelest month.

Put up or shut up

Unfortunately, the Lasix debate in the United States has become sort of an U.S. vs. Them, as in the rest of the world, but that’s the American way. Sort of “Oh, yeah? Says who?” Well, says me, for one. I have been an outspoken critic of race-day medication, and I got the chance to express my views again in the Daily Racing Form (thank you Ryan Goldberg, for contacting me). For those who have not been paying attention (which means you must be living in a deepest, darkest cave), most of the world prohibits the presence of any drug in a horse on race day. You can treat a horse that needs treatment, but it must be cleared from the system to race. In the United States, Saudi Arabia and some South American countries, horses are allowed to be treated with Lasix, a diuretic that has shown some evidence of reducing the incidence of bleeding into the lungs. Racing authorities that allow Lasix often allow a list of other “therapeutic” medications as well, including anti-inflammatory drugs, Lasix “adjuncts” and other steroidal respiratory remedies.

My quarrel with Lasix is simple: If a horse needs it to race, it shouldn’t be racing. I have several other issues with allowing its use: First off, it has a list of very unpleasant side-effects, which over repeated use break down the skeletal system of the horse and leave it more vulnerable to catastrophic breakdown than it already is. Secondly, racing jurisdictions that allow lasix tend to allow a laundry list of other medications. All of this leads to a shortened career and a host of health problems.

But I digress. In the best tradition of “put your money where your mouth is,” I offer a test case. At the Autumn Horses in Training sale in Newmarket, I saw a filly that seemed right for a client of mine. She was four years old, had not run at two or three but had placed a few times on the all-weather tracks this year. I was looking for a cheap horse to have some fun with this winter at Cagnes-sur-Mer and Deauville, and this filly fit the bill. Plus, she was French-bred, so she qualified for our lucrative premium system. Her trainer told me he galloped her on Lasix, even though it wasn’t allowed on race day, because he suspected she had a bleeding problem. Most trainers in Europe do not train this way, but I came to find out that this particular trainer galloped most of his horses with the drug. I bought the filly anyway, because she ticked all the right boxes and I thought it was worth the risk. She cost all of 1,500 Guineas, or just under 2,000 euros.

She is called Satwa Sunrise, and she arrived at the yard on Nov. 1. She is a lovely big filly, seems to be doing very well and I have no intention of galloping her using Lasix. As a matter of fact, she had her first speed work yesterday and showed no sign of trouble. I will write about her progress here, and I am fully prepared to fall flat on my face if this horse turns out to be an unmanageable bleeder. But I will be honest with you, and I’ll chronicle her road to the races, pitfalls and successes alike. For the moment, I plan to race her on Dec. 7 at Deauville. She isn’t going to set the world on fire, but I think she will do what we want her to do, which is run successfully in low-level claimers and handicap races. Watch this space…

The road to perdition…

…is paved with good intentions. That certainly was in evidence this past week, when a number of attempts at good deeds were fraught with unintended consequences. Where to start? How about the story of George.

I sold him to an organization called Ecurie Second Chance, which buys out-of-training racehorses, reschools them and then sells them on as riding horses. Sometimes, with the owner’s consent, they are placed again for racing. When I sold George, for just 500 euros, which is the going rate for retired racehorses, I said I wasn’t opposed to him racing again if a small permit-holder was found and if the horse had a much-needed break. George is sound, nice and could race next year in easier venues than around Paris. A week later, the man who bought the horse called me and said he had two possibilities that both involved racing: One in Martinique, and one in France, but for either one he’d have to move on immediately. Needless to say I wasn’t pleased with either choice, but in all fairness I had sold the horse, so I had very little say in the matter. Between a rock and a hard place, I said I prefer he stay in France. That week, he showed up declared in training with a public trainer with a yard of 25 horses, and a week after that he was entered in a sprint up in Le Croisé-Laroche, a dismal track near Lille that I would avoid racing at at all costs. George would have to endure a seven-hour truck ride each way to get from his new trainer’s base to race and back, not to mention it was a race completely unsuited for him even if he WAS in shape. He raced, and needless to say he finished last, poor kid. The next day I saw he was entered in a race at Amiens seven days later. That was when Kay, my American owner who had leased George while he was with me, and I took action. Long story short, we bought the horse back, and we’ve found a new home for him that will not include racing.

The man who runs Ecurie Second Chance was highly apologetic and I believe he sincerely did have good intentions, but just had no idea how to execute them. During our numerous phone exchanges, he would always complain that he was severely overworked, that numerous trainers were looking to “dump” their bad horses at the end of the season and that he couldn’t cope. These are the times that try men’s souls. Yes, there are too many horses, and yes, we’re looking, at this time of year, to move the underperforming ones on. But if Ecurie Second Chance felt overwhelmed by the task, he should not have bought the horse! I would have kept him until I found a suitable situation for him myself. Which brings me to the second story of the week…

…and the names are changed to protect the – well, not the innocent, really, but…a horse, let’s call her Sadie, was injured in a race at the end of September. The nature of the problem meant that she had to be on box rest for a few weeks, but she was a very nice-natured filly and would make an excellent riding horse; the injury wasn’t limiting in that sense. I immediately started looking for a home for her, but obviously it is hard to place a lame horse, even with good potential. So I was forced to hang onto her for longer than I wanted, and certainly far longer than the owner wanted, but I did eventually find a very nice home for her at the end of October. This meant the owner was being billed for the horse a month longer than he wanted to be. He paid, along with a registered letter saying how furious he was with my “extortionary” price of 30 euros a day for a horse out of training. I understand his frustration, but despite all, I applaud him for paying his bill and not ordering the horse sent to slaughter, which I suppose he could have done (for the record, I wouldn’t have done it, even if it meant paying the horse’s keep myself). In any case, this story ends well: I just got a photo from the new owner, and he is thrilled with her. And for the record, the price I charge is far from extortionary; there is no profit margin there. Hay and straw prices have skyrocketed this year, and while the horse wasn’t ridden out, she was kept in a clean box, brushed and fed daily. The standard of care doesn’t change when the horse can no longer race.

We soldier on. Going into winter is the worst time of year in the horse business. Magic picked up the dreaded cough right before her race on Monday, and I nearly scratched but didn’t and should have, probably. In any case, the distance of 2,500 meters seems just a bit too long on heavy ground, and I’ll look for something shorter for her once we clear up the cough. King ran a great second race at St. Cloud last week. He’s learning his lessons well and I want to get a couple of more races in this year, but we had to give him a flu shot this week, and of course, he’s had a reaction to it. I’m hoping it’s a brief setback, but don’t know yet.

The new fillies from Newmarket are doing well, and Triple Tonic, back from her convalescence in Normandy, is jumping out of her skin. It’s great to have Hard Way back. He seems better than ever and hasn’t lost a step – if you don’t hang onto him in the morning he’ll be off like a shot. And we have a new colt, Deep Ocean, who came to us from Marseille. He can only race right-handed because of stringhalt in his left hock, which makes him a challenge, but he’s a lovely horse who clearly always tries his best (he’s had a win and six places this year). All of them are being aimed at some winter racing on the fibersand in Deauville and later in Cagnes (except for Deep, who can’t go to Cagnes because it is left-handed).

Already, November this year has been paradise compared with what we had to put up with last year. I don’t know how long we can escape the freezing temperatures, but I’m treasuring every day I don’t need to put ten layers and gloves!

King debuts, and Hard Way’s home!

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 moves on, Magic gears up

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.

Who says they don’t talk?

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.