Bleu Astral set for Saturday

Bleu Astral makes his third start for High Street Racing at Cagnes-sur-Mer on Saturday, but his first in the syndicate’s yellow and green colors, when he goes in a 1600-meter (one-mile) claiming event worth 17,000 euros on the Hippodrome de la Cote d’Azur’s fibersand track.

Entered for a claiming price of 20,000 euros, the Astronomer Royal 4-year-old will be making his third start for trainer Gina Rarick. An improved effort last time in a similar event over an inadequate 1300 meters (6 1/2 furlongs) saw him finish ninth of 15, beaten by just 6 lengths. Further improvement is expected on Saturday when he returns to his favorite distance of a mile, over which he won his last two races in Great Britain in August.

Following a 14-hour van ride accompanied by his High Street Racing stablemate Grey Sensation and four other Gina Rarick trainees, Bleu Astral arrived in Cagnes last Friday morning and has settled in well. A sharp Wednesday morning workout on the main track with Ray of Hope, a two-time winner at Cagnes-sur-Mer last winter, sets him up well for this contest.

Bleu Astral will carry the the number three saddlecloth and break from post 2 in the race for amateur riders. Mr. Guilan Bertrand will be in the saddle for the first race on the card with post time scheduled for 12:45pm (11:45 am GMT); 7:45 am (EST).

Bleu Astral ridden by trainer Gina Rarick, 21 January 2015.
Bleu Astral ridden by trainer Gina Rarick, 21 January 2015.

Stretching Out

Bleu Astral got to stretch his legs on the straight gallop this morning. Ray of Hope gave him a lead. Bleu worked a little tentatively, but that’s normal for his first look at this track. He’ll start to step up now, working faster twice a week.

Enjoying a sunny Saturday

Bleu Astral with Gorki Park at the Round Poniatowski in the training center in Maisons-Laffitte.
Bleu Astral with Gorki Park at the Round Poniatowski in the training center in Maisons-Laffitte.

Bleu Astral’s workout partner for the morning was Gorki Park. He’s still just doing slow work for the moment. We’ll let him relax and build a foundation for another week or so before we see what’s under the hood on the straight track.

 

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.