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.
At the ripe old age of 10, Hard Way may have lost a step on the racecourse, but he is still a force to be reckoned with riding out. He is an extremely powerful, flexible horse, and he comes equiped with a turbocharged engine mounted on a four-wheel drive chassis with anti-lock breaks and an onboard satellite navigation system. He has spent his entire life training on his own in the national forest, because he doesn’t care much for other horses. Consequently, he’s still got the best legs in Maisons-Laffitte, having spent his entire life galloping through rugged terrain, jumping whatever gets in the way. He’s got a map of the entire Foret St. Germain stored in his head, and he knows exactly which trails are for trotting and which are for galloping. He’s not afraid of much, but like any prey animal, he can be startled, and when he spooks, there’s very little chance of staying aboard if you didn’t see it first.
I’ve ridden Hard Way since he was two. Now that his racing career is mostly behind him, he has been relegated to “last lot” status – meaning he gets ridden out when everything else is done, except twice a week when he has a fast workout in the training center. Our ride out at morning’s end has become almost a daily meditation session for me. We know each other by heart, Hard Way and I. Once I decide which circuit we’ll use, he sets off on automatic pilot, and I do the same. My mind wanders off into analyzing the morning workouts, deciding on entries, digesting the news, good and bad. Mostly these days, it’s been bad. This time of year tends to be that way – the main flat season has ended, winter racing hasn’t started yet, and owners are deciding what to do for the next year. We’re in a rebuilding phase again.
Ella Diva gave a game try at Group company but wasn’t quite good enough. That’s not necessarily bad news, but I might have chosen a different set of entries for her if it was completely up to me, which it wasn’t. We weren’t disgraced, in the end, but she could have done better. She’s off on her winter holidays now and hopefully she’ll come back to me in the spring and we can start again. She’s a really lovely filly and has the heart of a racehorse, which she proved in the races she won for us. But the yard feels pretty empty without her around.
A few other horses won’t be coming back to us. Miss Post Office and Casquito are off to new trainers because their owner was unhappy with the results with me. Fair enough, but both horses need a rest when they came to me in the first place, and that advice wasn’t followed until it was too late.
We’ve had a couple of new additions, which thankfully fill those holes. Grey Sensation won’t stay with us for long, because he’s destined to be sold, but we’re enjoying him while we have him. And we hope Sainte Altesse, a huge leggy unraced two-year-old with an absolutely wonderful disposition, will be ready to tackle Cagnes sur Mer.
And we finally bit the bullet and started a syndicate called High Street Racing. Birthing a syndicate in France requires the patience of Job, and every time we thought we were ready to launch there seemed to be another roadblock. I went to France Galop yesterday to see where we were in the approval process, only to find that our “dossier” had been relegated to a stack since August. “But madame, we thought you were abandoning the project because the dossier is not complete!” Really. We didn’t know that. Apparently it would have been too much effort to pick up the phone or send an email asking us for what was missing – which includes five more piece of paper giving them information they already have.
But while the French are specialists at endless, ridiculous rules and paper, it was the Americans who really threw the spanner in the works with a fresh hell known as FACTA. The American government has decided to accuse all its citizens living abroad as money-laundering terrorists and now demand that any bank doing business with an American file documents that include balances for any account that any American has anything to do with. Consequently, French banks can’t run away from Americans fast enough. What we thought would be a routine task of getting a bank account turned into a delay of several weeks while we pleaded with every bank in France. We now have a bank account (we think – we’re not actually sure yet). But all this means that we’re selling shares in High Street now, when we should have been selling them two months ago.
We had hoped to get the syndicate sold to buy horses at the Newmarket Horses in Training sale next week, but this is now doubtful. If we can sell 10 more in the next three days, we can still go ahead, so if you’re reading this and you have any desire at all to get a toe into French racing, buy a share! They’re not expensive – 5,000 euros for two years of racing with prize money distributed at the end. C’mon. What are you waiting for?
Labor pains for the syndicate and frustration with some owners aside, we’ve had our best year ever in terms of results, nearly doubling what we did last year and keeping the percentages up. We’ve won 11 races and placed 35 times with never more than 10 horses in the yard. The frustration is that we seem stuck at around 10 horses in the yard, and that’s not enough.
On the upside, we have some good things to look forward to. King Driver has come back from vacation and looks better than ever. He is absolutely flying on the gallops and I can’t want to see him back in action. We don’t have much choice for entries in November, but we hope to get him out somewhere mid-month. Ray of Hope also had a layoff and looks much the better for it. Cagnes will be the primary objective for both of them, but they’ll be ready to race a bit sooner.
Gorki Park had a short vacation and came back a winner at St. Cloud. He’ll try to do that again on Sunday, and he has a very good entry. And even Risk Well Taken, who has done everything possible not to live up to her name, seems to be showing a bit of spark, so you never know.
Hard Way is still ticking along, but he did have two good chances to win and didn’t fire in either of them, so eventually I suppose he will retire. He’ll have a couple of more tries yet this year, though. He still seems to want to run. Maybe there will be a strategically placed pheasant next to the racecourse. That should do the job.