November sucks, to put it in simple, non-literary terms. It’s dark as midnight at 6 p.m. It’s just as dark at 6 a.m., but colder. There’s no decent racing to be had – the flat season is over and winter racing hasn’t started yet. But there is a faint glimmer at the end of the tunnel, and that glimmer is Cagnes sur Mer.
Cagnes, which runs from mid-January to the end of February, is beckoning like a crocus in springtime. The days will start getting longer. It will be sunny. It will be warmer. Because of this promise of a winter escape, demand always exceeds supply for the stabling available. The letters announcing who got what were sent last week, and trainers were like kids at Christmas. “How many boxes did you get?” “How many do you really need?” “Can I have yours?” “Did you get housing, too?” “I’ll trade you my studio for three boxes.”
Scrambling for space will continue right up until the meeting starts on Jan. 16, and the first few days are always a little stressful when everybody tries to stake their claim. The best horses are put away during these dark months to await the higher quality racing in spring and summer. Winter belongs to the rest of us. And there are a lot of the rest of us.
The road to Cagnes begins in Deauville in December, and the follies of trying to get a run or two in before Cagnes have begun. Beause of the limited number of races, entries are vastly oversubscribed. So many horses want to run that France Galop puts special rules in place for who gets eliminated during the winter meetings. Entering horses becomes a complicated game of chess – you enter horses in races you don’t want to run in order to get eliminated and get a priority entry for races you do want to run. But then you have to hope your priority is valid for the race you want – it isn’t always. Horses often end up running in races that don’t suit them just because the entries worked out that way – handicaps will draw easily 100 entries.
If we get lucky, we will have six or seven horses running on Dec. 11-12 in Deauville in preparation for Cagnes. But we won’t know until three days before the race. Our stalwarts King Driver and Ray of Hope are jumping out of their skin and ready to go. King is coming off a long lay-up and Ray’s been on vacation too, waiting for Cagnes. They’ll warm up in Deauville first, we hope. Gorki Park won’t go to Cagnes and doesn’t like the fibersand, but he’ll get a run in Deauville anyway, because his handicap mark is probably too high, so while he’s in good form we can start to work on lowering it.
We have some late two-year-olds in the yard, too, and one of them is ready to see what racing is about, so she’ll look for a run next month. Grey Sensation also will come back out, and our new recruit Bleu Astral is just about ready, too. He’s the first horse for our High Street Racing syndicate, and we are anxious to see what’s under the hood.
All this gives us something to take our minds off November. Which, thankfully, is nearly over!