Tag Archives: Cagnes-sur-Mer

Worth the Trip

The night we were loading up to head south for our annual trek to Cagnes sur Mer in the depths of darkest January, I was thinking to myself, “I’m not doing this again. This is too hard on everyone.”

First came two stalls packed to the top with everything we need to train and race 10 horses for six weeks. Water buckets, feed buckets, saddles, bridles, rugs – oh, the rugs. Winter coats for cold nights, lighter polars for sunny days, exercise sheets, rain sheets, presentations sheets, saddle cloths…it was endless. And of course, the hay steamer had to go. And the wheelbarrow. Forks, brooms, bandages….and then, of course the horses. After nearly two hours of loading, we were exhausted and then we had to get US down. Two by train, one by car, baggage wherever it would fit.

But then Cagnes works its magic. We arrived to full sun, palm trees, an azure sea, mimosa about to bloom – a fabulous place to work. By the time the horses were tucked in their new boxes, our tack and feed rooms set up and we were installed in the sun at the cantine around a great lunch and a bottle of rosé any doubts about the trip were far behind us. The weather cooperated this year, unlike last year, when we were pelted with endless days of rain. The horses, for the most part, cooperated, too. They did what they were supposed to do. They soaked up the sun, ate like they were on vacation and worked like champions. We won three races and placed six times, for total earnings topping 65,000 euros and our best meeting so far in the five years I’ve been making the trek.

There were some disappointments, of course. Barbe a Box never ran a decent race and his owner got fed up and moved him to another trainer. Fair enough, but the horse needs gelding, and until that happens, I’m not looking for a miracle on the racetrack. We had to stop with Pahlavan because his wobbler’s syndrome made him too dangerous to continue. Gorki Park told us yet again that while he is fine with sun, he doesn’t like the sand. And Risk Well Taken is still fighting with us about whether she wants to be a racehorse. The jury’s still out on that one. But the others picked up the slack. Ray of Hope won his comeback race and then won again, just to make sure he’d keep his place in the first string. Not to be outdone, King Driver came up with the goods, and Moughjim, Eternal Gift and Impulsive American all took home checks.

When the season ended, we didn’t want to come home (not least because it meant packing up everything we’d brought down). But it wasn’t just the wonderful weather that was making us drag our heels. Last year, when we got home almost everybody got sick, horses and humans alike. It took us six months (and a hay steamer) to get the ship righted. Reality and the racing calendar meant that we had to go home, so we did. But what a difference a little sun makes. This year, everybody got home same and healthy, and we saw the proof yesterday at St. Cloud: we scored our first double when King Driver and Gorki Park both won their races, taking advantage of the fitness they build in Cagnes. Moughjim also was in the money again in Lyon. Only Ray of Hope told us he really didn’t want to leave Cagnes. He was never traveling when he ran in Deauville last week, but the fiber track there is a considerably harder surface than the track in Cagnes, and he never found his action. We’ll try him on a yielding turf course and he’ll find his winning form again.

We’ve had five winners so far this year, which puts us ahead of all of last year, and we’re just getting started. Spring is finally coming to Paris, and we’re ready for la vie en rose!

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…

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!