Avenue du Monde
(Champs Elysees and Marla by Pentire)
Ray of Hope
(Champs Elysees and Marla by Pentire)
Strictly Rhythm is either the luckiest or unluckiest racehorse out there, depending on how you look at it. We went to Lyon on Tuesday with a good chance; according to the form, the worst that could possibly happen is we would run third. But racing is racing. It has been unseasonably hot and dry in France, which can turn some synthetic tracks, like the one in Lyon, to mush. Fearing just that, the groundskeepers poured water on the thing all morning and then sealed it, and sealed it good. The tractors were rolling nonstop for three hours Tuesday morning. I thought they would have to then follow with a harrow, but no, they were going to leave it like that, the president of the course said. I thought the surface was awfully hard, and didn’t like it, but Jean-Claude Rouget, who was running the favorite against us, said he thought it was safe. “We’ve never had an accident,” the president chimed in. Famous last words.
Strictly was laying second behind the leader coming out of the final turn, and just as they started to accelerate, the horse in front of us shattered a leg in one of the ugliest accidents I have ever seen on a racecourse. Strictly avoided the crash by millimeters, thanks to quick thinking by Fred Spanu, our jockey. Strictly ran on well, but the bobble to avoid the accident costs us third place by a short head at the line. Rouget, of course, won. Strictly still brought home money, and she came back sound (and alive, which is more than the connections of the other horse can say). So we were very lucky. But we’re still looking for her first win. The bright side is that her handicap mark has now dropped to a reasonable 32, which means I can now place her in some easier races. She will probably go to Compiegne in just under two weeks.
Meanwhile, we’re off to St. Cloud today with George, who will get his blinkers this time. This probably really WILL be his last race, so we just want to have fun and come back safe.
Then it’s on to Longchamp for a weekend of being a spectator for the Arc and associated group races. We have lots of out-of-town visitors and we’re planning quite an Arc party. I can’t get too carried away because I have to get Magical Flower to Argentan for a race on Monday.
We had a frustrating time at the races over the past few days. George ran quite well at St. Cloud last week, but I had wanted to put sheepskin cheek pieces on this time to motivate him a bit more. These now need to be declared, and through various missteps didn’t get declared, so we couldn’t use them. I am convinced that kept us from getting a check. George was lying fifth on the outside for the bulk of the race, accelerated a bit in the home stretch but switched off when the going got really tough at the end and couldn’t quite hang in there. The form says we finished 9th of 18, but it was the usual cluster at the end – the photo shows 5th through 10th places separated by not even a length. Good old George has really turned into a tourist at the track these days, and I really do need to retire him. He keeps conning me into giving him one more chance. We’ll see.
On Friday, Tuna (Fortunateencounter) and Rue B (Rue Debellyme) ran in the same claimer. I wasn’t keen to run Rue B, because I’d rather have waited for something a bit easier, but the owner was keen so we went ahead. She came back lame behind, on the opposite side of a similar injury she had this spring. So the message is clear: She is retired, and will be sound for riding and even some show jumping. She is just not cut out for speed. Tuna, on the other hand, ran a great race but hung badly right in the home stretch. Since she was running left handed this time, her path took her toward the rail rather than away from it, and she cut off a horse that then fell behind her. She flew on to finish third, two lengths clear of the fourth-placed horse, but she was disqualified because of the horse falling behind her. On top of it all, she was claimed, so I finished with no horse and no prize money. It was a good deal for her owners, though. She was bought for around 5,000 euros at Tattersalls in England in July, and she was claimed for 18,000 euros, which is a tidy profit in a short time. The next sale is coming up at the end of October, so we can try to do it again.
Tomorrow, Strictly Rhythm goes to Lyon with one of the best chances of her career: We have only eight runners in a maiden over 2,400 meters on the fibersand. As usual, there is a horse from Rouget who will be the favorite; we are second choice. We’ll try to prove the handicappers wrong.
It was busy at the end of last week with the La Teste sales and Birs in Lyon. First Birs: He finished 8th, but ran very, very well despite bad traffic. He was drawn 3, and Flavien had to fight with him to keep him from galloping on top of the other horses. (When you want the outside, you get the inside, and vice-versa, it seems.) Birs is a very, very big horse and wasn’t very happy inside. Once Flavien got him out, he galloped on to close nicely, and was only beaten about three lengths. In any case, the owner wanted him sold, so I made a deal with another trainer and he has now left my yard. He will run in Maisons-Laffitte next week, I hope, and I’ll still get the trainer’s percentage even if I don’t get to race him under my name. There are 80 entries, so we’ll see if he gets a run. He’s a nice horse, though, and one to watch.
As for the sales, the quality of horses on offer from Osarus is better than ever and there were some very nice yearlings through the ring. One of my owners did a bit of bidding and came away with nothing, and it was frustrating not to be able to bring a couple home. I particularly liked Lots 34, 78 and 93 – all very different styles of horses. No. 34 was a Layman colt who looked like he could race tomorrow. Very precocious and compact, he sold for 8,000 euros to Delcher-Sanchez, a trainer in Southern France or Spain – not sure which. No. 78 was a Great Journey filly, whose sister was a Listed-placed filly in Switzerland and France. She was a lovely model and went to Con Marnane for 11,500 euros, which means she is likely to come back to race in France (although I have no idea if she’ll come to me – my guess is probably not). My favorite horse of the sales was No. 93, a Carlotamix colt that went for only 11,000 to Michel Gentile. I figured he would have gone for a lot more, so maybe I missed a problem of some sort. Two of his three siblings are Listed winners and he was a nice horse, if a bit on the light side. The weak spot on the page, like it is for many French-bred horses, is the sire, of course. He did win the Group 1 Criterium International at St. Cloud, but didn’t do much else. He has eight winners from 45 foals of racing age, and he usually doesn’t get very good mares.
France suffers from a lack of decent sires, but it’s a vicious circle because breeders aren’t willing to pay high stud fees. The highest stallions in France stand for 15,000 euros, and that’s peanuts compared with many other places; Carlotamix stands for 2,500 euros.
In any case, it will be interesting to follow my three yearling picks to see what becomes of them.
The organization of the sales was excellent; the Osarus gang is the antithesis of the Arqana snobbery that goes on in Deauville. The Osarus team is very welcoming, and they put on free breakfast and lunch the morning of the sale, plus Champagne during the sales themselves (they’re not stupid – well-oiled buyers tend to drive up prices!). I’ll definitely be back.
In racing this week, George (Email Exit) will go to St. Cloud for a handicap on Thursday. I really need to retire him and find him a new job, but since I haven’t really moved on that yet and he’s here, eating, cantering and seeming well enough, he can race until I decide what to do with him. Tuna (Fortunateencounter) will go to a claimer here in Maisons-Laffitte on Friday. She was entered in a handicap at St. Cloud on Thursday but didn’t make the cut, so we’ll have to take another risk. Rue B. is entered in the same race, but I don’t think we may wait for a better chance for her.
Catching up the week’s runners: Agata made her jockey debut on Sunday and she’s alive to tell about it, and so is George, so all is well. Agata has good instincts: The race was 2,500 meters long, which was very tough for a first time out, and when she got off the horse the first thing she admitted was that the horse could have done better; it was the jockey who was cooked! Very true – first time past the stands all was well, but when she came around again for the home stretch, it was clear that poor Agata was just a passenger at that point. But it was a great experience for her, and it will bring her on tremendously as a work rider as well. I hope she has another few rides soon, because she will make progress. George, meanwhile, will probably be retired, but I may run him one more time with a jockey. I’ll decide in the next week. He’s sound, seems happy, is here and is eating, so he might as well race.
Rue B made her debut Sunday as well, and tried her best in a race that was far too short for her. On the plus side, she galloped straight, ears pointed and had a tremendously good mental attitude through it all. Not too bad for a first time. She’ll get another try soon at a longer distance, which will suit better.
On Monday, Fortunateencounter (Tuna) ran a cracker to finish 2nd of 17 runners in St. Cloud. She lobbed along relaxed and happy for most of the 3,000 meter race, then closed like a train all by her lonesome in midtrack after Tristan, her jockey, decided to take her wide (we’re still not sure why). She missed the win by a head, and we’re very happy with her. Magical Flower had an outing, too, but the field was much tougher for her. We don’t have many choices for races for her, because she hasn’t passed 3,000 euros in earnings so is the first eliminated under French rules. Very frustrating, because she’s placed four times in England. But because the prize money is so bad there, her earnings only barely top 2,000 euros. The same performance in France would have had her well tipping over 10,000.
Tuesday, Strictly ran the Tierce, my least-favorite race in France, and we were absolutely screwed by a jockey who did not follow orders. I was forced to change jockeys because Strictly had a low weight of 53.5 kilos, and most of the guys I use can’t ride that light. I told our replacement to put her just behind the leaders. Behind. He went tanking off in front, serving as the rabbit for three-quarters of the race, then gave two pushes in the stretch before he dropped his hands and let the horse lob in with all the other losers. Then the jockey came back and said we should shorten the horse back to a mile. She’s been just off the win at this distance five times, but no matter. Clearly not only did he not follow orders, but he didn’t do any homework. Sigh.
I’m off to the yearling sales in La Teste tomorrow, and then to Lyon on Friday, where Birs will run a claimer. He’s a lovely big horse that just needs experience, and probably more distance. We’ll see what happens.
We’ve had all four runners so far this week in the money, if not as close to the winners’ circle as we had hoped. Layman’s Terms ran fifth in Le Lion d’Angers in a good race. She was not beaten far and she made tremendous progress from her disastrous debut in Lyon. She is a filly with a lot of speed, but she has been too hot-headed so far to run well. But she comported herself much better in Lion d’Angers, so we can look for better things from her. Once she gets it, she’s going to be a very nice filly.
We finished fourth and fifth yesterday in the claimer at St. Cloud, but not in the order I had expected. Golden Age ran very well and closed to steal fourth from her stablemate, Comment Dit. Golden Age ran so well I’m a little surprised she wasn’t claimed; she probably will be next time out, and I’ll be sorry to see her go. I had expected a much bigger run from Comment Dit, but she seemed discouraged by the long uphill straight and didn’t put in much of an effort. We’ll look for something easier for her next time out.
Today in Maisons-Laffitte, Sotka took fifth in a Listed race for only her second time out. She was only beaten three lengths and is showing tremendous promise.
Panisette went to Bordeaux this noon for her race tomorrow, and Runaway Sparkle and Twilight Allure will leave for Lyon shortly. I’m told the track in Lyon hasn’t improved since we last saw it, but we’re going ahead anyway because if we pull out at this stage, we’ll have to wait another eight days to enter and both horses need the run. Runaway should have a good chance, but I have no idea how she’ll handle the ground. In any case, we’ll all be in the same boat, so the mudlarks will win the day – whoever they are.
It’s been warm and dry in most of France for far too long; we’re in the middle of a drought that has turned most of the Ile de France into a dustbowl and the turf courses are turning hard as pavement despite watering. Consequently, tracks that can are watering aggressively – and that includes Lyon, France’s second city about six hours Southwest of us. So we thought we would have four runners there Wednesday and Thursday. When we left Paris it was warm and sunny. When we got to Lyon, it was cold and pouring rain. Con Marnane was sure we made a wrong turn and ended up back in Ireland. The rain on top of the watering turned the track into a heavy mess, and our two fillies struggled on it. Golden Age finished only fifth and Rajasthani Princess was right behind her (running better, actually, than I had expected).
Since the weather was not predicted to get any better, we decided to scratch Hold That Emperor for Thursday and go ahead with Talawa. We didn’t think she’d like the ground, either (and she didn’t), but she needed the run and we had no other good entries coming up for her. Hold That Emperor, on the other hand, is a very nice colt and we didn’t want to waste a race in Lyon. Unfortunately, by declaring him a non-starter, we have to wait eight days before he can race again, so he loses what would have been an excellent back-up entry in St. Cloud next week. But there will be other chances for him. Talawa, on the other hand, will go the claiming route. Hopefully she will run better on better ground, because she was extremely unbalanced in Lyon, and also managed to chuck Fabien off on the way to the start.
We have an easy weekend now, meaning I get to go to the French Derby on Sunday and actually just enjoy the day. We’ll pick up next week with runners in Angers, St. Cloud and Maisons-Laffitte.