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.

The road to perdition…

…is paved with good intentions. That certainly was in evidence this past week, when a number of attempts at good deeds were fraught with unintended consequences. Where to start? How about the story of George.

I sold him to an organization called Ecurie Second Chance, which buys out-of-training racehorses, reschools them and then sells them on as riding horses. Sometimes, with the owner’s consent, they are placed again for racing. When I sold George, for just 500 euros, which is the going rate for retired racehorses, I said I wasn’t opposed to him racing again if a small permit-holder was found and if the horse had a much-needed break. George is sound, nice and could race next year in easier venues than around Paris. A week later, the man who bought the horse called me and said he had two possibilities that both involved racing: One in Martinique, and one in France, but for either one he’d have to move on immediately. Needless to say I wasn’t pleased with either choice, but in all fairness I had sold the horse, so I had very little say in the matter. Between a rock and a hard place, I said I prefer he stay in France. That week, he showed up declared in training with a public trainer with a yard of 25 horses, and a week after that he was entered in a sprint up in Le Crois√©-Laroche, a dismal track near Lille that I would avoid racing at at all costs. George would have to endure a seven-hour truck ride each way to get from his new trainer’s base to race and back, not to mention it was a race completely unsuited for him even if he WAS in shape. He raced, and needless to say he finished last, poor kid. The next day I saw he was entered in a race at Amiens seven days later. That was when Kay, my American owner who had leased George while he was with me, and I took action. Long story short, we bought the horse back, and we’ve found a new home for him that will not include racing.

The man who runs Ecurie Second Chance was highly apologetic and I believe he sincerely did have good intentions, but just had no idea how to execute them. During our numerous phone exchanges, he would always complain that he was severely overworked, that numerous trainers were looking to “dump” their bad horses at the end of the season and that he couldn’t cope. These are the times that try men’s souls. Yes, there are too many horses, and yes, we’re looking, at this time of year, to move the underperforming ones on. But if Ecurie Second Chance felt overwhelmed by the task, he should not have bought the horse! I would have kept him until I found a suitable situation for him myself. Which brings me to the second story of the week…

…and the names are changed to protect the – well, not the innocent, really, but…a horse, let’s call her Sadie, was injured in a race at the end of September. The nature of the problem meant that she had to be on box rest for a few weeks, but she was a very nice-natured filly and would make an excellent riding horse; the injury wasn’t limiting in that sense. I immediately started looking for a home for her, but obviously it is hard to place a lame horse, even with good potential. So I was forced to hang onto her for longer than I wanted, and certainly far longer than the owner wanted, but I did eventually find a very nice home for her at the end of October. This meant the owner was being billed for the horse a month longer than he wanted to be. He paid, along with a registered letter saying how furious he was with my “extortionary” price of 30 euros a day for a horse out of training. I understand his frustration, but despite all, I applaud him for paying his bill and not ordering the horse sent to slaughter, which I suppose he could have done (for the record, I wouldn’t have done it, even if it meant paying the horse’s keep myself). In any case, this story ends well: I just got a photo from the new owner, and he is thrilled with her. And for the record, the price I charge is far from extortionary; there is no profit margin there. Hay and straw prices have skyrocketed this year, and while the horse wasn’t ridden out, she was kept in a clean box, brushed and fed daily. The standard of care doesn’t change when the horse can no longer race.

We soldier on. Going into winter is the worst time of year in the horse business. Magic picked up the dreaded cough right before her race on Monday, and I nearly scratched but didn’t and should have, probably. In any case, the distance of 2,500 meters seems just a bit too long on heavy ground, and I’ll look for something shorter for her once we clear up the cough. King ran a great second race at St. Cloud last week. He’s learning his lessons well and I want to get a couple of more races in this year, but we had to give him a flu shot this week, and of course, he’s had a reaction to it. I’m hoping it’s a brief setback, but don’t know yet.

The new fillies from Newmarket are doing well, and Triple Tonic, back from her convalescence in Normandy, is jumping out of her skin. It’s great to have Hard Way back. He seems better than ever and hasn’t lost a step – if you don’t hang onto him in the morning he’ll be off like a shot. And we have a new colt, Deep Ocean, who came to us from Marseille. He can only race right-handed because of stringhalt in his left hock, which makes him a challenge, but he’s a lovely horse who clearly always tries his best (he’s had a win and six places this year). All of them are being aimed at some winter racing on the fibersand in Deauville and later in Cagnes (except for Deep, who can’t go to Cagnes because it is left-handed).

Already, November this year has been paradise compared with what we had to put up with last year. I don’t know how long we can escape the freezing temperatures, but I’m treasuring every day I don’t need to put ten layers and gloves!

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!

George moves on, Magic gears up

George left the yard yesterday to start a new life with the aptly-named Ecurie Second Chance. He is sound and could race again, but most likely will be reschooled as a riding horse. He has such a wonderful personality and is very fun to ride, so I’m sure he will do well. He’ll have some turnout time now, too, which he very much needs. We’ll be able to follow his travels to make sure things go well for him.

Strictly Rhythm will be off this week, too, for a bit of much-deserved vacation in Normandy. Coming home will be Hard Way. I had decided to retire him, but I’m now rethinking that decision. He is not very happy standing around in a field and he’ll come back to see how he adjusts to life back at the yard. There will be no pressure; he’ll basically by my stable pony for the moment and we’ll see where it goes. (Although having Hard Way as a stable pony might be a bit optimistic on my part – he can be quite a handful to ride at times, so I may regret my decision.)

Magical Flower, meanwhile, will go to Clairefontaine on Monday for her first handicap and her first try stretching out to 2,900 meters. She seems in fine form, so if she gets the distance, and I think she will, we should have every chance here. King Driver is still on track for his debut on Thursday in Deauville. He’ll have a gallop tomorrow morning and then it’s time to start declare. We’ve been this far once before without quite making it, but I’m hoping this time we can really go ahead.

Apres-Arc detox

Our last visitors left today after a great week of racing, touring, eating and drinking. The Arc weekend was fantastic, as usual, plus the weather was more like Deauville in August than Longchamp in October. Put simply, we roasted. It was wonderful. Our party took over a good part of the paddock restaurant, and we couldn’t have been better placed to have a look at all the Group 1 horseflesh on offer. No one saw Danedream coming. The crowd of 50,000 were stunned into silence by her record-breaking victory. Even Frankie Dettori, on third-placed Snow Fairy, couldn’t believe it – and who could blame him? He was sitting pretty going into the home stretch, with only Sarafina’s leader and some unknown orange silks in front of him. But Sarafina’s leader, Shareta, ran the race of her life and the unknown orange silks happened to belong to a feat of German engineering called Danedream. Frankie settled for third.

It was also too bad to see Goldikova get headed on her last appearance in France, but she’ll still go to the Breeders’ Cup, where I suspect she still has some ass to kick. Nice to see Sole Power take a good third in the Abbaye; he is Sotka’s half-brother, and this bodes well for her season next year. And another one to keep a close eye on is the undefeated Dabirsim, who showed amazing acceleration in the Grand Criterium.

We left the crowds of Longchamp far behind on Monday to head off to Argentan with Magical Flower, where she finished 5th in a maiden and took her first check in France. She is now qualified for handicaps, and there is a good one for her next week, if she gets a low enough rating. I’m reluctant to enter in a handicap straight away, but this would be the best race for her. She has to be rated below 32 to qualify. Based on what she’s done so far for us, she shouldn’t be rated higher, but sometimes the handicappers do unreasonable things.

While we were out in deepest Normandy, we took the opportunity to stop by and see my other horses near Orbec, where Triple Tonic is recovering, Hard Way is bored in a field and Well Done Clare is happily in foal to My Risk. Triple Tonic will be ready to come back in early November, I suspect, and I’ve decided to bring Hard Way back home. We’ll see how he goes, but it’s not out of the question that he could race again.

Anyway, in all the excitement this past week, I haven’t gotten a chance to say that I’m very pleased to be part of a new alliance of bloggers called Turf. Have a look at the web site. It includes some very well-written blogs by people in and around the thoroughbred racing business all over the world. I’m very pleased to be part of the group, and it will give me a chance to address wider issues now and then, in addition to the laundry list of what the horses in my yard are doing. There will be various themes tackled by all of the bloggers in the group (and the current one is the Breeders’ Cup, and I’m behind…so stay tuned!).

Debuts, progress and one bad trip

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.