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.
I’ve waited years to finally get a winner at Longchamp, and this month we got two: Hard Way won his handicap two weeks ago, and Eternal Gift followed it up with a win last Saturday. Hard-working Deep Ocean was in the money again this past week, and King Driver ran a fantastic comeback after a year off to finish third. Grey Falcon dropped in a check, too, confirming that the yard is definitely in form.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks. Hard Way followed exactly the same pattern as he did last year: After his comeback race out in the country, he was ready to tackle Paris and found his favorite jockey, Christophe Lemaire, who rode a perfect race to give me my first winner at Longchamp. It was a 3,100-meter handicap, and Hard Way aced it carrying top weight of 60 kilos. His efforts got him back into the Bloodhorse magazine in America, with his longtime fan John Gilmore doing the honors. The next day, Grey Falcon stepped up in class and distance when he ran second division of the Quinte handicap in Maisons-Laffitte, trying 2,400 meters for the first time. He nearly wired it, just getting caught at the post to finish second by a short head. He has been really unlucky not to win yet, but he’s knocking on the door and it should happen soon.
Eternal Gift finally stepped up his game at Longchamp last Saturday, winning a mile handicap by a neck. I knew he was progressing, and he certainly showed us that he preferred the good ground and galloping track of Longchamp to the muddy traffic circle he found in Amiens. It was his third race back after gelding, and I think he’s going to be a useful horse now. He picked up three kilos in the handicap ratings, which isn’t great, but he still has margin for progress.
We barely had time to get him off the truck Saturday night before we loaded up Deep Ocean, Gold Knight and Not Bad for a Boy for the trip down to Vichy and the week-long racing festival there. Deep Ocean finished fourth in the Quinte on Sunday (we were all sure it was third, but there was just the shadow of a nose in front of him), but Not Bad didn’t distinguish himself in his claimer. It was his first race back in a year, though, and he has been a bit sore in the back, so he deserves another chance or two. Gold Knight showed quite a bit of improvement in his claimer on Monday. He didn’t get up into the money yet, but he did give us hope that we’re on the right track.
The star of the week, though, was King Driver, who was coming back after year off almost to the day. He had some serious health problems last year, and I was never able to get him to his potential. He showed that those seem to be behind him now, though, running a strong third. It was a very easy field of 18, and he would have won if he had kept to the rail instead of coming out to the stands side. He is still very green, having run only six races in his life before Wednesday, and there was a good crowd at the track and it was a night meeting, so once he hit the front, he just looked at all the people rather than pay attention to racing. He has come back very well and is likely to run in Deauville in early August.
In between the racing, I went to the Newmarket sales, where we found an addition to the yard optimistically named Greatest. He is a four-year-old gelding by Anabaa out of a stakes-winning mare, and he seems to want soft ground to run his best. So we’ll build him up and get him ready for a fall campaign. A half share in him is available, so contact us if you’re interested.
Next up might be Hard Way and Grey Falcon on Thursday in Chantilly. I don’t particularly want to race them against each other, but they are in the second half of the Quinte handicap and there aren’t many runners declared, so it might be too good to pass up. In any case, I’m pretty sure Hard Way will go, but I’m still undecided about Grey Falcon, who might prefer softer ground. Hard Way is really a soft ground horse, too, but he doesn’t really care what he gallops on as long as he feels good and wants to run. Both will gallop tomorrow morning, and I’ll decide for sure then. All of the horses are struggling a bit with the heat, and storms are forecast for Tuesday, which might make the going a little easier.
After that, we’ll gear up for Deauville in August, although we’ll probably have fewer runners than in July. Competition is tough there, and unless we have very good entries, it makes more sense to wait until September. In any case, the horses will tell me what they want to do. All I have to do is listen.
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…
We found two nice fillies last week at the Newmarket Horses in Training sale: Surrey Storm and Satwa Sunrise. The meteorological alliteration was completely by accident. Surrey Storm is a two-year-old daughter of Montjeu out of a Listed-winning Dansili mare. She is a first foal and very small, but she’s a scrappy sort and has placed twice in four starts. She has an excellent paper and she should make a very interesting addition to our team.
Satwa Sunrise is a four-year-old daughter of Meshaheer and a Polish Precedent mare. She is a half-sister to Listed winner Mary’s Precedent and has placed twice on the all-weather track, so she’ll be perfect for Deauville and Cagnes this winter. She is eligible for French owner’s premiums, and a half-share is available.
The sales were the usual exhausting work, but it is fun at the same time to see our Newmarket friends and get a change of scenery. And it’s always amazing to see the facilities that Godolphin has going – they own most of the town, it seems, and spare no expense on anything a horse might need. Seawalkers, spas, hyperbaric chambers, swimming pools…it’s all wonderful stuff, but at the end of the day a good horse will succeed without it, and it won’t make a mediocre horse better. Good food, a good routine and letting them have an afternoon nap works, too. At least that’s what the rest of us do.
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!
I came back from Newmarket on Saturday with three new additions to the yard: Fortunateencounter (Fortunate Encounter, for those of you who weren’t able to make the split), a three-year-old French-bred Muthathir filly; Magical Flower, a three-year-old Oasis Dream filly with solid form, and a still-unnamed two-year-old Majestic Missile filly who we hope will soon be called Original Cyn. The three-year-olds should be ready to go for the Deauville season in August. The two-year-old will take a bit more time, but should definitely run this fall.
All three arrived Sunday morning early, just as we sent Comment Dit down to Vittel, where she won. Runaway Sparkle traveled north to Le Touquet, where she finished third. Hold That Emperor was in much tougher company today in Chantilly, where he could only manage 6th. We’ll look for something easier for him out in the country next.
Next out will be Strictly Rhythm on Thursday, where she will again tackle the Tierce handicap, this time at Longchamp. It is an evening meeting, which also features the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris, a big garden party and after-race fireworks, so it should be a fun night all around.
With the new horses from Newmarket, there should be a busy summer ahead for the yard.