Quiet Zain won a Quinte handicap, a first for him and for the yard. Michael Forest placed him in perfect position behind the leaders and pulled out in the stretch with plenty of horse to leave the field behind.
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.
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!
I haven’t had a runner over the sticks in several years, since I decided I’d rather concentrate on the flat because frankly, I don’t have the stomach for the risks involved to horse and rider. That said, I do have a lot of respect for the discipline and I love to watch the best jumpers in action, which is something that will happen next week when attention turns to the Cheltenham festival in England. Why am I taking time out from my usual blogging to look at Cheltenham, you might ask? Two reasons.
The first, and most important, is that a friend of mine, Sally Anne Grassick, is one of the riders in the Saint Patrick’s Derby, a race to be run during the festival to raise money for cancer research. Sally Anne is a journalist who spreads her time between Equidia, the French racing channel, and various publications, including the Jour de Galop and its offshoot in English, the French Daily News. I sometimes lend a hand translating the French Daily News, which is how I got to meet Sally. She is also an amateur jockey in France and was one of the 12 chosen to ride in the Cheltenham race next Thursday. Sally is just shy of her goal of raising 15,000 pounds for her cause, so lend her a hand and make a donation. It’s very easily done online, and every bit helps.
Sally Anne will be sporting the famous JP McManus silks, which brings me to the second reason I’m interested in Cheltenham. A friend of mine was instrumental in selling a French horse to McManus called Another Sensation, who is entered in the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle next Wednesday. According to the latest betting on the upcoming Cheltenham festival, he’s a bit of a long shot, but I wouldn’t rule him out. A few of us over here will definitely be rooting for him. (Oh, and just an aside – that link on the odds takes you to our friends at Paddy Power, who also have a nifty next-Pope book going. Ya gotta love it!)
I’ve been to Cheltenham a few times, and it is an amazing few days of racing. The crowds are unbelievable – it once took me three hours just to get out of the parking lot. Turned out I wasn’t as clever as I had thought when I snagged that close-up spot in the owners and trainers lot. Once you get in, you can’t get out! So I’ll be happy to follow it along at home. Watching it, though, will probably inspire me to send my own string out jumping a bit. We do like to train over hurdles occasionally, just to build back muscle and sharpen them up overall. But I think I’ll leave the actual racing to the specialists.
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.
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.
It all started with a f*cking flu shot. A day later, Triple Tonic started coughing. No big deal, we thought; she’s a two-year-old having a bit of a reaction. A little vitamin C, slow down for a few days and it will all be fine. But she didn’t get better. After about two weeks of intermittent coughing, in a completely unrelated incident, she decided to unhook her metal water bucket with her head, necessitating five stitches (and a change to a plastic bucket). Fine. She had to have antibiotics for this, so maybe we kill two birds with one stone and clear up the cough. One week and seven injections later, her head was perfectly healed, but she was still coughing, and the stuff coming out of her nose was not pretty. A sample was sent off to the lab, the vet was sure he had the right antibiotic and we started again. Ten days later, no change. Off to the clinic for a scope and possibly a head x-ray to make sure it wasn’t in her sinuses. Bad scope, but clean sinuses, another lab test and a third kind of antibiotic. No luck, but poor Tonic was starting to feel like a pin cushion.
Meanwhile, despite doing our best to keep her isolated and disinfect everything that came in contact with her, King next door started coughing, and Rue B down the line thought she might join in. We put all the horses on a course of a broad spectrum antibiotic to try to contain things. I have never, ever done this because I hate to compromise the immune system and contribute to the development of resistant strains of crap. But this time it seemed called for. Triple Tonic, meanwhile, will move to the country tomorrow for an old-fashioned, unpleasant but effective treatment: The “abces de fixation,” a provoked abscess in the chest cavity that draws all the nasty stuff into it and is then drained. It’s akin to leeches, and for me it is definitely a method of last resort. But pumping more chemicals into this poor filly’s system just seems the wrong way to go.
King obviously is a scratch for his debut tomorrow; we’ve given him a second dose of Iodure, an IV iodine designed to clean out the respiratory system. He will be rescoped on Thursday, when we’ll send swabs to the lab. So far, it looks like we might catch him before it’s too far gone. He’s also more advanced in his work, and might have a stronger immune system. Let’s hope. Rue B, too, seems to be fighting it off. For now, all the horses that have raced seem fine. They are tougher and older, so they might not come down with…whatever it is this is.
George, Hi Shinko and Birs are heading to Deauville tomorrow to help close down the August meeting. George is running 2,400 meters in a handicap on the fibersand, Shinko goes 1,500 meters in a claimer for amateur riders and Birs stretches out to 1,900 meters in a claimer. George probably has the best chance of the three; Shinko was truly disappointing last time out and I don’t know where we are with him. He’ll have blinkers for the first time tomorrow, so I’m hoping he just decides to bolt and get on with it. Birs will get more distance, which he needs, but I would have preferred to get him on the turf instead of the fiber. In any case, he’s the last of the runners from the Irish contingent. They will head home Wednesday after running a good four-month season here.
Our numbers so far this year are pretty good: seven wins and 47 places from 120 starts, which puts us in the money 45 percent of the time. Things will slow down a bit now that the Irish are going home, but we still have a solid stable that should keep the percentages up. Meanwhile, it’s already time to start thinking about yearling sales and prospects for next year. The Deauville August sale is behind us, but other sales with more realistic prices are ahead, including the Osarus sale at La Teste on Sept. 15. The catalog is quite good and the prices are usually affordable. Anybody out there interested in yearlings should get in touch.
I’m finally finding time to catch up after coming back from our brief, but crammed, vacation. Vegas was fun, as always. You either love it or hate it, but I think it’s great. Everyone’s there for the same reason – a little gambling, a lot of eating, some shows…it’s refreshing to be in a place where you can chat with strangers sharing the craps table or lounging by the pool and not have to worry about the French formalities. But I digress. Back in the real world, or at least what passes for it for me, we are in mid-season in Deauville, and things are clicking along.
Strictly Rhythm seems to be back on track, running a very good fifth in a maiden on Friday. She had the far outside number 18 draw, which is no gift on the 1,900 meter course. From that spot, you either have to get out front or sit behind everyone. She got out nicely, showing much more spark than she had in her past two races. A better draw would have put her even closer to the win. Comment Dit ran a good third in her claimer. She has proven to be a tough filly who has taken her racing well. Hold That Emperor was a little more disappointing, running only 6th, but he is running like a horse that needs a break, and he’ll get one, finally.
On Tuesday, Justthewayyouare ran a good fifth, but it was his first blow on the fibersand and I think he’ll be better on the turf. He’ll get one more run out in the country before he goes back to Ireland to finish growing up.
Tomorrow, George makes his comeback in the last race of the day. He seems to be back on track, and the entry is good, so fingers crossed for him. He ran off with me twice this week, so I know he’s certainly got it in the tank. It also gives me a great excuse to be on hand for Goldikova and Galikova. Deauville is quite a bit of fun in August.