It all started much more calmly than last year, but Cagnes sur Mer still has all the ingredients of a frat party for grown-ups (and the not-so-grownups). Sun, sea, alcohol and horse racing. If there’s a better combination than this, I don’t know it.
I came down last Sunday with Satwa Sunrise, and Deep Ocean, Strictly Rhythm and Surrey Storm followed two days later. But four quickly became three, unfortunately, because Sunrise was claimed on opening day, Monday, after finishing fifth. Her owner was devastated, and I, too, was very sorry to see her go, because she is a lovely big filly and will certainly win down here. We have to look on the bright side: We bought this filly for 2,000 euros less than three months ago and she was claimed for 21,000 and change. On top of that, she had already earned 6,500 in prize money. That is a tremendous showing for a filly that the previous trainer said had little talent and was probably a bleeder. I would have loved to hang onto her longer, but I’m pleased with my work and have to be content with that.
I tried to get her owner to claim another horse on Friday, but she was still licking her wounds from losing Sunrise and wasn’t interested. But for anybody reading this who bets, follow a horse called Splinter Cell. He’s a lovely old colt who is always in the money – much like Deep Ocean. He was brought in from Italy because they have no racing there at the moment, and he was claimed for just over 13,000 euros, which I think is quite a deal.
Surrey Storm debuted for me on Friday, and it didn’t go well, unfortunately. She is only a tiny filly, and I think she took the trip down here quite hard. She had the worst spot on the transport – at the back of the double-hitch semi trailer. When I opened the back to unload her, it looked like she had shrunk in the dryer. And she isn’t a horse that has room to shrink. I went ahead with the race because she seemed to be settling in and was eating very well, but she never got ahold of the fibersand track and struggled from beginning to end. It’s a race to throw out, though, because she is capable of much better. Her pedigree is stunning, and she just needs a little more time to get back to racing. Both she and Strictly Rhythm seemed to come into season immediately upon getting into the sun down here, so after a week or so she’ll be back on track. She’s still eating well and her eye is good, so we’ll see how she adjusts and find a longer race for her next time out. I’d really rather run her on the turf – the race Friday was her first time on the fiber and she really seemed to struggle with it. But there’s nothing for her on the turf for now, so she’ll probably be back on the polytrack next time out, too.
Strictly raced on Saturday, in an amateur lady rider’s race just to give her an easy gallop. She hadn’t raced since early October and was coming back from a few weeks of turnout in Normandy, so I wasn’t expecting her to do anything Saturday. She was outclassed in any case, and it was really just to get her moving again. We did the same thing with Hi Shinko last year and he came back to win next time out, so I’m hoping to repeat the pattern. She handled everything fine and came back looking for dinner, so she’s ready to crack on now. The starting gate crew remembered her from last year, though, and they asked if she was still as much trouble. They were relieved to find out that her gate manners had improved dramatically.
Our next runner is Deep Ocean on Thursday, in a handicap he should have every chance to win. He seems to have handled the trip down very well, and the big question is whether he can run left-handed or not. He hasn’t done so well at that direction so far, but we’ve treated his hock and he seems much straighter now, so I think he’ll be fine. He is passing his days sunbathing and watching the trotters, who are in paddocks not far from his box. He has become absolutely fascinated with the sulkies we have to pass in the morning, and he keeps telling me he’d like to give it a try. I have explained to him that that is not happening.
The atmosphere down here is the same as last year: It’s sort of like a college campus. Everyone is here temporarily and there is a mix of old hands, new people and – unlike college – a huge range of ages. There’s a rhythm to the place. Work starts relatively early, because all the horses have to be exercised before the track closes for racing. By mid-morning, people start to congregate at the Cantine. Some leave after coffee, but some head directly into the pastis, then beer, then lunch. On race days, it’s back to work to lead up, tack up and run, then back to the barns for night stable. Then back, of course, to the Cantine, where it’s cocktail hour until everyone decides what to do for dinner.
I’m lucky enough to live “on campus” this year. I have a studio above the racecourse offices, which puts me conveniently close to my horses. And, of course, to the dreaded Cantine. There are fewer English trainers here this year, which means my daily alcohol consumption is slightly below what it was last year. But only slightly. I’ve been wise enough to head back home before any of the rough stuff starts. So far…