Hard Way makes progress

Hard Way (or Pencap to some of my American readers) finished 6th of 16 runners today in Deauville, running really well for what was essentially a schooling gallop and finishing just out of the money. (The French call 6th place the “place du con”; the nicest translation is the imbecile’s spot. There are other nastier translations, but I’ll spare you.) He clearly learned from his run at Fontainebleau what is supposed to happen on the track, so this time instead of sleeping in the gate, he panicked and jumped out practically first. Luckily Nadege was able to move him behind a couple of otherhorses, but he got stuck boxed in on the rail and started to panic again – he had never been in such a tight spot with so many other horses before. So he pulled a bit on the backstretch, although he relaxed in the turn and got a couple of deep breaths in, which allowed him to show – again – nice acceleration in the straight. He looked a little shell-shocked after the race, and I think he actually galloped at what might be close to a top speed for him for the first time. But by the time he finished blowing, about 15 minutes or so, he was looking pretty pleased with himself and started to relax again. Like Fontainebleau, he will learn quite a bit from this race; now we just have to see if he keeps his cool and handles the next few days of recovery well. He only needs one more race to qualify for a handicap mark, and there’s another 2,400 meter race pretty much like today’s on Jan. 10, so if all goes well that will be his next target.

Pixie, meanwhile, will wait until Jan. 6 for her next run. I scratched her for Friday, because there were just too many points against her. She would have been runningĀ  a longer distance against older horses for the first time in the Tierce handicap, which is the most-watched daily race in France. On top of it, she’s gone slightly sour on her feed again and had a small stone bruise on her front right foot, so there’s no point in pushing her for Friday. The handicap on Jan. 6 is restricted to three-year-olds (well, they’ll be considered four after Jan. 1) and is for horses that haven’t won 20,000 euros this year, so that limits the competition a bit. It will also give that stone bruise another week to heal and give me a chance to get her eating up again. Plus the distance is 1,500 meters, which we know suits her. I think she will stay 1,900 or 2,000, but maybe a try at that can wait until the spring.

4 Replies to “Hard Way makes progress”

  1. An unrated horse needs to run at least three races to qualify to run a handicap, or needs to finish in the first three places in a single race. (Skid Solo, for example, qualified for handicaps his first race out for me, because he finished second. Hard Way is still unplaced after two races, so he needs to run a third to get a rating.) There are essentially four classes of racing: the lowest level is claiming races, where all the runners are for sale at a given price. The next step up is pretty much equal between handicaps and condition races. In a handicap, each horse is assigned a weight according to his ability, in order to equalize the chances across the field. A condition race groups horses meeting certain criteria – for example, three-year-old fillies who have run at least three times but have not yet won a race, or haven’t won a certain amount of money. The weights in condition races are often equal across the field. Then the top level of racing consists of the Pattern Races, starting with Listed, then Group 3, 2 and 1, with 1 being the top, obviously. They are called Pattern Races because a good horse would start with Listed and work up; the original purpose, a couple of centuries ago when the Pattern was developed, was to select the very best horses for breeding. That is why some Group 1 races, including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, do not allow geldings to participate. Sorry it’s a long response, and thanks for asking!

  2. No. Thank you!

    If I might, since you have committed the gross error of answering my question, allow me to ask another.

    I have wondered this for a long time and I have never received a satisfactory answer. I have asked trainers and handicappers but they all circle around what sounds to me like, ‘I don’t really know but I’m going to throw something out there so you think I have a clue.’

    In the ’78 Belmont, Affirmed v. Alydar, I have heard multiple times how Cauthen, going to the left handed whip, won that race. Is there something special about the hand the whip is in? Affirmed doesn’t appear to change leads when Cauthen makes the switch.

    Again, sorry to bother you and thank you for the time.

  3. I’m just happy somebody’s taking the time to read this!

    From where I sit, switching to the left-handed whip simply gave Cauthen the room to effectively use the whip. The horses were boot-to-boot coming up the stretch, and if you notice, before the switch, Cauthen only has room to hit him on the shoulder. He can’t get a good whack at the backside. Alydar’s pilot already had the whip in his outside (right, in this case) hand. Switching the whip hand doesn’t necessarily cause a horse to change leads. It’s been my experience that in the stretch run, the horse will switch to whichever leg is most comfortable for maximum effort. Keep those cards and letters coming…

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