Hard Way is a quirky beast, as anyone who knows him will tell you, and while he is a willing horse most of the time, he has very strong opinions on things. And if there’s something he’s unhappy with, he does what the French do: He goes on strike.
He has tried to tell us before that he’s not keen on racing in Maisons-Laffitte. This is his home, after all, and it’s fine for training and overall general quality of life, but he’d prefer not to have to actually do any real work here. At least that was the message we got loud and clear when he finished up the field on Friday in what should have been a very easy race for him. Christophe Lemaire, his preferred jockey, came back and confirmed what I had suspected: He just doesn’t like this racecourse. He has run here only twice before, and both were relative disasters. One was clearly pilot error, and the second time he just didn’t fire. I was hesitating between two entries, the one here at home and one in Craon, where he won three years ago. The company looked easier in Maisons-Laffitte, but on Saturday morning, I was very much wishing we were heading to Craon instead.
Or perhaps it was still about that beer incident. Hard Way usually has his oats soaked in Guinness every night. Two days before the race, I ran out, so he had his dinner without his beer. He usually jumps into his food, but that night, he ate the good stuff (apples and carrots) and then stood in the middle of his box with his head down. I continued the rest of the yard work, and a few minutes later he decided to lay down, abandoning dinner. This is not at all like Hard Way, so I was worried he might be sick. I took his temperature and it was normal, so I went away and came back to check an hour later. His manger was licked clean and he was standing there eating hay has if nothing had happened. I was still suspicious, but his appetite was fine the next day. That next night, I had restocked the beer, and he ate with his usual enthusiasm.
He certainly didn’t act like anything was wrong when I was riding him, either. Hard Way has an onboard GPS, and he knows exactly where he is at all times out in the St. Germaine national forest, where he trains. There is a small hill where we usually gallop, and it is now impossible to do otherwise. A few days ago, he was particularly keen going for the hill and absolutely flew up the trail. I admit I was certainly not in control of the situation at that point, but he was. I would have started to worry, but I know that HE knows how long the path is, and where we turn. So sure enough, when we were approaching the corner at still serious speed, he eased up and around, doing his best quarter horse impression.
He’s come out of his race fine, and might go to Chantilly next. At least I know he approves of that track, since he’s already run in the money there. St. Cloud also seems to suit him, and he also likes Longchamp. One thing’s for certain – we’ll keep Maisons-Laffitte off the calendar.