OK, so this is old news by now, but in our defense, we celebrated for three days, de-toxed for three days, then I had to go to Ireland to look at horses, then the breeze-up sales, then Longchamp, but now, finally, the story of the miraculous comeback of Hard Way!
Let’s not bury the lead too far here: Hard Way won easily at St. Cloud last Saturday, cruising past 19 other runners in the home stretch to win by nearly two lengths with plenty in hand. It was an expert ride by Christophe Lemaire, who had ridden a couple of nice races on Hard Way before, but it was so long ago that he completely forgot about it. Here’s the miraculous part: Hard Way was lucky to be alive two years ago, when we found that he had a crushed first vertabra. We have no idea how or when it happened, but the vets who did the scan were surprised that the horse was still standing, much less racing. Because they had never seen an injury like that, they had no idea what the prognosis was. Time, they said, and then see what happens.
I turned Hard Way out for three months, then did another MRI scan. The vertabra had fused into a bony mass, and the fragments that threatened to compromise his spinal cord healed into that mass. He was given the green light to resume training. Hard Way has always been a handful to ride, so I sent him back into pretraining so somebody else could do the work of getting him moving again. But after three weeks, he had a stiff neck. I took that as a warning and decided to retire him. He spent another eight months or so turned out in Normandy. But he was clearly unhappy in the herd of retirees; it was October, winter was coming and he was looking miserable. I brought him home.
I thought he would just be the stable pony, but he had other ideas. We tried to keep him relatively contained through winter. He hacked out daily in the national forest behind the training center, and we let him go fast on the track a couple of times a week just to burn the steam off and keep him ridable. By January, it was clear he would race again, but taking him south to Cagnes sur Mer was out of the question because he would be lethal to ride down there, where he would have to go onto the track every day. We waited, and on April 1 I took him out to a small country track to give him a run and see what would happen. He ran well, finishing 7th. I gave him another warmup at the same track, and he finished 5th. Then we brought him to St. Cloud where he basically annihilated the field.
Since he hadn’t run in so long, the handicappers were good to us. They dropped his rating to 25.5, which allowed us the perfect entry at St. Cloud. He has picked up three kilos now so stands at 28.5, and the prize money of 10,500 euros (which was inflated to more than 16,000 with the addtion of the French owners’ premium) priced him out of the market for the races I had planned to run next with him. No matter. I think he will easily run to a rating of 30 or 31 before we run into trouble. He may run again at the end of this week in Maisons-Laffitte. He seems to want to make up for lost time.