MISTER MARIO (Kheleyf out of a Country Reel mare) took third place in the 2000 meter (11/4 mile) Prix de la Place Wagram handicap on the good going in St Cloud July 13, 2020. Jockey Coralie PACAUT managed the far outside draw to ensure the place for owner Marie-Carmel NAIM.
Aborigene (George Vancouver out of a Johannesburg mare) runs for Jacques Jarnet and Paule Descargues. So far Aborigene has been the little horse that could. He runs on the turf from 2,000 to 2,400 meters and now we’ll have to see if his small size stops him from being effective against older horses. But he has a great attitude and leaves his heart on the track every time, so we’re expecting him to do well. Working off a rating of 29, his first run will be Jan. 23.
El Viso (Camelot our of an Elusive City mare) is owned by Bryan Gusdal and Kay Minton. He seems to have plenty of ability but is a very nervous horse at the track, so hopefully the Cagnes experience will agree with him. He runs 2,000 meters and longer, and we’re still testing his distance limits. He likes to come from behind and loves the fibersand. Fairly rated at 28.5, his first run will be Jan. 18.
Glorious Emaraty (George Vancouver out of a Kheleyf mare) carries Roger Straus’s silks with co-owners Brian Dunn, Kay Minton and Susanne Born. Another horse with plenty of ability who has been reluctant to show it so far, Glorious is our only sprinter in Cagnes this year. That gives him plenty of options on both surfaces at distances from 1,300 to 1,500 meters. His last run in Deauville was promising, and he will debut in Cagnes on Jan. 14 or 15, still working off a prohibitively high rating of 34.5.
Midas Girl (Dabirsim out of a Kodiac mare) will carry Kay Minton’s colors with co-owner Tim Rarick. Her last run in Deauville was impressive as she closed from dead last to finish third in a maiden. She was running sprint distances in England but that was clearly not her sport, despite having speed breeding. We think her distance is 2,000 meters and if she can confirm her Deauville run, she will make money in Cagnes. She is running off an initial rating of 32.5, which is higher than it should be, so will run the claimer on Opening Day, Jan. 13.
Starstruck (Masterstroke out of a Montjeu mare) will carry the colors of Roger Straus and is co-owned by Susanne Born, Brian Dunn and Manuela Groll. She’s been an absolute star in 2019 winning three races for us, but that means she’s coming into Cagnes with a high rating of 34. She’s a gazelle on heavy ground and runs any distance from 2,200 meters on up, the longer the better. She has already beaten older horses, so she comes with solid experience. Her comeback race will be Jan. 18.
Avenue du Monde (Champs Eysees and Marla out of Pentire) won the Prix Wemyss Bight, a second division 2100m turf handicap, at the St Cloud racetrack today in the west suburbs of Paris today. She caught the favorite, Santorina (Trajano and Madinella out of Anabaa) at the wire, winning by a nose.
Avenue’s jockey, Michael Barzalona, led her out of the gate easily and placed her comfortably at the back of the field just to the outside of Santorina who was at the rail on the backstretch. The two competitors ran comfortably with the pace, a few lengths behind the leaders.
As they came out of the final turn, the two were side-by-side. Santorina’s jockey, Alexis Badel, went to the rail in the stretch while Barzalona went wide around the field. As they both cleared the other horses, they came together with Santorina in front. However, Michael didn’t stop riding, both he and the horse fought to the end taking the race by a nose in a photo finish.
Avenue du Monde went off as second favorite paying 6,90 for a euro bet and 7,70 online. Place bets were 2,20 and 2,10 respectively. The going was considered soft at 3.6. Time of the race was 2’12”80.
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!
So it seems this blog is all but dead. My fault. Facebook’s fault. I resisted, in the beginning. I hated the idea of Facebook (not least because that was what the New York Times called their personnel directory, which seemed insulting and…well, impersonal). But a few years ago I cracked. My excuse was that I needed to be on Facebook for marketing purposes, which turned out not to be wrong. Facebook has been a useful tool for that. It also has been a colossal time-wasting addiction, but I digress. And it has also eaten my blog.
Facebook, for better or worse, is an extremely quick and easy way for me to update anybody who cares or claims to care about all the comings and goings in the yard, the races, the results and just random tidbits (that would contribute to the time-wasting part). I have a pretty large following there, and I have been resorting to communicating that way instead of by blog, which some of you have actually noticed. To those of you who still check back here regularly, I apologize. And once again, I will try to do better. Meanwhile, if you’re not already signed on to Facebook, just do it. It’s really not so bad. And if you’re paranoid that signing up to Facebook will open your entire private life in every intimate detail to cyberspace, don’t be. Facebook only knows what you want it to know, so just don’t tell it anything. They don’t need to know your birthday, your address or anything else pertinent. You need an email address and a name. That’s pretty much it. Sign up, “friend” me (yes, Facebook has verbed the noun) and I’ll add you to the Gallop France group there and you’ll see everything that’s going on.
Right, so some of you are still resisting. For you guys (all five of you, so I hope you appreciate it!), here’s what’s going on in a nutshell: Hard Way has resisted retirement yet again, and ran a comeback race down in the country yesterday at the ripe old age of nine. He finished third of eight runners. I had hoped he would win, because to say the competition was weak would be the nicest thing you might say. But third still requalifies him for handicaps, and he probably needed the run after six months off. Despite rock-hard ground, he seems to have come back OK.
Gorki Park also ran his comeback race, finally, after nearly six months off, and he came 4th in a 20-runner handicap in Maisons-Laffitte. He looks like he should be just as useful this year as last. He’s grown up a bit and will stretch out in distance this year – if we can find him a decent race, which is easier said than done at the moment. King Driver, our other stable banker, is just back from a short break. He finished third at St. Cloud in mid-May, but chucked off his jockey (twice!) and ran loose for quite some time around the racecourse before he got down to work. That was him telling us as clear as he could that he was ready for a vacation, so he got one. He’s back in training as of tomorrow after having spent a month at the spa – a stud just north of us that specializes in massages and has a great water-walker to keep the muscle tone while on vacation.
Melrand and Pahlavan also had short stays there, as did Risk Well Taken, an unraced two-year-old who went for two weeks after coming up with sore shins. Risks’s stay there was nothing short of miraculous – she came back nearly 20 kilos heavier and bulging with muscle. Our other unraced two-year-old, Impulsive American, was almost ready to debut when he picked up a virus of some sort, which will set us back a few weeks. Pahlavan and Ray of Hope also got it, but they all seem to be on the mend now.
Charitable Act has been retired; his iffy joints were getting the best of him so we decided to stop while he was still sound enough for pleasure riding. Greatest has also moved on to greener pastures, but is still racing and just finished 2nd for his new connections. We wish him well – I always thought he was a good horse, but we were persistently unlucky with him. Clearly, a change was in order!
La Mer seems finally on track after having just about every problem a growing horse can have. She is back galloping, and will hopefully run a maiden in Deauville in early July. Eternal Gift has finally come down in the handicap to a mark he should be able to win from, and he’ll get a try in Amiens on Saturday. Gut Instinct also should be able to win a small race soon, but she would be better on softer ground. She has some good entries coming up, though, so I’ll have to decide whether to brave the good ground or not.
That rounds up just about everyone, I think. And reading back, I see the other problem Facebook has caused. Since I no longer write much more than a sentence at a time, it seems I’m losing the knack. I’d better get back to it, or I won’t be able to write that novel I’ve been talking about for the past two decades!
…is paved with good intentions. That certainly was in evidence this past week, when a number of attempts at good deeds were fraught with unintended consequences. Where to start? How about the story of George.
I sold him to an organization called Ecurie Second Chance, which buys out-of-training racehorses, reschools them and then sells them on as riding horses. Sometimes, with the owner’s consent, they are placed again for racing. When I sold George, for just 500 euros, which is the going rate for retired racehorses, I said I wasn’t opposed to him racing again if a small permit-holder was found and if the horse had a much-needed break. George is sound, nice and could race next year in easier venues than around Paris. A week later, the man who bought the horse called me and said he had two possibilities that both involved racing: One in Martinique, and one in France, but for either one he’d have to move on immediately. Needless to say I wasn’t pleased with either choice, but in all fairness I had sold the horse, so I had very little say in the matter. Between a rock and a hard place, I said I prefer he stay in France. That week, he showed up declared in training with a public trainer with a yard of 25 horses, and a week after that he was entered in a sprint up in Le Croisé-Laroche, a dismal track near Lille that I would avoid racing at at all costs. George would have to endure a seven-hour truck ride each way to get from his new trainer’s base to race and back, not to mention it was a race completely unsuited for him even if he WAS in shape. He raced, and needless to say he finished last, poor kid. The next day I saw he was entered in a race at Amiens seven days later. That was when Kay, my American owner who had leased George while he was with me, and I took action. Long story short, we bought the horse back, and we’ve found a new home for him that will not include racing.
The man who runs Ecurie Second Chance was highly apologetic and I believe he sincerely did have good intentions, but just had no idea how to execute them. During our numerous phone exchanges, he would always complain that he was severely overworked, that numerous trainers were looking to “dump” their bad horses at the end of the season and that he couldn’t cope. These are the times that try men’s souls. Yes, there are too many horses, and yes, we’re looking, at this time of year, to move the underperforming ones on. But if Ecurie Second Chance felt overwhelmed by the task, he should not have bought the horse! I would have kept him until I found a suitable situation for him myself. Which brings me to the second story of the week…
…and the names are changed to protect the – well, not the innocent, really, but…a horse, let’s call her Sadie, was injured in a race at the end of September. The nature of the problem meant that she had to be on box rest for a few weeks, but she was a very nice-natured filly and would make an excellent riding horse; the injury wasn’t limiting in that sense. I immediately started looking for a home for her, but obviously it is hard to place a lame horse, even with good potential. So I was forced to hang onto her for longer than I wanted, and certainly far longer than the owner wanted, but I did eventually find a very nice home for her at the end of October. This meant the owner was being billed for the horse a month longer than he wanted to be. He paid, along with a registered letter saying how furious he was with my “extortionary” price of 30 euros a day for a horse out of training. I understand his frustration, but despite all, I applaud him for paying his bill and not ordering the horse sent to slaughter, which I suppose he could have done (for the record, I wouldn’t have done it, even if it meant paying the horse’s keep myself). In any case, this story ends well: I just got a photo from the new owner, and he is thrilled with her. And for the record, the price I charge is far from extortionary; there is no profit margin there. Hay and straw prices have skyrocketed this year, and while the horse wasn’t ridden out, she was kept in a clean box, brushed and fed daily. The standard of care doesn’t change when the horse can no longer race.
We soldier on. Going into winter is the worst time of year in the horse business. Magic picked up the dreaded cough right before her race on Monday, and I nearly scratched but didn’t and should have, probably. In any case, the distance of 2,500 meters seems just a bit too long on heavy ground, and I’ll look for something shorter for her once we clear up the cough. King ran a great second race at St. Cloud last week. He’s learning his lessons well and I want to get a couple of more races in this year, but we had to give him a flu shot this week, and of course, he’s had a reaction to it. I’m hoping it’s a brief setback, but don’t know yet.
The new fillies from Newmarket are doing well, and Triple Tonic, back from her convalescence in Normandy, is jumping out of her skin. It’s great to have Hard Way back. He seems better than ever and hasn’t lost a step – if you don’t hang onto him in the morning he’ll be off like a shot. And we have a new colt, Deep Ocean, who came to us from Marseille. He can only race right-handed because of stringhalt in his left hock, which makes him a challenge, but he’s a lovely horse who clearly always tries his best (he’s had a win and six places this year). All of them are being aimed at some winter racing on the fibersand in Deauville and later in Cagnes (except for Deep, who can’t go to Cagnes because it is left-handed).
Already, November this year has been paradise compared with what we had to put up with last year. I don’t know how long we can escape the freezing temperatures, but I’m treasuring every day I don’t need to put ten layers and gloves!
Two big events this past week: King Driver finally is officially a racehorse, and Hard Way has come home. King debuted Thursday on the fibersand in Deauville. I sent him there not because I thought he would be particularly adapted to the surface, but more because the big Chantilly trainers tend not to send their very best on the sand for a debut. I also realized the race 1,500-meter race would probably be on the short side for him, but he needed to learn what it was all about. I was right on both counts. There were a couple of decent horses from Chantilly, but I doubt next year’s Derby winner was among them. And King figured out he needed to stretch out and accelerate only about 50 meters from the finish, which was, of course, far too late. But he learned some very good lessons, and I’m very pleased with his debut. We drew our least-favorite far outside post, No. 15, which left us sort of hanging out to dry, but since all the horses were debuting, they all ran in a wide pack rather than arranging themselves in the usual ordered peleton. King was with the leaders until they started moving away from him at the turn, at which point he was wondering where they were going in such a hurry. Now that he understands a bit better, I suspect his next race will be quite a bit more interesting. And that should probably be on Nov. 3 at St. Cloud, a mile on the turf. The surface and distance will suit him better, although he’ll eventually need to stretch out closer to 2,000 meters. But he’s going to need a few races to learn the game, and there’s no need to push him too much. He is going to be a very useful horse if we do things right with him.
Hard Way, meanwhile, has come out of retirement. For the moment, he’s sort of the stable pony, but when I had a hack through the woods with him today he certainly felt more like a racehorse than a trekking pony. He is bright-eyed and seems very happy to be back. We’ll see what he tells us he wants to do.
Magical Flower ran her first handicap last week and finished only 7th, but she was carrying 59.5 kilos and the winner 53.5. Luckily, she’s now come down 1.5 kilos, so rated 30 we should be better placed next time out. She is a nice horse and will win somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 meters. She’ll be entered in both on Nov. 4, and we’ll take whichever race we can get into; unfortunately by not being able to grab 5th last week, she is still “exclu” because she hasn’t passed 3,000 euros in earnings and will be the first eliminated.
And we gave Rendition another shot yesterday in Pornichet, but the race confirmed what we pretty much knew: while her heart, head and upper body are in the game, her legs can’t keep up. So we’ll look for new horizons for her.
Meanwhile, I’m getting ready to head off to Newmarket tomorrow for the annual fall Horses in Training sale. The catalog looks enticing, as always, so anyone needing a racehorse to run down in sunny Cagnes-sur-Mer this winter should speak up! Buy yourself an excuse for a weekend in Nice in January!
I’m sure horses get as frustrated with us as we do with them when things get lost in translation. But Strictly Rhythm knocked us over the head with the message today: She is ready for vacation, and NOW. She ran at Compiegne in what should have been a pretty easy handicap. Like all trainers with talented by still-maiden fillies, I really wanted to get a win on the books this year because Strictly is likely headed to stud at some point. But I knew we were in trouble when she went into the starting gate like a lamb. Usually, she throws a tantrum behind the gate, and the bigger the tantrum, the better she runs. The few races when that hasn’t happened were her few bad performances. Today, she was slowly into her stride, comfortably settled into second place, accelerated a bit in the stretch but clearly wasn’t going to push it when the other horses went with her. For the first time, she didn’t really try and wasn’t interested in racing. She came back hardly blowing and was more interested in bossing around other horses and looking for food than anything else.
Her owners have yet to decide her future, but I’m really hoping we can give her a bit of a rest and then come back at it as a four-year-old. She has been very unlucky not to have won already; she’s finished with a length of fillies that have gone on to place and win at Group and Listed level. Her handicap mark has now dropped to a reasonable level, and I’m absolutely convinced she will win if we get the chance to go on.
Meanwhile, I’m hoping Rendition doesn’t get eliminated on Friday. She’s entered on the all-claiming card at St. Cloud, but there were 80 entries and only 15 forfeits, so there will surely be eliminations. She has a backup entry at Deauville next week. She has been off after a hairline fracture this spring, and we’re eager to see if she has the stuff to be a racehorse or not. Like Strictly, I’m sure she’ll let us know.
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.
We had a frustrating time at the races over the past few days. George ran quite well at St. Cloud last week, but I had wanted to put sheepskin cheek pieces on this time to motivate him a bit more. These now need to be declared, and through various missteps didn’t get declared, so we couldn’t use them. I am convinced that kept us from getting a check. George was lying fifth on the outside for the bulk of the race, accelerated a bit in the home stretch but switched off when the going got really tough at the end and couldn’t quite hang in there. The form says we finished 9th of 18, but it was the usual cluster at the end – the photo shows 5th through 10th places separated by not even a length. Good old George has really turned into a tourist at the track these days, and I really do need to retire him. He keeps conning me into giving him one more chance. We’ll see.
On Friday, Tuna (Fortunateencounter) and Rue B (Rue Debellyme) ran in the same claimer. I wasn’t keen to run Rue B, because I’d rather have waited for something a bit easier, but the owner was keen so we went ahead. She came back lame behind, on the opposite side of a similar injury she had this spring. So the message is clear: She is retired, and will be sound for riding and even some show jumping. She is just not cut out for speed. Tuna, on the other hand, ran a great race but hung badly right in the home stretch. Since she was running left handed this time, her path took her toward the rail rather than away from it, and she cut off a horse that then fell behind her. She flew on to finish third, two lengths clear of the fourth-placed horse, but she was disqualified because of the horse falling behind her. On top of it all, she was claimed, so I finished with no horse and no prize money. It was a good deal for her owners, though. She was bought for around 5,000 euros at Tattersalls in England in July, and she was claimed for 18,000 euros, which is a tidy profit in a short time. The next sale is coming up at the end of October, so we can try to do it again.
Tomorrow, Strictly Rhythm goes to Lyon with one of the best chances of her career: We have only eight runners in a maiden over 2,400 meters on the fibersand. As usual, there is a horse from Rouget who will be the favorite; we are second choice. We’ll try to prove the handicappers wrong.