First off, Eternal Gift finished fourth yesterday, so our first runner here was in the frame. He should have finished a bit better, but our jockey made two tactical errors: He gunned to the front when he didn’t need to, and he decided to stay glued to the rail for his stretch run, when most people know the rail is mortal on an all-weather track. The ground there is dead, and winners do not come on the rail. Our jockey admitted as much after the race. Eternal was last off the bridle and he ran a great race. He should have been at least in the first three, but we’ll have to fight another day. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about some of the really good people you meet when you come to this meeting.
We were given six boxes for the meet, but ended up oversubscribed by one since Magical Flower earned a place on the team by actually lifting a hoof for the first time ever in finishing fourth in Deauville. It would have been a shame to stop there, so here she is. Since Blue Lilac was the last horse on the bus, she drew the overflow box in the trotter barn next door. She loves it there, and frankly, so do we.
The barn is a dismal place; the boxes are small and pre-fabricated. A good wind would flatten the place. But it boasts the most welcoming ambiance on the backstretch. Our neighbor is a trotting trainer called Gerald, who promptly loaned us a wheelbarrow, fork and broom and said to ask for whatever else we might need. Like many trotter guys, he’s a salt-of-the-earth type. When I came to feed our horse today, he was repairing a mud-flap for his sulky by cutting apart a plastic bucket and nailing it into place. He has three runners tomorrow, and couldn’t find a replacement on short notice. Around us, the rain was pelting down; it is not supposed to stop until Monday. I realize that with everything north of us in a deep freeze, we have no reason to complain in relative tropical splendor. But Cagnes-sur-Mer rests in a bowl at the bottom of the alps, and when it rains, the water collects in the most logical place: The racecourse. So after we trudged in rubber boots through night stable duties, I took the girls for a drink in the cantine – a time-honored Cagnes tradition. Gerald walked in, and we asked him to join us.
Turns out it was Gerald’s birthday. I don’t know which one – it wouldn’t have been polite to ask, but I’d say he’d be in his upper 60s. We got to talking about how he got into the trotter business, and he had a very inspirational story to tell. He grew up in a farming family in the west of France but suffered from depression. When he was in his 40s, he had what he called a “serious accident.” Given his disfigured face, I assume it may have been a suicide attempt, but again, one doesn’t ask details. He said he started riding horses as part of his recovery. He rode gallopers first, but then got interested in trotters. One thing led to another, as these things often do, and Gerald started training, first for himself, and then for clients. A few years back, lightning struck: He came upon a horse called Risque Tout, who has since earned nearly a million euros racing. He now has about 80 horses on his farm in the West, and he brought seven here for the meeting.
He has three runners tomorrow, and we’ll be cheering him on. It’s always an inspiration to meet another person passionate about horses, whatever the discipline. It seems we could learn a bit from Gerald. In any case, Blue Lilac is happy over there. We’re hoping she learns something, too.