New Year’s Eve, 2013. Hard to believe time is going by so fast – and anyone who chances to read this is likely thinking the same thing. It’s been five years since I took out my public license, and the numbers have gone steadily in the right direction. This past year was my best so far, and I’m confident next year will be better – perhaps much better. I had my first runners as a public trainer in September of 2008. I had only four horses in the yard, and we finished the year with two wins, seven places and 45,527 euros in earnings. In 2009, my first full year, we had five wins and 16 places for 90,930 in prize money. This year we had seven wins and 34 places for earnings of 238,141 euros. We have retained a faithful core of owners who have been with us since the beginning, and attracted new faces to the game. Everyone seems to appreciate the small, friendly ambience of the yard, and many of my owners have become friends – not just with me, but with each other. A few have dropped away, but that is inevitable. We wish them well and forge ahead.
Enough with the serious stuff. With a hat-tip to one of my favorite humor writers, Dave Barry, I’ve decided to try to undertake a short Year in Review, with the highlights – and the lowlights – month by month. I hope you all take this in the spirit it was intended.
January: Gorki Park becomes our first runner of the New Year, with a less-than-inspiring 10th place in Deauville. Magical Flower, on the other hand, shows a talent for sprinting and starts, miraculously, to make money. Blue Lilac starts off a short and fruitless racing career. She has many talented relatives, but sadly seems not to have inherited any of it herself. We move the crew south to Cagnes sur Mer, escaping Maisons-Laffitte just as the entire training center freezes solid. Those left behind are not amused to see us on Equidia, sunning ourselves next to the Mediterranean as Eternal Gift, Magical Flower and Deep Ocean all bring home checks.
I turn 50, and another trainer who thinks they know me better than they do decides to hire a stripper for the occasion. A good time was not had by all, but mercifully, the many cell-phone videos that are taken that night seem not to have made their way to wider distribution.
February: We start off the month with a road trip to Marseille, only to find that the racing actually takes place in a glorified bull-ring. Unless you have an inside draw, you’re cooked. Eternal Gift is drawn wide, and is not amused. Neither are we. Back to Cagnes, where Deep Ocean, Grey Falcon and the ill-fated Blue Lilac all run disappointingly. We decide it’s the jockeys’ fault and head to the bar for a mojito or three. Magical Flower saves the day with a come-from-behind win no one saw coming. We have more mojitoes, and decide we are in love with this jockey. Gorki Park shows signs of understanding the game, Blue Lilac shows no sign of understanding, Grey Falcon just gets prettier in the sun, many owners come to visit and many more mojitoes are drunk. I learn to drive trotters.
Santarini comes up with a chip in her right knee. So the vet clinic operates – on the left one. The following week they correct their mistake, so we get a two-for-one deal. When we pack up to go home, we leave Santarini behind to recuperate, and Blue Lilac behind to try her luck with another trainer. On the way back to Maisons-Laffitte, we make a stop in Lyon, where Deep Ocean returns to his winning ways.
March: Deep Ocean seems to like Lyon, so we no sooner get settled back in Maisons-Laffitte than we put him on a truck and head back in the same direction. Deep wins his second handicap in a row, and his owners think I am a miracle worker. I smile, toast the victory and enjoy the moment, which I know can’t last. Deep is riddled with arthritis and is operating at the limits of what he can do. I have explained that to his owners many times, but flush with victory, they are busy booking their table on Arc day completely over-estimating the situation. Eternal Gift and Gorki Park go to Amiens and find they don’t like it there. Eternal Gift asks to be relieved of the burden of manhood. We grant his request.
Magical Flower comes back from Cagnes with a slight suspensory injury, which wouldn’t necessarily have been career-ending, but we decide she’s rather be doing something else, preferably in the reproductive department. She meets the man of her dreams in Kendargent, and gets in foal on the first jump. We are not surprised.
April: Grey Falcon keeps getting prettier but not any faster. Gorki Park, on the other hand, comes into his own, just missing victory at Longchamp. Deep Ocean is forced to step up in class to the big Quinte-Plus handicaps, and starts what turns out to be a string of fourth-place finishes. His owners are starting to get unhappy with the situation, and I’m starting to think Deep’s best days are behind him. I claim Gold Knight for new English owners. It seemed like a good idea at the time…
May: Gorki Park finds the winner’s circle at St. Cloud and follows it up with a third at Longchamp a two weeks later. He’s definitely hit his stride. Grey Falcon comes around, too, missing victory by only a nose in Angers. Gold Knight, on the other hand, runs a clinker at Chantilly and buyer’s remorse starts to rumble in the back of my stomach.
June: Eternal Gift runs his first race as a gelding and finishes dead last, having slowed down in the final turn to look for his missing equipment. Gold Knight continues to disappoint, although I can’t find anything actually wrong with him. Hard Way makes his seasonal return out in the country in Durtal, taking Grey Falcon along for company. The Falcon takes another check, and Hard Way runs a respectable 6th; the race is too short for him, and the jockey takes nearly a lap to pull him up. Deep Ocean runs fourth again. Owners grumble. Gorki Park finds another paycheck in Chantilly and Eternal Gift starts to forget his past life, getting up for fifth in Amiens.
July: Good old Hard Way starts our best month off right with a victory at Longchamp – my first as a trainer. It turns out to be his only financial contribution to the yard for the year, but it was the one that counted the most. Grey Falcon again just gets nosed out of a win, this time in Maisons-Laffitte, and Eternal Gift knocks one out of the park – also at Longchamp, helping me make up for lost time. We head to Vichy for the week-long festival and in between spa treatments, Deep Ocean runs fourth again. Owners grumble. Gold Knight runs slightly less bad than he had been, and that, along with many cocktails, cheers up his owners – and me. King Driver runs his comeback race and is third, leaving me smiling for days. He is finally, finally turning into the horse I thought he could be.
Greatest joins the team from the July Newmarket sales.
Hard Way and Grey Falcon go to Chantilly for what turns out to be a fiasco. It’s 100 degrees in the shade, and neither horse wants any part of the proceedings. Grey Falcon manages to extricate himself from his racing bridle between saddling and going to the paddock, and Hard Way is performing airs above the ground. Miraculously, the horses are shoveled onto the track with their jockeys, but no good comes of it. We finish 6th and nowhere.
August: Deep Ocean finishes out of the money. Owners grumble louder. King Driver and Eternal Gift take a road trip to Moulins, and both come home with money. No such luck in Deauville for Hard Way and the increasingly frustrating Gold Knight, but King Driver hits the board again in Chantilly. We hit the road again with Not Bad for a Boy, a horse that was a good two-year-old but has shown no interest in racing since. The race we find is in Chateauroux, and the competition can’t possibly get any easier. There are only eight runners, and they are not holding Arc entries. One is a scratch because the jockey jumps off on the way to the start, leaving only seven. We manage to finish 6th. But a few minutes after the race, there is an announcement: The filly who finished 4th was disqualified because the jockey failed to weigh in. We erupt into cheers. We get moved up to 5th, meaning Not Bad takes a 350 euro check! We find Not Bad a new job, where he doesn’t have to run fast.
September: Gorki Park comes up with the goods again at Longchamp, but Eternal Gift shows he’s not really a sprinter, after all, failing to fire on the 1,400-meter course. Hera Eria, who came from another trainer, runs a catastrophic race in Evreux, apparently terrified of being between other horses. We lower our sites for Gold Knight and send him out to the country, where he manages to take checks in Craon and Sable-sur-Sarthe. Deep Ocean is out of the money again, and the owners are finally grasping that the end of his career is probably here. My miracle-worker status has, not surprisingly, eroded. Santarini runs a comeback race and makes it clear that despite knee surgery, she’d really rather not be a racehorse. We debut Greatest in an absolute bog in Fontainebleau, and nobody has a good time in the downpour. We give Hera another try, this time with blinkers so she can pretend she’s racing on her own. It helps, but not enough to get her in the money.
October: We head to Angers for what turns out to be a disappointing day: Santarini really isn’t interested in racing, and Deep Ocean can’t get out of the ground with his arthritic legs. He runs respectably, but it’s clear we should stop with both of these horses, so we do. Angers later in the month turns out to be the final venue for Grey Falcon, too, who is a victim of arthritis in both front knees. All three horses have found good retirement options – not easy for Deep, since he’s still a colt and not sound for riding. The Falcon and Santarini will both be in light work with owners who appreciate them.
On a better note, Greatest runs a decent race in Compiegne, and we add ear-plugs to Hera’s headgear, which seems to do the trick as she strides out for a second-place finish. Eternal Gift is our representative at Longchamp on Arc weekend, and he runs 5th in the handicap on the Saturday. King Driver places again and then finally hits the winner’s circle in Compiegne.
Charitable Act joins the team from the Newmarket Sales.
November: We decide to send Gold Knight to the sales, and the week before he miraculously hits the board in Lyon, which helped tremendously to move him along. Greatest still can’t quite make money, but does show some promise in Lyon, finishing in the first seven twice. Hera can’t confirm her second in Compiegne and seems to need better ground, and Hard Way just isn’t interested in racing at the moment, making November a tough month. Brightening things up slightly is the private purchase of Ray of Hope, a horse I’d had my eye on for some time.
December: Banker King Driver saves us again, running two places in Deauville. In eight races this year, he’s never been out of the money. Hard Way officially goes into semi-retirement. He may run again in the spring, but he may not. He’ll let us know. Hera turns in the most impressive gallop we’ve seen, and then pulls out lame the next day. Whatever has been bothering her from the start has become a much more serious problem, and she heads off to brood mare duties.
New recruit Ray of Hope runs a nice first race, finishing in the money even though we were sort of trying not to be; he came to us with a high handicap mark, and I wanted to see if he deserved it or not. Turns out he does. Charitable Act runs in the money, too, in his first race for us. Gorki Park fizzles, though, so will go on vacation for a few months to recharge for spring. Greatest still hasn’t made money, but I still believe he will.
We claim Melrand, a two-year-old filly who is a very nice prospect for the meeting in Cagnes, which is just around the corner. Two new yearlings go into pre-training and will join us in March….
Which brings us back to a new January. Hard to believe I need to be packing for Cagnes. One thing is certain this year: On my birthday, I’m staying home!