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Spring has sprung

The year began with the six week meeting at Cagnes sur Mer for which we had a team of four horses. We travelled south full of hope and confidence that the team had been well prepared and laid out for the meeting. It didn’t go well for us however, the horses just didn’t enjoy the place and performed badly, after a month we’d had enough and drew stumps! It was a relief to get back to leafy Lamorlaye and away from the high-rise apartments and cauldron of pressure that is Cagnes, we did have some fun though, some good craic with the Con Marnane team and Lucy from Eoghan O’Neills and also Joe 90 who was working for the German trainer Michael Figge, the meeting enabled us to recruit Joe who was looking to leave Germany for a new challenge. Joe whose real name is Graham Thomas has settled in well with us, he has an empathy with horses and a wealth of experience (riding nearly 400 winners all over Europe during his career). Joe took a week off recently to wind up his affairs in Germany, the week coincided nicely with a visit from our son Jack who rode a couple of lots each day. Jack is planning to ride in a charity race next Tuesday at Chepstow so has also been getting lots of practice riding out in Upper Longdon. His riding has really improved lately and he has more bottle than his father ever had!! We are both extremely proud of him.

On the horse front, flag bearer Flying Cape has unfortunately picked up a tendon injury and will sadly be out of action for the summer. The vets grade the severity of such injuries and his was relatively light, he’ll probably spend some time at Haras de Bois D’Agile, near Beauvais, that has an impressive water-walker and an excellent set of staff.

Calajani however has come good and followed up his win at Argentan with an excellent second at Maisons Laffitte last week, he looks progressive and there may be a possibility of a trip back to the UK with him later in the year.

Swift Reply was acquired at Cagnes but we have not found the key to him yet and he has suffered from jockey failure on a few occasions, on one such occasion he was entered in a handicap with bottom weight and with very few light jockeys available I requested the services of the gnarly old doyen of lightweight female jockeys, the reply came that she would be happy to ride him on the understanding that she would keep the ride on him next time when he actually had a chance! I thought this wrong on many levels not least of which was that I would be putting her on a horse she believed had no chance at all and to be honest she’s no Boudot or Pasquier! The girl who ended up riding him has the email address misslolita@hotmail, I should have suspected she’d be no good!

We lost Tree of Grace in a claimer last month, in a way it was a shame because he is a well handicapped horse and ought to be able to win soon, however he was always difficult to cope with in the morning and we got a reasonable price for a horse of his age and rating. France has a very lively claiming race scene and according to our farrier it is custom to warn another trainer if you plan to claim a horse, not so in our case, funnily enough later that evening as four of us ate at the excellent Japanese restaurant in Lamorlaye, said trainer was seated next to us, I think he probably had to hit the rennie once he got home with the rate he ate his sushi!

Latest addition to the string Stormy Angel is progressing well, an unraced greenhorn plucked from the bargain bucket at Ascot sales in February, he is no oil painting but is now showing a real competitive instinct and might just be a racehorse.

Dear old Essanar is on the come back trail after six weeks in the water walker (or spa as fellow trainer Gina Rarick aptly calls it) in the early part of the year and will hopefully be ready to step up to fast work shortly.

We look ahead to Deauville breeze-up sales in ten days time with the hope we might spot a bargain or two.

À la prochaine.

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Fin De L’Année

As 2015 has drawn to a close it’s time to look back on the old year and look forward to the new one.

We started our adventure/leap of faith in January and initially things were tough, finding a place to live and even opening a bank account took patience and much effort ! Not to mention getting to grips with the 24 h clock for some – I stand guilty as charged ! Without three months of payslips as proof of income we were unable to rent a flat, without proof of an address we couldn’t open an account etc., etc. Fortunately our landlady Mme Rondelé attested that we were living in a stable so things could progress (we must also thank her for recommending excellent vets, farriers, osteopath’s, hay merchants etc, her help was invaluable). After our stay chez Hammond we were able to rent a flat in a newly converted stable block at Thierry Doumen’s quite close to the yard where the horses were, we can’t thank him enough for his kindness and help.

I have more French than Debbie but she is more personable so as a team we work well together, making up for each other’s weaknesses and as a result I feel we have been accepted and treated in many quarters as one of their own, although the head waiter (Fred) in our usual lunchtime haunt The Chasseacourre has taken to kissing Debbie’s hand and calling her ‘Princess’ !

Good results were a long time in coming, all horses needed three runs to get a French handicap mark and this often resulted in them running in tough conditions races! Our stats now read 5 winners from 50 runners and 92,000€ in prize money with a string of only six horses at any one time.

A special mention must go to Flying Cape, our flag bearer this season, he has given us some great days racing and finished his season by winning at Deauville in December pushing his prize money over 50,000€ for the year, not bad for a horse rated just 61 in the UK. We must thank our apprentice Jack Duern who always believed in the little horse.

December has involved a move up in the world from Rue Charles Pratt to Voie de la Grange des Prés, albeit still in Lamorlaye. We now live in a flat above the horses, the boxes are first rate and built at a time when money was not a concern. We have plenty of space and exist in a veritable oasis of calm and once again Ruggle the terrier is master of his own estate and all he surveys.

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I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those owners who have supported us, namely;

  • John Marriott
  • Neville Chapman
  • Paul Shaw
  • Mark Round
  • Geoff Lucas
  • John Evitt

Also those who have worked for us;

  • Jack Duern (good luck with your UK season)
  • Amie Karlsson (all the best for your new job with the Swedish Ministry of Education – one day she’ll be running the country I’m sure)
  • Michael Finegan (it seems like he’s part of the furniture now and has built up a good relationship with the highly challenging Tree of Grace, much to my relief !)

2016 begins with the 6 week Cagnes Sur Mer meeting for which a team has been well prepared (it’s like a grown up continental Pony Club camp with prize money attached).

Thereafter, who knows? We’d love to share the best that French racing has to offer to a few more owners but if not we don’t mind because we’re having the best of fun.

Bonne Année.

Calajani - 2yo Colt by Azamour from Aga Khan bought at Arqana HIT Sale in November.‏
Calajani – 2yo Colt by Azamour from Aga Khan bought at Arqana HIT Sale in November.‏

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Comings and goings

The French turf season is reaching its conclusion and Flying Cape and King of Rock travel to Le Mans on Sunday, both are fit and well.

Doesyourdogbite was sold at Newmarket recently, he has gone to Jonjo O’Neills and I really think he could do well over hurdles, with a few runs under his belt I could see him winning a Fred Winter, look out for him come Cheltenham. Although I thought he would make more money he actually made a small profit overall, taking into account his purchase price, two years training fees and costs, his two wins and sale price – not many horses achieve that.

Calajari has been bought, I don’t know yet whose colours he will carry but he seems a decent acquisition with plenty of scope, a two year old ex Aga Khan, he has had two runs (beaten favourite each time). He is still an entire and will stay that way for the time being. Whilst on the subject of wedding tackle, the one horse we have had gelded here (Vesking) benefitted from the least traumatic castration I’ve ever witnessed ! Our quietly spoken vet Christophe Gard turned up tout seul and performed the task with the minimum of fuss in double quick time without getting a speck of blood on his chinos ! The offending articles disappeared with the sleight of hand worthy of a magician, we thought they must have been left in the straw bed but were never to be found !

We have thankfully been allocated stabling for the Cagnes Sur Mer winter season and will take a team of horses, Tree of Grace and Final Attack have been rested and will now be prepared for Cagnes, as will Vesking and Calajari, King of Rock is a possible and we are looking at all the claiming races to bolster the team. It’s such a fantastic place to visit (5 kms from Nice airport) and if you book a little in advance reasonable flights from Luton and Gatwick can be found (as well as occasional ones from Liverpool and Manchester) – there is something rather special about looking out over the racecourse to the Med in your shirt sleeves in January. We wish a speedy recovery to one of our regular Cagnes Sur Mer friends – Anne Sophie Crombez who is in hospital recovering from a horrific gallops accident and hope to be able to share a cocktail with her soon.

We have also agreed terms to move yards recently, the new one is in a delightful spot (still in Lamorlaye) with good access to all the gallops and has plenty of space, a large paddock and a walled ménage. It was once part of a large property belonging to the family made wealthy by the Bic biro.

We welcome, also, Michael Finegan to the team, a good rider with experience in America, he clearly has an empathy with horses and is never one to use one word when five will do !

‘Bonne courage’ to our ex-neighbour Amy Weaver who’s had a career change and is now working as a Croupier on a Cruise ship out of New Orleans. Anyone suffering from insomnia should read her blog on Twitter, it’s as least as effective as listening to Ben Case on his website !

À la prochaine.

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Chapter Two

The season of mellow fruitfulness is upon us and it feels like we are entering stage two of our adventure. We have settled into a training routine which suits us, the horses and more importantly produces results. We are even comfortable with the morning étiquette on the pistes. The rule is that you say “Bonjour” to everyone you pass or meet for the first time that day, if you come across them a second time, it’s ok to just smile and keep stumm. The trouble is remembering who you have said Bonjour to and who you haven’t. Also if you pass a string of 20+ horses, 20 Bonjours in quick succession is a bit of a ball ache so a slow “Bonjour” has been developed which can count for 3 or even 4 passing cavaliers.

The teething troubles we had in the beginning are but a distant memory, even the time when Jack Duern and I ventured over to les Aigles, the posh end of town if you will. We did a couple of easy canters and were heading back towards the tunnel under the main road to take us back home. We were on a wide sand track with no other horses around and decided to slow hack up to the trees ahead. Out of the trees popped a famous blonde haired lady trainer, frantically waving her arms and shouting at us that this was a walking only track. We had committed a cardinal sin! I hasten to add that this wasn’t the nice lady who trains Treve, this was another one. A quiet word to the newcomers was not an option as this lady obviously does not have a good side of the bed to get out of, of a morning so we were promptly denouncéd which is a French passion and means to shop or dob in.

Plod arrived shortly in the form of Monsieur Stirnemann, head of training tracks for France Galop. He was very stern indeed, our papers were not yet in order and the horses were banned from the gallops forthwith, they must not leave the yard ! Two days later it was all sorted out though, in time I may name a horse after the incident, “Old Bag des Aigles” perhaps.

Monsieur Stirnemann however, is now always very pleasant and smiley when we meet and indeed he wins the prize for the best French stab at “Hollinshead” pronunciation, his is not bad at all but normally we are “Ollinsheeed”.
Talking about pronunciation the horse Doesyourdogbite is a massive problem for the French, made worse by the fact the last bit of the name means something very rude indeed in French. When he won last time, he was in contention from a long way out but the commentator couldn’t bring himself to say the name until he had to when the race was almost over.

Doesyourdogbite thus became our 4th winner of the year that day at Craon, which was made even more special as family friend George Smith from Upper Longdon came along for the ride and kept the trainer awake on the journey home. We were invited for a glass of bubbly afterwards and even chatted to the Mayor of Craon, it is twinned with Oakhampton don’t you know!

Doesyourdogbite and Alexis Badel wins at Craon
Doesyourdogbite and Alexis Badel wins at Craon

Doesyourdogbites future I’m sure lies over hurdles and as he doesn’t qualify for French bred premiums we have put him in Newmarket sales at the end of October, he has a poor slot in the sale but if he sells it will enable us to invest in the next generation. As for the other horses, flag bearer Flying Cape will have one more race, possibly two before some well earned grass rest ready for next season. Tree of Grace and Final Attack will come back into training shortly and will be prepared for the winter season in Cagnes Sur Mer. New horse King of Rock is training well and will debut at Compiegne on October 26th. Dear Essanar is out at grass and will come back in the new year. Whitby High Light has a leg problem and we will find him a home as a riding horse. Vesking’s first two runs have not been great but he will get there, he is currently on the naughty step. Rictrude has knee problems and will now go to the paddocks.

Autumn sales are beckoning, we need to bring in new blood to bolster the team and we are looking forward to going to Cagnes again next year, it has a great holiday atmosphere at an otherwise dull time or year, and cheap flights from Luton.

Son Jack made his first visit the other day, it was great to see him and Great Aunt Berys. Hope he stays longer next time.

P.S. It was great to have Ebor winner Litigant as a lodger for a few days before for his intended run on Arc day. It was a brave call to withdraw him having come so far because of the ground! I’m sure it was the right decision though and Joe Tuite and his team seem really professional and his owner delightful.

À bientôt

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The story so far

We set sail for Chantilly towards the end of January 2015, with six horses, two dogs, apprentice Jack Duern and the support of owners John Marriott, Neville Chapman, John Evitt, Paul Shaw and Mark Round. The mornings seemed even colder than Staffordshire and finding our way around the forest on fresh horses with wild boar and deer popping out of the trees unexpectedly was not easy.

Finding a yard to rent had been simple but an apartment was a different matter! We initially booked into a budget hotel and a fortnight later we were still there. By law here you have to prove earnings of three times the monthly rent and even our offer of six months rent up front would not persuade them. A phone call to old acquaintance John Hammond however proved fruitful on that score. We asked him for a character reference hoping that may help and he replied with the offer of an empty flat he happened to have, which we took for two months.

Our first runner came at the end of February when Whitby High Light ran at Chantilly. He ran respectably but we knew that having to run the majority of the horses in good quality conditions races, winners would be hard to come by and we may have to wait till they were qualified for handicaps.

In February Debbie drove back to England to fetch Flying Cape and Harry, her Fell pony. Harry soon proved useful escorting the highly mettled Tree of Grace back from exercise and preventing him running away with his trainer down the hill. Harry also created much interest among the locals who were keen to know what breed he was. They’ve heard of Irish Draught here but not ”Fell” which had to be repeated ad infinitum. It would have been easier to just say ”Eerish”!

Our first winner came on May 8th at a delightful but distant track called Nort-Sur-Erdre when Final Attack came good. Unfortunately owners Neville and Pauline Chapman were not present. We have now raced at several different tracks ranging from smart and often under-attended Paris tracks to quaint little tracks out West with an enthusiastic crowd but little in the way of stabling. All of them have been a joy however.

Jack Duern succumbed to home sickness and parent pressure at the beginning of May and left us. We wish him the best, whatever he chooses to do. We took on no permanent replacement for the next six weeks, instead calling on Pierre, one of Guadeloupe’s finest jockeys, for a rider when needed. Meanwhile Debbie had gradually made the transition from housewife to mucker outer in chief and lost two dress sizes.

We had by then moved ourselves to a flat in Thierry Doumen’s yard which he had newly converted from a row of stables but the horses stayed put.

Amie Karlsson joined us in mid June, a Swede over here to learn French. She has proved a real asset but sadly will move on at the end of the summer.

Back on the horse front, two more winners have followed: Doesyourdogbite at Clairefontaine and Flying Cape at Saint Malo. Two more horses have been added to the string: Vesking, a bargain buy for a partnership including Gay Kelleway, and King of Rock owned by Geoff Lucas and Helen Marsh.

Flying Cape at Saint Malo
Flying Cape at Saint Malo

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