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.