mardi 29 novembre 2011

A mint chip milkshake for Magic

That's Magic in the 5th position

She's right behind number 12, the 5-year-old Glorieux Gaulois at the outside fighting for second, and nose to nose with the number 17 horse, the 5-year-old Sabantuy. Her jockey is wearing the blue silks with the white shoulders and white helmet cover.

I was like the mother of a 6-year-old at a soccer game, right after her child has learned where the ball is supposed to go, but still hoping for that first goal. The start time, 4:10 pm, approached, and I grabbed my camera.

I do nothing important without my camera in hand. It might not or ever have existed if there are no pictures to show it.

The commentators on Equidia told us all about the horses considered to be favorites, while Magic quietly took her place in the the stalls. I saw her go in on the TV. No fuss. No bother. I waited while the others took their places, and then there was the moment of preparedness before the gates opened and the horses burst out onto the track. I had accomplished nothing all day, aside from careful perusal of the race lists and the prognostics by the experts on the different betting sites, who was favored, and maybe why, and then how they actually did. I discovered that the favorites weren't close to winning most of the races; the outsiders were taking the victories, and the horses placing were as often as not not even on the list of those with a solid chance, "if this" or "if that", like "if the truth were to win out over fiction".

That reorganized my thinking about Galixi fast enough, but who then? Who had a chance in this race? I didn't know enough to begin to guess it, but the way things were going, the horses winning and placing were in the 15/1 - 20/1 odds range. They weren't favorites, but they weren't long shots either.

The stall doors opened, and the 20 horses on the field for this 8th and last race of the day at Lyon-Parilly were on the track. It was happening. Just like that. The event I had been awaiting all day had begun, and it wasn't going to be long before Gina, Agatha, her jockey, Frédéric Spanu, and Magic's owners knew what she could do on this day, at this moment in her life, and at this point in her own particular career, with her papers, what she could do on this terrain heavy as lead, pénible by all accounts, on a gray day in late November, the end of the year.

But, there she was, with the leaders. Commentators who it seemed did not think they would be needing to say "Magical Flower" much, if at all, were suddenly saying her name often, "Et Magical Flower est là avec les chevaux en tête... Magical Flower est toujours là...".

She was. I saw it through my camera lens. She was right behind the first three, pounding down the track next to the horse nose to nose for 5th, until the surge in the final straightaway. More than two thirds of the race, even three quarters up with the leaders. I let the camera slip and gasped. And then she started to lose ground. The horses right behind her surged forward and past her, one and then two, three, four, five. "Magic! Allez, Magic!"

There was no point, though. They were bearing down on the post, and she had lost her position. She wasn't getting it back now, and it looked like she had decided to hold the door open. The leaders fell behind, and at the finish line, it was all 8-year-olds: Arwad, with 15/1 odds, Forza Atina at 13/1, Jolinoor at 14/1, and Space Tune, a 7-year-old mare, considered a solid chance for a win at 7.2/1, and then a 5-year-old, Sabantuy, a British horse at a long shot for the win at 48/1. Galixi, the favorite for the win, didn't even place.

Just look at the records of those first five horses, with 45 and more races for the older ones to Magic's 5 races before yesterday, with a place. Two words: experience and strength, and in those wet, heavy soil conditions on a grass track, both count.

Still, I wished she liked mint chip Baskin 'n Robbins milkshakes, and that I could stop and get her one on the way home, like I used to do with my son after soccer, to celebrate or to cheer up, except it wasn't Magical Flower who was disappointed; I was. Just like the mom I am. I realized I am going to have to rethink a few things if I am going to invest in "a leg or two". One is that you don't always get to win. Most times out, you probably won't. You'll see the legs you own on a beautiful creature walk up into a van and make the trip to Deauville, to Lyon, to Cagnes sur Mer, to Chantilly, Longchamp and Saint-Cloud, and possibly head to the shower before heading up the ramp to the van and on home to a clean box, without so much as a place. Another is that maybe you will have to acknowledge that your horse isn't going to have enough of a career, for one reason or another, to keep at it. Better to call it a day, offer him another life, and move on as much as you want to win.

But we all want to win. We all want to see our horses, like our children, bring home the glory and the ribbons and the trophies, exult with them and everyone who had a part in the training, the driving, the cold and the wet, when they win, but there will be colds and coughs, colics and splints, bad track conditions and long distances to travel, decisions to geld or to wait, hope and work and disappointment in the preparation for victory. And like all else, one has to imagine oneself, like Sisyphus, happy, and love the horses and the work, suffer the cold sunrises and the scorching June afternoons, and learn and build one's stables.

Gina saw that I noticed the ages of the horses who won and placed yesterday and chuckled. A "newbie", she said, wouldn't necessarily see that. She noticed it, too. I wondered about the young ones racing against the veterans, and she wrote and said it herself, "I'd rather keep them in their age category as long as I can -- usually until late in their four-year-old season. But at the end of the year, we take what we can get."

Like we all do at the end of the day.

Magic didn't break a sweat, though, and she could have blown out the candles on my father-in-law's birthday cake. When the horses behind her began to overtake her, it was like she saw them coming, held the door open for them and said, as Gina put it, because of course she and Frédéric saw it, too, "Well, go ahead then, if it means that much to you..."That means a change of strategy, longer distances and starting out front and asking her to stay there. Please.

Next up, Satwa Sunrise, a horse in which I will be taking a couple of legs, if France Galop and my husband are cooperative, at Deauville on December 7th. But with 134 other horses in the list, she's a candidate for an elimination. If she is, the 8th is a possibility. And this time, I will move heaven and earth to be at the rail.


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