It's cold in late November at sunrise in Maisons-Laffitte. Almost as cold as sunrise in Argentière in January or February. Vapor billows around the horses nostrils and heads and off their flanks after their workout, and the low, golden sunlight makes it visible.
The work begins before first light and finishes at the lunch table, at home or at Le Pur Sang, full well before 1 pm, when a full work day is over. With 80-something lunches served before the hour was out, I missed the Lemon Ricotta Cheese Cake.
Oh well. I'll just have to go back.
This was our second week driving down the highway towards Paris, through Poissy and Maisons-Laffitte in the last dark of the night. I love getting up early with a purpose, being among the early risers, the first up and out. When we arrive, the rectangles of light from the box windows tell us we are not the first. We know we won't be, since we arrive at 7:30 am, an hour or a half hour after the lights are first turned on and the boxes opened. Curious heads poke out to see who has arrived. Vlad, the stable lab, trots over to say hello, and friendly voices add their own.
The horses have already gotten their first bags of hay, and Gina and Agatha are saddling up the first two to go out for their exercise. There are boxes to do, leather to be waxed, corners to be swept and mouse traps to be reset after I accidentally spring them with my broom, one after another, like popcorn popping. They all come up empty. Vlad has been efficient, but the evidence of their past presence is clear from the neat, round holes in the good wool blankets.
I pitch some soiled straw from the cleaned out boxes out behind the stables, and a small form darts into a hall in a particularly urine saturated pile that seems not to have been touched by the truck that comes to haul the old straw bedding away. A mouse. Gina tells me all the holes in the concrete block walls of the pit are mouse nests. I thought they were birds. Let the mice stay here, far from the good English wool saddle blankets and covers.
I think I am the only one who likes the dark, and the chance to watch the sunrise through the thickening morning fog and the horses' breath. Gina counts the days until December 21, and I tell myself Wait. Perhaps the charms are so many more once it is full light at the start of he work day in the racing stables.
Or, perhaps this charm wears off quickly.
Today, we saw Really Hurley and his jockey again. His jockey remembers us. He likes the camera, and I take more pictures and look up his racing performance when I have a moment the next day. I have some doubts about his being a crack, exactly. I recognize that I still need to ask everyone else's opinion on the matter. He is 6 already, although I have read that Steeplechase, or National Hunt in England and Ireland, horses are geldings and retire at an older age, so perhaps his best is to come. Really Hurley has run 36 races, with 3 victories and 9 places. In Quinté+, where the first five horses place, he has run 10, won 1 and placed 4 times. That actually gives him a pretty decent overall performance, winning or placing in a third of his races, and in half of the Quinté+ in which he has run.
I am starting to want a better camera and lens. Uh-oh. I had better find a winner to back, like Sunrise.