mercredi 28 décembre 2011


Deep, Magic and Milly

It is time to choose my colors. I know nothing about how this works in other countries, including my country of origin, but I am learning how it works here, how one goes about becoming an owner in the France Galop system. Like all things about which one starts by knowing nothing, it is not pour autant a secret. The site tells one how to go about it, in both French and English.

You do not need to be a resident of France, nor do you need to know anything about horse racing, although that is probably helpful, if you would like to recuperate any portion of your expenditure. 

You do need an income or assets, not necessarily wealth, although that is always definitely helpful (and appreciated), to pay the horse's keep and racing costs, or a part of them if you are an associé, or part owner with a leg, or two or three. 

You must also be a person of some moral decency, which will, in the course of things, be determined by the police and the Ministry of the Interior. 

You do not need taste, when it comes to picking out your colors, but it's always nice for everyone else, and your horse and his or her trainer.

And, you do, of course, need a trainer, but that's how I got myself into this, after all.

The colors and the patterns

France Galop offers you a palette of authorized colors from which to chose, as well as a tool to select different combinations of principal and accent colors and motifs. You are limited to two colors, but you may have three, exceptionnellement. Nothing, however, tells you anywhere what constitutes the grounds of the exception allowed. Perhaps you simply submit your choice and see what they say. If they are in a good mood, you get the exception granted.

This is la France, après tout.

As you work with the color tool, selecting various combinations, the system will tell you if the combination has already been attributed to an owner, and if so, who owns it and from what date. It will also tell you if the colors have been subject to a succession, if such is the case. I found that the combinations of red and black that remain available are severely limited. On the other hand, any combination of orange and grenat, or garnet, is. My chosen trainer is not partial to orange, however, whereas I am, and even painted an entire (small) guest room in  it, with the exception of one wall, and I would do it again. I do want my trainer happy, though, and I am left to suppose that she is not the only one in France who is left cold by the color orange.

I'll have to give Gina the other guest room, if ever she leaves Maisons-Laffitte to stay in MSX. For the moment, it is occupied by my stepson, anyway.

I believe I have made my choice, however, although I will not share it until the silks are made up, and my first jockey is riding out on my first horse -- or leg or two of one -- in them. My wish was for them to be simple, elegant, visible and to go with the coat of any horse I might ever be privileged to race and possibly see win, or place. I discovered, playing with the tool, that you know the right, or next best (you must submit three possibilities to France Galop), combination when you see it, and you can't help secretly hoping that those silks might one day be made famous by a horse of exception, which is extremely unlikely, although since the part of chance is always present in thoroughbred racing, never out of the question Like when the seventy-something-year-old retired high school principal Tom McCarthy's $17,000 horse General Quarters ran in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and came in 10th to Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Godolphin Racing's $2.1 million horse, Desert Party, who finished 14th in a 19-horse field. 

A note: Sheik Mohammed spends upwards of $45 million a year on horses. Tom McCarthy has precisely 1 horse in his stables on a 13-acre farm in suburban Louisville.

Gina is more along the lines of Tom McCarthy, a small outfit in a major training center. Her's is a "boutique" stable of fewer than 10 horses at the moment, focusing on the owners' experience and making the world of horse racing accessible to the biggest dreamers with not always with wallets to match, who came to their passion like nearly anyone with a taste for reading born after 1941, through The Black Stallion series. Talking the other morning with my stepdaughter and another pitchfork wielding owner at the yards, I listened to how he came to horse racing, and I was hearing my own story, separated by only a handful of years and an ocean. A little boy, growing up in France just before this little girl did in the United States, read about Alec Ramsay and Henry Dailey, come out of retirement to train a horse he knows is exceptional. 

A warning: Be careful what you read when you are a child, you might just live some aspect of it one day. Like my fairy tales, I married my French prince (désargenté, hélas), live in the French countryside with our black labs, and have frogs in a basin in front of the living room French door. I threaten regularly to kiss them. 

L'on peut toujours rêver de plus.

I wouldn't necessarily bet on a horse, but I will support a yard and a trainer's work, learning until I might (or might not) have the means to participate in the choice of the horse whose jockey will wear my colors and no one else's and win in them. For now, Gina goes to Newmarket and returns with 2, 3 and 4-year-olds, who, while they won't be candidates for the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, can win and place regularly enough in smaller stakes races, and in order to do that, a trainer needs the support of owners who believe in the quality of her work and dedication to her horses and their owners, who get to simultaneously live their secret ambitions to be a first groom, or at least a lad, and take care of theirs and the other owners' horses.

It's a little scary, though. I know the value of money, the money I have earned, as well as the money anyone else earns, and I am learning about the risks of the thoroughbred stables: colic, viruses, and cracked foot bones that will put a horse out of racing for a race, several weeks, or even several months. If it's the "other owner's" horse, you feel sympathy for him, or her, or them, and for the trainer. If it's your horse, you take a big breath. There goes several weeks' or months' of fees, without any possibility to earn them back on the track, and maybe make a little something for your next horse, vacation or the entry addition to the house.

With all the best of intentions and practices, someone's horse won't be racing for some period of time at nearly any given time. There are no magic solutions or incantations, no silver bullets against illness or injury. One day, a given horse is fine, and you are looking to race her the next week at Deauville. The next day, you walk into her stable, and she is standing on 3 legs. When you move, you notice she hops on all three to shift position and you realize, "Oh shit, she can't put that fourth hoof on the floor," and you call the vet. An earnest roller after a work-out, she has slammed her hoof into the concrete block wall and fractured the third bone. A clean fracture the length of the bone without any displacement, anyway; she'll run again, and sooner than later, but she's out 4 months. That's Magic's story.

Time to open a Baskin 'n Robbins in Maisons-Laffitte.

It wouldn't matter if you had padded the walls; she'd likely have shredded the padding and hurt herself worse, possibly on a metal support beyond, like Hi Shinko did. It wouldn't matter if you have made the stables of rubber, which was the case when another horse, waking from the anesthesia after its gelding, somehow died in his box. Like Gina says, for such strong creatures, horses are fragile, "they will be walking and trip and break something, or walk into a tree and break something." A curious combination not only of strength and fragility, but of intelligence and silliness. 

If you are going to send your owner's application into France Galop, you have to be ready to take it all on, and know your limits. It's a little scary, but how will you ever know where you could have gone if you never begin?

Maisons-Laffitte, la piste noire

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