lundi 9 janvier 2012

Elbow Beach is here

There's no place like home, away from home

Elbow Beach has arrived at Gina's yards, and, may I say, I think she finds it quite to her liking. What is not to like, for this 3-year-old gray filly, on the cusp of being a mare? As Chantal pointed out, she is among women, if you don't count Vlad.

I missed her moment of arrival. I was dragging; a morning spent recovering from the agonies of step issues, into which I have stepped not lightly, and those of committing to my color choices (three, prioritized); even the man at Petitpas tack shop in Maisons-Laffitte said it is something you only do once in life. I sent off a message to Gina, suggesting we take the dogs for a walk in the training center, fretting about the loss of the best light in which to photograph the newest arrival, a loner horse.

Her trainer in England plans to breed her. She has an good paper, a filly of Australian stallion Choisir out of Impulsive Decision (and she has been mine); all that she needs is a win to increase her value as a stud mare, and she has come to France to get a jump on her 3-year-old season, racing the winter in Cagnes-sur-Mer.

Not just the English, but their horses, too, descend on the lovely Côte d'Azur in the bleakness of January and February. Or to the Alps, but that is less advantageous to thoroughbreds.

"Your horse," said Gina, "is over there, in the 'quarantine' area."

My horse. It could make your head turn, just a little. Over there, across the yard, in one of the usually empty stalls, was Elbow Beach. The whole yard was in darkness, lit by the barn lights where Hard Way and Triple Tonic have their boxes, and by a subtle moon. It was a quiet, peaceful January evening, just cool. The winds that had delayed her arrival by several days had left perfect calm in their wake.

I didn't hasten across; there were my old friends to visit in their boxes first. I began with Satwa Sunrise, spotting the dark form of Alexandra, returning from the manure pile with the wheelbarrow, coming toward me. It seemed almost indecent to break the quiet. I walked over and spoke softly to Sunrise, who raised her head from her hay, and moved toward me for a greeting. And then Magical Flower, still recovering from her fractured foot, Deep Ocean, Strictly Rhythm, Triple Tonic and Hard Way, Milly, or Surrey Storm, and then I made my way over to Elbow Beach.

Whether Gina knew that I had finished my rounds, or whether it was a coincidence, she called out to me, and we all headed over to see Elbow Beach, Gina, Lisa, Chantal, Vlad and I. Elbow, or Elbé as I had begun to think of her, made room for us all.

She had traveled all night, arriving from the stud where she had waited out the storm by truck and ferry. This evening, she stood in her box, content, wrapped in her blanket, standing in clean shavings, a pile of fresh hay in the corner. Gina went for clean water and then took her blanket off to show us her form and her musculature. Chantal and Lisa trained their keen eyes on her.

I wouldn't have noticed the lack of "top muscle", along her back, but my eye could see that she had hollowed out between the barrel and the loin. Gina nodded, her hand had already moved there. Lisa  spent some time checking out her forelegs; Gina found them a little straight. All in all, she concluded, she's not too bad for having come off training in December and spending a week in the horse walker at a walk and a trot. Elbow Beach is a sprinter, 1300 and 1500 meters. Gina thinks she'll build back up to race form fast enough.





What we all noticed was her curiosity. Nothing went unexplored, from her blanket, let dropped to the floor of her box, to Vlad, the stable lab, and to each of us. She pressed her muzzle into my hand and my shoulder, as though she had returned to me after a regretted absence. We had never met. She looked each of us over, nuzzled us, and found us to her liking, and returned to nibbling on her shavings.

"Elle va bien dans la tête," said Chantal, nodding.

"Le monde lui va," I agreed.

We left to prepare the pails of feed for the evening, and Alexandra picked up two, Gina two more, and I reached for a couple.

"Laisse la prendre le sceau pour Elbow Beach, son cheval," said Gina, in French for Alexandra.

"Je lui donnerai la moitié de ma part et l'autre moitié de la part de Kay," I said over my shoulder, heading out past Hard Way and TT, but the words "son cheval" did not displease me. I decided to go ahead and savor them for as long as they will last, until the end of February and the winter season at Cagnes, or perhaps after a race or two in March at Saint-Cloud or Chantilly, and headed over to feed Milly first, and then Elbow.

She had left her carrots, apple quarters and the corners of her manger full of oats. I called across to Gina. I thought I had heard her tell Alexandra to clean out what she had left from today when she fed her in the morning, but I wanted to be sure. I stuck my head out the box door and called across the yard in the quiet, early evening January darkness, broken clouds partly covering the moon. Figures moved about, here and there. My voice rang out in English, and the sound of Gina's, returning through the dark, seemed almost a comfort. Leave them, leave them until tomorrow.

Leaving for our errands and evenings with our families, Gina hurried to catch the garbage truck, due to pass, and took advantage to say once more to me, "Could you close your horse's box door?"

Of course. Of course I can.

This time, I hurried across the grass in the center of the yard, and when I went to pass the hook in the lower door through the eye in the upper door, I could hear the sounds of her eating her first dinner in France, her large, dark form against the side wall of the box. I slid the hook into the eye, and hurried to join the others.

Tomorrow, Deep runs again at Deauville.
....

Elbow Beach gazes at her new home



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