mardi 3 janvier 2012

Second Place for Satwa Sunrise

Satwa Sunrise with owner, Annie Casteu

Walk around a racetrack some day with Annie Casteu, and you will see what it is to be known and appreciated by everyone, not least of all by her horse. I didn't realize it the first time, my first time at the races; I was shadowing trainer Gina Rarick closely, and Annie is not the sort to brag and drop names, to rush up to people with broad gestures and flourishes. No, they stop and offer her cheeks la bise, which Annie returns with genuine pleasure. I asked how it is that everyone knows her, a small woman, walking at a rapid pace with the imperceptible help of her cane. You notice the cane when Annie is using it to stand, which is not easy for her. Movement, however, still seems as natural to her as it is to the thoroughbreds with whom she has been in love for nearly 50 years. Annie leaned toward me, a smile dimpling her cheeks and bright, dark eyes, and said, "J'ai été jockey."

"Vous avez fait des courses à cheval?" I stopped in my tracks. She raised her eyebrows and nodded, enjoying my surprise, her smile deepening, if that were possible.

The Annie I had met when Satwa Sunrise ran her first race in France in Deauville on December 21 was a retired professional woman, a long-time employee at Schering-Plough. That's how I thought of her, anyway, until today, when I discovered that she also had a degree in law and talked the people at Schering-Plough France into hiring her and letting her race thoroughbreds on various tracks around France once a week. That was in the mid-1960s. This is not your everyday French woman, let alone woman, but I am learning not to expect the ordinary in the planetary system that orbits Gina, who is already no ordinary racehorse trainer. The racetrack is a place to be seen and to see, another of the world's great stages, but for Annie and Gina, it's all about the horses, and today, it was Sunrise's day to shine.

I expected it. I can honestly say that I did. I even predicted it. I could have been wrong, but while Gina had advertised for a partnership for Satwa Sunrise, it was other horses for whom she seemed far more interested in finding owners for a leg or two, horses not even in her yards at Maisons-Laffitte yet. Her silence after Sunrise's hampered but interesting 9th place finish last time out said more than any comment she might have made, and about the only one she allowed was that Sunrise had shown us a lot, notably that she does not appear to be as much of a bleeder as she was made out to be. It occurred to me that Gina wanted to keep those two legs, and I wouldn't blame her, but the simple truth of the matter is that it takes time to register a new owner, and Gina takes the time to let her potential new owners make certain this is what they want to do.

There are no guarantees in horse racing. Horses might look like they will run fast and have a heart as big as the harvest moon over the endless plains, or they might look like a lot less and do it anyway, but they are subject to illness and injury, tendons strung to snapping, and there are only just so many races in each of them. Like Gina says, "You don't know how many bullets you have left, so you think before you use one," and each bullet is the horse's chance to help pay her oats and her vet bills; no race, no money potentially coming in, and money going out as surely as the horse will need clean bedding and a meal the next day, and the day after, and the day after that.

For sensible owners, a win or a place is a chance to pay the bills, and the joy is the joy of a good performance and the joy of seeing the bank account replenished that much. For wealthy and ultra-wealthy owners, well, I can't say; I don't know any yet. Sunrise didn't shout that she was a winner, a "good" or "useful" horse, but she is proving herself to be just that. If Sunrise is still around the yards when my ownership status is approved by France Galop, because there is always the chance that she'll be claimed, I'll be hoping for a chance for one or two of those beautiful legs.

Today, those legs carried Sunrise to the post in second place, ridden by Tristan Normand in the Prix du Val de Saire, a race reserved for horses born in 2007 and earlier, and for jockeys who haven't yet gotten 15 wins in the last year, and in a little less than two weeks, she will travel for the winter season to the all-weather track at Cagnes-sur-Mer, the reason Gina bought Sunrise at Newmarket in October for Annie, for a mere 2,000 guineas.

The worry today was that Sunrise might have attracted a little more interest than might have been desired. The 1900 meter race she ran was a claimer at 18,000 euros. A big, strong and good looking filly, Sunrise looked even better with a second place finish, and Annie put down a modest defense. She had gotten her for Gina to take to Cagnes, and Cagnes was where she must go, for Gina and herself.

The system in Cagnes is that the boxes are allotted in groups of 3. Last year, Gina had 3 boxes and took 4 horses. You figure out where the needed box will come once you get there, if you have the courage to take the chance. This year, Gina asked for 6 boxes and got them.

Being a nice person has its advantages. So does knowing to whom one should give the bottles, and that holds true for claiming Annie Casteu's horse right before Cagnes. On ne pique pas le cheval d'Annie Casteu juste avant Cagnes.

Having 6 boxes, Gina needed 6 horses, and the line-up was Satwa Sunrise and Milly, or Surrey Storm, both purchased in Newmarket for Cagnes, Deep Ocean, Strictly Rhythm, King Driver and Magical Flower. King was out with a nagging cough, and Gina made the decision to have him skip Cagnes, bit the bullet and had him gelded. Down one horse, she started to look around, when Magic, feeling at the top of her form, had a vigorous post-work roll and crashed a rear hoof into the wall of her stall, fracturing the coffin bone. That made 6 boxes and 4 horses, but you don't give up a box that comes up vacant suddenly; you find a horse.

Enter Elbow Beach, a 2-year-old gray mare being sent down from Red House Stables in England, where she is trained by Dr. Jon Scargill, to get a win to increase her value as a brood mare. Enter my first experience as an owner in thoroughbred horse racing. It's not too big, and it's not too small, in fact, it's just right. ElB, or Elbé arrives Thursday, if the seas of the English Channel calm down a bit, and will be here for 6 weeks. One of Gina's American owners will take the other two legs. A short term commitment, and a decent chance of winnings against a limited exposure in training fees and possible veterinary costs.

I am still fretting over my colors.

Today's racing sheet

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