|Prix René Couétil, Lisieux April 15|
Tania des Ongrais
Perhaps it was the stiff, cold wind blowing across Normandy from the north. The horses were nervous before the race. We knew Hard Way was a handful -- Lisa got permission to have his gentleman rider mount before entering the presentation circle and get him out again before he had completed a full turn, and still he bounded out and put Guilain Bertrand through a rodeo to remember --, but they nearly all were.
Twisting, turning, rearing and rocking, determined to rid themselves of their riders, or just let something out, something to do with the excitement before the race, the wind, and the smells carried on it, but it only lasts a moment, and then everything is in perfect order. A warm-up followed by the orderly procession of 14 obedient and civil horses to the tape start, and they're off.
Hard Way got a good start and then sat out near the front in second or third position for most of the race with a steady race pace. Guilain moved him into the rail coming into the last turn, and they came out and into the homestretch in front, but the most experienced gentlemen riders were just behind, and made their bids. Maxime Denuault up on Sandinnar, the Aga Khan Stud mare and half-sister to Deep Ocean, saw the hole to thread between Guilain and the rail, while Florent Guy up on Quadriller, trained by Jehan Bertran de Balanda, squeezed him on the outside while the winner, Sabletory, ridden by Jean-Philippe Boisgontier, came up strong on the outside with the Gérard Augustin-Normand horse, Saint Aubin ridden by Mathieu Brasme threatening from behind.
Cire du Fray thought about it, but Hard Way wasn't going to let another horse past him and finished 5th, 4 3/4 lengths behind the winner, Sabletory, followed by Saint Aubin, with a nice showing, coming on strong from behind and overtaking the leaders through the homestretch, Quadriller, and Sandinnar.
It was Guilain's second race ever. A chance to gain race experience, while for Hard Way, it was a training session in his preparation to hit the Paris racetracks after 18 months in a retirement he decided he didn't want. Seeing him in his box at Gina Rarick's yard in Maisons-Laffitte, or in the training center of a morning, I didn't get it, but watching Hard Way spring out of the presentation circle and race was a revelation: the cream puff turned into sound and fury, a whirling dervish only to settle right back into his lovable, affectionate self off the racetrack again.
A crushed vertebra wasn't enough to stop Hard Way. He'd encased it in calcium and set it aside, making it clear to his trainer that he wanted to be in his old box in the stables on the rue Champaubert, and, preferably, on the nearest Paris racetrack.
He'll have his chance in about three weeks at Longchamp.
For now, I have to get in the car and go see another horse race. One Elbow Beach in whom I have a half share. Elbow is running her first sprint since her arrival in January from England, and today will tell if she is what her pedigree says, a sprinter at 1100 meters, or if she is the exception to her family's rule and a miler. She'll start in the third race at Maisons-Laffitte with one of the best values, but variably rated, depending on whether you're consulting Geny.com and Paris-turf.com, which have her at 11:1 odds, or ZEturf.fr, which has her at 26.3. Geny gives her an outside chance. I'd be delighted with a great and safe race, and a place.
We'll be running, like yesterday, against horses -- the two top favorites Gandalak and Dampierre -- owned by His Highness the Aga Khan and Gérard Augustin-Normand, respectively. Jockey Fabien Lefebvre, who knows her well, will be on board. I have butterflies in my stomach.
There was question of lunch at the racetrack before the race, but this is the most nervous I have been before a race, and I think I'll scratch that and hope for reason for a little champagne after.
For the photos from around the racetrack at Lisieux yesterday, click here.
For the battle up the homestretch in Hard Way's race at Lisieux, click here.
|Hard Way and Agata, after the race|