jeudi 10 mai 2012

Tattersalls, N° 35

Fibs And Flannel (GB) Ch.G. by Tobougg (IRE) x Queens Jubilee (GB)Consignor: Saville House Stables (W. Musson)

The Tattersalls Guineas Breeze Up and Horses in Training 2012 sale was set to begin at noon in Newmarket, 1 pm in Maisons-Laffitte, and on the edge of Normandy, where I sat in front of my laptop. It wasn't the sale at which we had intended to make a purchase, not being a favored sale, but we hadn't expected to be sending Elbow Beach back to Newmarket, either, which left me, quite unexpectedly and in a terrible irony, without a horse the very day I became an official owner with France Galop.

That Saturday, the vet Jerôme, trainer Gina Rarick, Thierry, Lisa and I stood at the place where Elbow made the noise, and waited for her to gallop past, Agata on board, just behind Guilain on Deep. We held our breath in absolute silence, waiting to listen to Elbow's, and past she shot, but not really on Deep's heals. Jerôme nodded. It was enough for him.

"Oui," he nodded again, looking from Gina to me and meeting my gaze, "j'ai entendu le sifflement. Elle corne."

She was whistling.

And she wasn't finishing her races. Her last time out in Maisons-Laffitte April 16 in the Prix Arreau (photos), she'd been out toward the front coming up the homestretch, and then she seemed to get smaller, receeding back into the pack like a balloon running out of air in super slow motion, almost imperceptibly. Was she slowing, or was everyone else speeding up? She finished far from the win she was here to get, 11th in a field of 13. Only 2 horses crossed the finish line behind her.

I watched from a distance as jockey Fabien Lefebvre dismounted and spoke with Gina after the race, surrounded by the crowd of hopeful supporters who had come to the racetrack to watch Elbow run that day. I knew what he was going to say, and so did Gina. I watched his body language as he described ber behavior, unwilling to enter the gate; we'd all seen it on the big screen. Elbow had tried to desist from starting without a fuss, first backing away from the gate, then shaking her head "no", pulling back steadily, insistently on the lead.

Yes, said the track handlers, You're going in. No, said Elbow. She didn't rear, she didn't throw; she just kept resisting until their combined force, hands joined behind her hind quarters, Fabien pulling on her tail, overcame her resistance. But, it wasn't just orneryness. Watching her,and having watched her other races, I was convinced she had her good reasons and knew she knew no way to tell everyone pulling, then pushing, other than by resisting.

She broke fine and ran a good race, until they were right in front of the grandstand.

I watched Fabien describe, gesturing with his hands, lowering and shaking his head, lips pressed together, how she just dropped back coming up to the post. It wasn't merely that she lacked turn of foot, which she was supposed to possess in abundance, coming from a family of winners and here to collect her win to make her programmed offspring more valuable in the yearling sales; she lacked the breath to accelerate and make her attack. Of all the horses out there, it was Elbow who lacked the ability to suck in enough oxygen to sustain her effort and go for that final one to overtake her competition and win.

We didn't know this yet, but we suspected it.

There was no way not to suspect the possibility of a wind issue now that she was fit, which she wasn't when she first arrived from England, having cooled her heals 10 days in a horse walker, waiting for the weather to permit a channel crossing, and that after having been out of racing training since her last race, October 10, 2011, 3 months before. She stayed back in Maisons-Laffitte when the others left for Cagnes-sur-Mer, and only joined Gina and them in her assigned box there when she'd had more preparation, and when I flew down for her first race, February 2, and she came in 4th, we were thrilled. Here was the proof; this filly was scarcely in race form, and she'd got a 4th place finish and brought home a check to pay her oats and training. All we had to do was keep up the work, except her next two finishes were 4th and 5th place, when by all rights should have been blowing past the others, and we weren't seeing the turbo kick in. More worryingly, Agata was reporting that she was making a noise at 1000 meters in her twice weekly morning gallops.

I thought about all that while I watched Fabien describe the race, looking disconcerted and dismayed for the first time. In the noise of a race, hooves pounding the turf, jockeys shouting, he wouldn't have heard the noise, but he felt its effect. The worst, he said, the thing that puzzled him the most, he told us, was her behavior before the race; she didn't want to race, and she hadn't the last time, either.

Later, at the Pur Sang for beers, we talked again about Elbow's performances, coming around to "the noise" and the wind issue.

"I think we need to get her scoped," I said, sounding every bit the horsewoman I am not, and then we went all through it again before Gina nodded.

"I'll call Jerôme and let's get her scoped."

Jerôme, as it happened, said that there was still time that day to do it, since she had raced just a few hours before, and we met at the yard.

The endoscopy of her pharynx showed little, except for a slight asymmetry of the cartilage of the larynx. Enough, however, to consider doing an endoscopy during fast work. That said, not being her owners on paper and a mounted endoscopy being costly, Jerôme suggested coming during her next gallops to listen for the noise, confirmation of which, that Saturday morning in April, was enough to send her back to her owner for further testing, and leave me without a horse in the yard.

I didn't go, although I thought I would, to see her off.

This is what sometimes happens in racing, like in jumping, and you have to get used to it or leave the game. We are their stewards, the time they are in the stables and working for us; we love them, care for them, feeding and grooming them well, exercise them, and even play with them (ask King about his soccer ball in a net), but when it's time for the horse to move on, move on to an appropriate next place and owner he must. I did think, though, of Elbow the morning she stepped onto the van for the journey back to Newmarket, and I believe that were she to come back to Maisons-Laffitte, she'd remember us and be glad enough to see us again.

We were good to her, as all owners, trainers, lads and exercise riders ought to be. She received the care she required and was raced with consideration. She got her hay, oats and water, and would have received any therapeutic treatment she needed, but nothing as a matter of course, and now it would be up to her owner to make the decisions in her racing career, depending on what the tests would show.

Elbow, before her last race in France at Maisons-Laffitte

I said good-bye to Elbow Beach across the kilometers from my home on the edge of Normandy, and suddenly the July sales seemed terribly far away. Gina hadn't been enthusiastic about the breeze up and in training sale at Newcastle in a couple of weeks, but just as suddenly, whatever would be up for offer seemed more interesting, and our eye turned to the 3-year-old colt Benbecula by Motivator (who, like Surrey Storm, calls the 2000 Arc winner Montjeu papa) out of Shirley Heights mare Isle of Flame after watching the N° 6 Motivator colt Esles (out of Dehere mare Resquilleuse and ridden by Christophe Soumillon) charge past his competition and the finish line in the 5th race of the day at Saint-Cloud May 1. We were watching from a table in the owners and trainers lounge, and Sebastien grabbed the Tattersalls catalog lying on the table by his hand.

"There's a Motivator horse in there?" I asked.

Oui, Sebastien nodded, riffling through the pages as fast as Esles had gone through the competition, and pointed to a pedigree "There."

The horse's name was Benbecula, and the dams had produced a good amount of black type. I watched Sebastien confirm mentally his place on his short list, and I made a mental note of my own to speak with Gina once she returned from wherever she had gone.

That we were interested in this colt was, in hindsight, less surprising by a great deal than that we thought we could ever possibly acquire him. My budget was small, and ought to have been a good deal smaller, and he had two 2nd place finishes in 4 starts. Still, he had no wins yet, and it was April. Perhaps no one was paying attention.

The first lots to go at Newcastle May 3 were encouraging, as horses sold for under 5,000 guineas, some not making reserve at just 5,500 or 5,800 guineas, and then came a bay filly, Cape Safari, who got a top bid of 37,000 guineas and didn't make her reserve.

"Oh oh, here we go now," I typed, watching the bids climb.

"Yup," came Gina's reply on facebook messenger, "The really good stuff sells for much more."

We were watching the live sales on the Tattersalls site and talking by chat, and Gina had Sebastien on his mobile by text message. She'd be calling him when Ben came into the ring. Then, four horses sold for 3,500 gns and less. My hope and courage returned, until N° 28, bay gelding Knockgraffen Lad by Forestry out of Miss Dahlia, turned a couple times around the sales ring and the bids were already soaring over 20,000 gns. The words "28 is obviously worth something!" appeared in the little window.

"No joke."

The top bid was 34,000 gns; he didn't make his reserve; the sale went on, and then another horse in which we knew Sebastien was interested, N° 41, entered the ring and was knocked down for 10,500 gns.

"We'll never get Ben for 8,000," I typed.

"No, I don't think so," came the reply.

"Not even 10,000."

I bit my nail to smooth off the ragged edge I'd left from biting it and typed "Did Seb buy?"

"No, I'm sure he didn't get that one. Too much.
He bought 35, though, too."

I looked up 35, 5-year-old chestnut gelding Fibs and Flannel by Tobougg out of Queens Jubilee that went for a reasonable price. Lots of starts, a regular performer with three wins.

"What do you think of him?" I asked.

"I don't care for Tobougg."

I put Fibs and Flannel out of my mind, with an asterisk. We were nearing number 50, Benbecula, who, to make a short story even shorter, was out of my range before the call even went through. If you care to make on offer, however, you may: he didn't make his reserve when the bidding ended at 45,000 gns. We weren't, it appeared, the only ones paying attention, nor were we likely the only ones to have come across the blurb on him in

I took scant comfort in having my horse sense (alright, Seb's and Gina's) confirmed, and, I ruminated, at least I didn't have to deal with the ache of losing him by a couple hundred lousy guineas. Seb had bought two horses, Fibs and a horse who went for less still. Gina sent the photos. In them, neither looked like much, but then again, the angles were bad. No, Gina said, the first one wasn't all that compromised by Seb's cell phone photography; the one to look at was N° 35, Fibs and Flannel, and I set to thinking about it.

Ludo on Fibs and Flannel, behind Seb on Sabys Gem and Agata on King, Rond Poniatowski, May 8

I headed to the yard to look him over, stood in the Rond Poniatowski with Gina and watched him trot, then canter, did yards of mental calculations, consulted my instincts and measured my mettle, and yesterday I made my decision and we fêted it with two bottles of champagne between Gina, Seb, yard owner Chantal, and myself (Gina's husband Tim stuck with scotch, just like their friend Brian, who we waved down as he drove by; it isn't difficult to make a merry drinks party in Maisons-Laffitte). 

My husband wasn't divorcing me for it (I actually suspect he is finding all this rather intriguing, despite his normally conservative constitution), and as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Sole owner of this red gelding, dripping with muscle in his shoulders and hind quarters -- needing to build up the back -- and built to run a mile, with four legs in training, I am venturing it all. As Gina says, all we have to do is make him happy, and he'll run for us. They've been hard on him, and we'll make him happy.

Let us hope that this is fun. It might at least provide moments of mirth in the retelling, over cans of cat food at meals in my diminished retirement, because, suddenly, all I want is a horse; my kingdom for a horse.

God help me, and Inshallah.

Groomed and in his luxury suite, Fibs waits for dinner

For more photos of Fibs and Flannel, click here.

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