mercredi 6 juin 2012

Anticipating race day for Fibs and Flannel

Cooling down after a "canter", May 25
followed by Hard Way

I have done this before. Four times. But this is nothing like those other times.

The race for which we hoped was today at Maisons-Laffitte, but with 69 entrants, Fibs and Flannel, a 5-year-old gelding by Tobourgg out of Kayman Cai mare Queens Jubilee, wasn't going to get in. We'd have to go for the back-up entry, the 8th, Prix du Mesnil-Villement, a claimer at 1600m (8f, a mile) tomorrow at Saint-Cloud, and if my trainer Gina Rarick told me once, she told me once per multiple daily conversation for the past week, at every possible opportunity (no chance of not getting it) that the field of 9 is a tough one: these aren't real claiming horses; they are horses who have earned themselves weighty handicaps and who are slumming it a little to get some races in. Their owners will defend them.

Tougher than the fields, for me, is following the logic sometimes. Essentially, one must argue, the cost of defending certain horses in such a race is negligible in comparison to their past and future earnings. And some people just like seeing their colors on a jockey's back from the comfort of the grandstand in front of the Owners' and Trainers' lounge or  their table at the restaurant, surrounded by duly impressed friends and clients with betting tickets and black, or at least platinum, cards in their wallets. This cannot be my case. Mine is altogether different. First of all, my dog ate my green card. Second, the Sport of Kings is slumming it letting me play, and has kindly offered the claiming system as my point of entry, as well as access to the valet parking and reserved sections of the track.

Like everyone else, I harbor fantasies and dream of standing next to my horse, its jockey and my trainer in the Winner's Circle, the most hallowed of the privileged sections of any track. This is my right; a claimer wins like any Groupe I horse. I know my place, but I struggle daily with it. Can I really afford to indulge this, my violon d'Ingres? Or, have I entirely lost my mind and all rational senses? If I can be smart and cool-headed enough, might I continue to indulge in it, or will I collapse under the weight of the stress of the worrying?

It is supposed to be fun, they say. Have fun! they say.

There must, then, be, I have discovered, a threshhold; an amount of disposable income that serves as the key in the lock to fun. There must be, perhaps, income that may be called disposable, tout court. If not, there must be a stop dollar wall, as a friend and fellow owner in Gina's yard in Maisons-Laffitte says. It's the point at which you stop and get out as soon as you hit it.

But I want my chance, and I want to see if it is at all possible to get the parts of the machine working, the horses moving through the box in the yard, the system, making modest profits or minimal losses that amount to a pleasant net gain or coming very close to breaking even and result in an experience of fun. I am not optimistic, but the individual serving as my bloodstock agent has replied in capital letters and with utmost clarity and succinctness when I express my desire to keep my horse, "NO." No, you may not. No, you must not. Do not get attached. We love them all, but the only way to be sure to make any money is to sell.

So, I must chose the horses I buy wisely, enter them judiciously, and then let them move on.

The best horse is a sold horse.

I have heard it hundreds of times now, and it doesn't sit any easier, not even once the bills start coming in (the ultimate reminder, along with your name and colors on the racing program and the jockey's back) and you know that this is absolutely true and must not be argued with. The bills do help, though. I must remember to thank my trainer's bookkeeper, and so must my bloodstock agent, who makes a little tiny fee every time I make a purchase. This is fine, too. As long as I am doing at least as well.

And so, this lovely, honest horse will be most successful for me by finding his longer-term home by the July sales in Newmarket. I will have the photos I have taken of him at which to look and by which to remember him. I can follow first his career, once he will have left the yard, and those of the others I will buy and move on. If I am lucky enough, I tell myself, I will buy him back when he is 10 and will have finished his career and be ready for a second one, carrying me on lovely trips through the forest, at a stately walk and leisurely gallops de chasse. If it won't be Fibs, finally, perhaps it will be one of the others I do not know yet.

Tomorrow Fibs will face the favorites, Settebellezze and Ocean Moon, and their dauphins, Celebrity Choice, Rey Davis and Delta Black Sheep. It is likely that he will find himself on the rang du con, the 6th place, just at the foot of the podium without a check for his efforts, yet beating Tucker's Law, Jamindar and Russian Davis. But, there is always a chance, that's why it's a race. No one knows the outcome before the race is run. Fibs has a chance. Paris-Turf writes of him, Fibs and Flannel mérite qu'on se penche sur son cas." In other words, he deserves attention and respect going into this race, and I will hold onto those words in the seemingly interminably endless hours stretching out between now and post time tomorrow, 8:10 pm.

I am hoping for one of the belles éclaircies forecast for tomorrow evening after a morning of wet skies to break out when lady jockey Carla O'Halloran is given a leg up into the saddle by Gina, fellow owner Mark at his second favorite place (after the winner's circle alongside Hard Way), the lad's, holding Fibs' lead, setting his chestnut coat on fire and lighting up my colors, golden-orange and claret, in the long June evening sun, copper radiating light like new, burnished centimes, drawing everyone's eyes to him, shining somewhere toward the front of the pack coming up the homestretch.

I want to be able to jump from my seat, arms liberated from my fists clutched at my stomach and into the air over my head, my heart to stop slamming around in my rib cage and rise along with them, watching him pull out and ahead, fighting to beat just another horse coming up to the post. The usual "I want" of the owner.

But, more than wanting a win for me, I want Fibs to shine for himself. If he is going to move on, let it be with dignity and respect for his honesty, his heart, and the good motor the good Lord gave him, and a positive number in my account with France Galop.

That'll be enough.

Jockey Carla O'Halloran, Cagnes-sur-Mer, February 2012

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