20, 2007 -- On a gorgeous Friday afternoon in
April, we were treated like royalty as we toured
Maisons-Laffitte, just a few minutes north of Paris by
train. Gina Rarick, an American journalist who has lived in
France for more than 10 years, stables several of the horses
she trains at a picturesque 'yard' in Maisons-Laffitte, just
across the street from where she lives with her husband,
Though not the first trip to Maisons-Laffitte, it was
certainly the most fun-filled one. (My previous journey
three years ago was in search of Jimmy Winkfield, a classic
chateau [see right] and a good
place to eat lunch! I scored one out of three that time.) We
started with a quick visit to the yard, where the owners of
the stable were having lunch in the interior oval.
Gina introduced us to her three equine friends, the mare
Spooky, Roy de Gabaud, and Tommy. All three of these
horses race hurdles and steeplechase, and Gina works them
every morning without fail, building their strength and
keeping them in racing form. And then she goes to her
regular job as a financial writer for the International
Herald Tribune. Gina's story is amazing, too long to
tell here, but suffice it to say that this is a woman who
knows what she wants and is willing to invest whatever
energy it takes to get it. She's made a solid name for
herself in this racing world, in spite of the fact that she
has several strikes against her: She's a woman, she's
an American, and she's not from a horse-racing background.
We had a lovely lunch under the plane trees at the Rond
du Poniatowski, called Rond du Pont by the locals, then
sauntered across the street to the racetrack. We walked
through the stables, in the presentation ring, to the
owners' box, even into the jockey room where we ran into
Christophe Soumillon, one of France's leading jockey's, as
he was changing silks. Oops! And then we watched the
races, all of them on the turf, all of them in the opposite
direction from America, and all of them much longer than the
races we see at home. What a great way to jump
headlong into French racing! And it's not over
yet...we're off to Auteuil on Sunday to watch the Grand Prix
du Président de la République, sometimes called the French
Grand National, a major steeplechase stakes race that just
happens to be running on the day of the presidential
The 'yard' where Gina's
horses are stabled.
Joe is introduced to Spooky.
Roy de Gabaud is a big boy,
and quite a jumper.
Gina has brought Roy back to
racing form and hopes to enter
him in a race at Auteuil in May.
Tommy is a colt, with a bit of
that boyish enthusiasm...
he's very game and strong...
he may soon be leaving the
family jewels on the cutting room
floor before too long.
At the track, the tote board looks more like a
little league scoreboard -- it's all part of the charm of
Maisons-Laffitte, where they've been racing horses
for hundreds of years.
Maisons is also where Jimmy Winkfield, the
Black Maestro American jockey (who twice won the Kentucky
Derby at the turn of the last century) rode, lived, trained and
died. He's buried at the cemetery there.
And down the stretch they come...
...in the opposite direction...
...beautiful no matter which way they run!
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