A championship horse race? Here in Uzès? Yes, but...
Une course championnat? Ici a Uzès? Oui, mais...
When we moved to Uzès we knew there was a regional
branch of le Haras National here on the outskirts of town. Le
Haras National, which translates as “the National Stud”, is an
organization charged with improving the breeding of France’s equine
population. The really big show is le Haras National at
Chantilly, where thoroughbreds are the focus. Here in Provence the work
centers largely on pleasure animals and working beasts.
We were thrilled
to find out one recent winter weekend that the local Haras
was hosting the finals of the French National Championships…for
long-distance riding horses. No chance for a bet we realized, one of us
nearly paralyzed with sobs. Nonetheless, on a cold, sparkling Sunday, we
showed up to see what was going on. There were actually three
championships: one for
four-year-olds at 40 kilometers (27 miles), one for five-year-olds at 60
kilometers (40 miles), and the feature race, the French Breeders’ Cup
equivalent, six-year-olds at 90 kilometers, or 60 miles.
This is definitely not the most exciting two minutes in sport. Each
horse starts out individually, followed a few minutes later by the next
competitor. Time decides it all, not a multi-horse sprint to the finish
line. The horses are mostly Arabians or something called “the French
pleasure horse”, or mixtures thereof, precisely identified by
percentage. The courses wind through the countryside and all around the neighboring towns. The winning
time in the feature was something just over six hours. Veterinarians
examine each animal at various checkpoints and “scratch” any horse
whose heart-rate or blood pressure is too high.
In spite of the lack of flash finish, this was really a good show.
Competitors were truly in to it. Judges and officials of the Haras
National were suitably officious. The shaggy-coated horses
were…well, they ain’t thoroughbreds, but they’re try-ers.
So we went to a French national championship horse race right here
in Uzès. Had a fine time. Lost nary a sou on the outcome, a
refreshing experience. And just to cover that gap in information, the
result you didn’t get from your American Daily Racing Form, the
winner of the feature event was Burzet du Moulon, a six-year-old
Arabian horse ridden by Gaëtan Calvier, owned by the same individual.
And, yes, he’s for sale!
Lots of prep for the start ...
and the finish...
...including the officials and
the Veterinary checks at the conclusion!
An excerpt from French
For American horse racing fans, including those of us stranded in
France, the annual Breeders’ Cup races are the equivalent of the World
Series to baseball nuts. There aren’t three people in our part of France
who know or care what the World Series is about. But there are a
considerable number of French horse racing aficionados who find the
American Breeders’ Cup races an interesting betting proposition. A few
such French bettors kept us company last week at the P.M.U. (off-track
betting facility) at the Café du Midi on Boulevard Gambetta in Nimes. By
the time the races ended, just around midnight here, we had torn up a lot
of failed betting slips (Spain at 60-1 in the Distaff? Gaak!), been
invited to dinner by the proprietor of an Algerian restaurant which is
“only temporarily” closed, got an explanation of the “unfairness”
of the American tax collection system on big payoffs from a gentle former
South Vietnamese green beret, watched as the self-described “chief” of
an African tribe attempted to collect the prettier of us as his fifth
wife, and performed at least one act never before seen in the annals of
the, admittedly somewhat seamy, Café du Midi.
The excitement of the
Breeders’ Cup races reaches far, even to this side of the Atlantic, even
to the French. (The land of 300 different cheeses sent half a dozen horses
over to compete, and none ran with much interest.) The principal French
horseracing paper, Paris Turf, had all the entries, lots of
“color” stories focused on the historically bad performances of the
English horses shipped over to America, and the usual French,
infuriatingly-sketchy, past performance data...
here to continue...
French horses mostly manqués
at the Breeders' Cup
November 20, 2000...The
Breeders' Cup was a disappointment to the French. Several of their horses
shipped over and never got to the starting gate. Of those who did
run, the well regarded Dansili came in third in the Mile while
his confrère Indian Lodge struggled home thirteenth. In the Filly
and Mare Turf race, Colstar ran seventh while the previously solid
race mare Goldamix clunked home tenth. In the very competitive Turf
race, Montjeu was an uninspired seventh. As previously reported here, it looked
as though Montjeu was entered over the objections of his trainer because
ambitions of his owner. Whether or not to even count Montjeu among the
French horses is arguable. He's not really French to begin with (bred in
Ireland) and he's
owned by a Brit. However, the French began claiming him as their own when
he won the 1999 Arc de Triomphe and when he returned to that race this year,
he looked like a repeater. After touting him down to 1-to-10 odds, the
French disowned him after his lackluster Arc performance. By Breeders' Cup
day, the French writers had already re-patrioted him to the Brits, the
Irish, or anybody else.
FRANCE TO THE
November 2, 2000...Contrary to our previous reports, Montjeu
(Turf) and Indian Lodge (Mile) have both shown up at Churchill
Downs. Duh...low marks for our crack sportswriter.
Montjeu (who’s actually an Irish horse
but seems to be claimed for French as the result of his winning the 1999
Arc de Triomphe) is on a two-race losing streak after finishing fourth in
this year’s edition of the Arc followed by a second in the Group I
Champion Stakes at Newmarket. Acclaimed as this year’s European “superhorse” after the early summer retirement of Dubai Millenium, Montjeu
has obviously been anything but super over the past month. He’s
supposedly been bothered by an ankle, but may be over it. Trained by the
truly outstanding John Hammond, Montjeu would go as the top
European hope in the Turf. If he’s over his sore ankle and likes the
Churchill Downs course, attention! He has a stalking running style
that may suit.
Indian Lodge, a three year old, is on a
two-race winning streak. The mile should be an excellent distance for him.
However, he prefers soft turf. Whether he’ll get it in Kentucky is
another question. Still, he’s been a rapidly improving colt and, if he
goes, could be a juicy price.
The rest of this year’s rather thin French contingent
is long on quality and surely worth a look. Trainer André Fabre has two
excellent horses entered in the Mile:
the very classy Dansili and the talented but tough luck Kingsalsa.
Carlos Laffron Parias will send out the solid Goldamix in the
F&M Turf, perhaps worth a small flier. Least known of the limited
French contingent is the two-year-old colt Noverre, trained by
David Loder. He’ll go at a big price in the Juvenile Colts.
Breeder's Cup wagers...kinda...
November 2000...Good news and bad news for the punters behind the
keyboard at this site. The French off-track betting network, the PMU, will
accept Breeder’s Cup bets on Saturday.
However…most outlets, including our local facility in Uzès,
require that the bets be in by 1:30 p.m.
That’d be six hours before the first race, or 7:30 a.m. Eastern
time. French racing officials are just making sure that nothing interferes
with that day’s Tiercé, Quarté and Quinté betting on an exciting
twenty-three-horse steeplechase at Auteuil. Plus exotic wagers are limited
to exactas. Betting will be co-mingled with Churchill Downs.
There are a few larger
facilities in our region that may accept bets until later in the
day and may allow more exotic wagering, but at this point we’re
just trying to find out what’s what. In any case, half a baguette
beats no baguette at all, so if you happen to be in the Uzès PMU
at about one o’clock Saturday afternoon, say hello and we’ll buy you une
|October 25, 2000...Pictured below with Joe is the renowned France-based American
jockey Cash Asmussen, enjoying some bubbly in Chantilly this past
spring. Cash has won every important race there is to win in Europe as
well as a Breeder’s Cup in the USA.
Cash recently won three consecutive juvenile races for
his contract owners, the Niarchos family. On October 28 at St. Cloud, he
won with the colt Denon (Pleasant Colony) and on the promising
filly Mare Nostrum (Caerleon). The next day at Longchamp he won a
Listed Race for two-year old colts on the exciting Domedriver
(Indian Ridge) who buried the 1-to-10 favorite, Pushkin. It’s all
smiles around the Niarchos barns right now.
|October 25, 2000...As everyone knows by now, October 1 at Longchamp saw Montjeu
fail in defense of his Arc de Triomphe title from last year. He ran a
surprisingly dull race and finished fourth at odds of 1 to 5. The winner
was the Aga Khan's Sinndar, born and raised in Ireland. The
three-year-old colt won easily with two fillies, Volvereta and Egyptband,
finishing second and third.
Don't look for Sinndar, who rang up seven
wins in eight lifetime starts, at Churchill Downs. He's being retired to
stud. After all, a racehorse has proven everything he needs to after eight
races, n'est-ce pas?
Photo above courtesy of Scoop
You can click on the picture to see their photo gallery.
For fans of French horse racing, take a look at French
Horse Racing On-Line (FROL) at www.frol.com.
A subscription site, non-EEU subscribers are charged FF120 per month, about
$17 US, or FF 200 per year, about $170 US.