Thursday, May 3, 2007

Les Baux de Breteuil

Kurt Gänzl reporting. A slightly footsore reporter after a thirteen-hour Mayday spent, once again, amongst the horses and horsemen of France.

With my visits to Enghien and Argentan, I’d so far taken in two ‘levels’ of French racing: today I was promised a visit to a real grass-roots country meeting. A meeting on a track that only hosts one day of harness racing a year. A sort of French Hokitika or Omoto. Those of you who know me know that there’s nothing I like better. So Jack and I set out at 7 amin the direction of Evreux, more than two hours away from home base, in the department of the Eure.

Stop one on the day’s itinerary, however, was a visit to Jack’s team, his family of largely home-bred trotters which is based at the stable of Marion Hue in the tiny, picture-book village of Les Baux de Breteuil, Eure. It is almost misleading to say the stable is ‘in’ the village. It is really its principal feature. Give or take a school which looks to me like an ex-manor house. The homes of three generations of trotting Hues – father Bernard, son Marion, and his son David -- take up a whole corner of the village green, the stables, paddocks and training track line one side, and the villagers – including gentle, balding Pascal who sports a jumper proclaiming rather surprisingly that he is ‘Rough Trade’ -- supply help and support ad libitum to what looks like the place’s main enterprise.

The Hue stable is a long-established one and it looks like it. It is set up on thoroughly traditional lines, with its vast hangar of boxes (and interior walking machine!), its circle of day paddocks, its training track and rather less in the way of used bits and pieces lying around than I’m familiar with in some New Zealand stables. Marion is, these days, the most up-front person in the business, but Bernard is the paterfamilias. Thanks to one of France’s less agreeable rules, however, he is now – having reached the age of 70 -- sidelined from race driving. He took his farewell last December, running Jack’s Orlando into the money in a group race. Is 70 too late to learn English? Wow, how I’d like to export this top-notch trainer and driver from France to Canterbury, NZ!

We did the rounds of the equine Dowie family, from M to T. For, as you probably know, all French horses born in a particular breeding year have to have names starting with a designated letter. So Jack has the outstanding Orlando aged 5, Polina and Porto aged 4, Quiwi and Quick aged 3, Rosa and Rosko aged 2, Snowball and Sierra the yearlings, plus baby Twilight, daughter of the good mare Moonlight des Baux, and a very T-pregnant foundation mare, Festina des Baux.

On the way round, I mumbled something about one day racing a horse in France, and – of course – it just so happened that there was one available. Very available, for the handsome 3 year-old colt named Quitus du Seuil was actually making his debut today at Evreux. A few figures later, I had to mumble something about talking to my bank manager. For, in spite of the rumour I’d picked up, smart or not, the cost of buying and racing a horse in France is not the same as in New Zealand. Let’s say ... double? But, nevertheless … soonish …?

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