Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A cheval!


From Couptrain I have moved on to Les Baux de Breteuil, and back into the world of harness racing. For Les Baux de Breteuil is the fief of the Hue family and their racing stable, and I’m to be their guest here for a richly horsey and festive ten days.

Jack, freshly arrived from London, drove down to Couptrain on Sunday to pick me up, and we set out for the village of Francheville. Or, rather, for a place in the country somewhere outside the village of Francheville. The place was, of course, a racecourse; the most countryfied racecourse that I’ve yet visited in France and, needless to say, delightful. A bright green 1150-metre oval of flourishing clovered grass, with a little wood in the middle – you see the horses in the back straight flash picturesquely past between the trunks – and a mini-grandstand of cricket pavilion proportions, buzzing with racegoers. No ‘boxes’ here, you gear your horse up tied to the back of your horse ‘van’, parked on the grass alongside the rails. It all had an air of sportive gaiety that has sadly rather fallen out of the kind of ‘metropolitan’ racing where people speak of ‘the industry’ rather than ‘the sport’.

The Hue family was there in numbers, along with a little feller named ‘Prince des Baux’ (owner/trainer: Marion Hue, driver: David Marion Hue) who had run a place two starts back and was reckoned to have a good chance of doing so again, today, in one of the day’s claiming races.

After Didier, another Hue (I haven’t quite got the very extensive family tree, and exactly how who is related to whom, set in aspic yet) had run his mare into a useful third place, it was Prince’s turn. David got him away niftily, straight to the front, but he wasn’t left alone, and at the second and very determined attack he handed up. The new leader streaked lengths clear, but down the back the last time David began to close again. By the final bend, Prince was breathing in the leader’s ear, and in the straight he ran on stoutly, cruising in for a distinctly comfortable victory.

What a way to start my re-entry into French racing! OK, a claiming race at Francheville may not be the Grand Criterium, but a win is a win, and this one was a genuine thrill.
The birdcage swelled with Hues as the winner received his dues. Here are just some (left to right): Laura (generation 3), David (driver, generation 3), Marion (trainer, generation 2), Françoise and Bernard (generation 1) and Teresa (generation 2) with Olivia (the youngest Hue of all). Céline (generation 3) and Clara (generation 4) are just off camera, the man with the champagne is Jacques Plancqueel, president of the club and, as it happens, a Hue stable patron (see blog 2007), and, of course, that’s Prince des Baux in the middle.

A real family occasion, which foreshadows another. For next weekend Little Clara and very little Olivia are to be baptised and the fete promises to be a memorable one!

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