The fourteenth of July is, of course, the most famous day in the French national calendar but, for us, the Bastille and its stormers were of no consequence, July 14th was simply another day at the races.
This time it was a much larger meeting at a much more metropolitan track, in the city of Amiens, two and a half hours north east of ‘home’. The racecourse at Amiens is an attractive and decidedly well-equipped one, something over a kilometre round but grit this time not grass. What makes it somewhat breath-taking, however, is the view. As the horses race past the winning post, you can see towering skywards in the not-so-distant distance the spires of the celebrated Cathedral of Amiens which, if my historical memory serves me, is where Joan of Arc (her, again!) crowned the Dauphin as King of France in … umm … 1066?
The sun shone, the team didn’t manage to repeat the previous day’s triumph (Porto a stout fifth after being denied the lead he likes, Orlando – back racing after injury and stallion duties – not yet quite right), and a beer was 3 euros/NZ$6 a little glass (but I guess that’s par for the course in a world where a can of Fanta costs a pound), although it was none the less welcome.
To be honest, however, I have to say that – cathedral or no cathedral – I didn’t enjoy the racing at Amiens in the same way that I had enjoyed that at Francheville. At the little track we had everything in the way of entertainment: big runs, runaway leaders, fast finishers, elbow-to-elbow battles, not to forget a few thrills and spills in and around the maiden races!
Here, the races themselves were scarcely worthy of the name. By and large, whoever got to the front in the first fifty metres simply stayed there, leading a parade of not very changing chasers from one end of the race to the other. Those horses who started from the 25 metre handicap line quite simply had no chance at all, and the only one of them who even attempted something today compounded after performing the day’s only loop of the field. I don’t pretend to understand why some tracks are conducive to this kind of racing, nor why Amiens is seemingly one of them with bells on (I mean, even at Kaikoura it is just possible to come from behind), but it is not really very entertaining.
The entertainment was for later. After the long trip home – via the outskirts of Rouen, where one can gather in one’s fill of ancient spires, even from the bypass road – we all foregathered in the evening sun for the sort of French dinner (o! Teresa!!)– from merguez to casserole de poulet to raspberries and fresh cream, and from champagne (the product of Porto's recent win!) via vin rouge to the biggest glass of calavdos I have ever tackled – that has you curled satedly and contentedly up in your comfy bed before the last drop of daylight has even quit the sky.
Did someone say ‘Ca ira’? The Bastille Day motto seems out of place. I reckon things are going pretty well already for this demi-semi-Frenchman.
Vive la France!