Lisieux, thanks to its Sainte Therèse, is a well-known town all round the world. It is also, as the local advertisements tell you, in large letters, ‘the Capital of the Pays d’Auge’. But for me, now, it’s the place where I first saw my mare, Rosy des Baux, run into the money.
The racetrack at Lisieux is a picturebook country venue: compact, neatly outlined with immaculate box hedges, with an incessantly groomed pink grit track of just under 1300 metres set in lawns and countryside as green as a parrot’s bottom. Just the kind of ‘hippodrome’ that I love the best.
Their ‘pre-school-holiday’ meeting was a twilight-evening affair, beginning at 6.30am under a rich summery sunshine, and ending at 10pm without the floodlights being needed. Rosy was in race seven, so we weren’t ‘on’ till 9.30.
This race was a bit more challenging than her previous ones. A stake of 12,000 euros and a field including some likely-looking four year-olds, including one by Love You. It was also to be Rosy’s first attempt at a distance of just under 2700 metres, and her first glimpse of the mobile start. A rehearsal at home didn’t go off too well, so Marion was up at sparrowfart in the morning re-shoeing her, and giving her some extra gate practice.
Happily, when it came to nitty gritty, Rosy turned up trumps. She shot from barrier four (of fourteen) at the autostart, straight to the lead. Luck, however, didn’t stay in her court. A wider horse, urged on suicidally by its driver, bullocked its way past her, and, having got to the front, slammed on the brakes to allow an even wider horse past. Rosy ended up three deep on the rails in a slow-paced first lap. She stayed there as they quickened down the back the second time, but as the runs started coming from behind, and the thing in front of her weakened logically, she was pushed inexorably back to the rear of the front bunch. They were into the straight, and the first three had gapped the field, before she got into the clear. But when she did, she put her back into it, emerging from the pack, and closing on the leaders all the way to the line. The third horse just held her out: she was a fine fourth. In the end, however, she was promoted to third (at 6.40 the place), when the second horse (the Love You!) was disqualified for incorrect gear. No messing about here. No $50 fines for infringements, as in New Zealand. Sin and it’s the chop.
So Rosy’s record now reads: six starts, one win, two placings, and some 8,900 euros in stake money, a record which with any luck should be positively added to over the months to come.
There’s no picture here of Rosy’s race, because you can’t watch a race through a camera lens, and I was here to watch! So instead here she is on her way to the start, and here too an action picture of Sierra des Baux, owner Jack Dowie, who came along to the track as well for a kind of dress-rehearsal before her raceday debut next week.
PS the photofinish is available, but barely..
Sunday, I added one more to my tally of French racetracks with a visit to Melnay-du-Maine, a town to the south of Laval and Le Mans (where the 24-hour race was being run). A sleek modern, black-cinder track for the trotters, some dinky box hedges for the steeplechasers, fine facilities and a pretty rural setting: one more splendid country-town venue with just one drawback: millions of little black flying insects. Oh, and the beer 40c dearer than at Lisieux. You can tell, it’s going to take quite something to knock Lisieux off the top of my hippodromic hit parade, and it won’t be this year because my French racegoing for June 2009 is done, and in a couple of days I head south to Couptrain. With very happy memories.