Ultimately a disappointing week horse wise, but a good break with the family.
We took the quick ferry over to France on the Monday – around 3 hours from Portsmouth to Cherbourg and a 2 hour drive the other end. It was fairly uneventful – my one observation was that although I wasn’t driving that fast in France I wasn’t overtaken by a single car. We checked into the Hotel du Golf in Deauville – a large hotel close to the hippodrome (race course). We had a corridor chat with a nice English woman who was in the next room up.
I’m fairly simplistic when it comes to rating hotels – I mark them on the quality of the shower and the bacon for breakfast. On this measure the Golf came up poorly. It also scored badly on room service – on weekdays no room service between 2.00 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. as the chef is only in for meal times, which is not much use for my children who are generally in bed by 7.30 – and for the playground, a rusty roundabout and a broken swing. It scored well enough in other areas though.
At breakfast the next day I discovered the nice English woman was the wife of Peter Savill, former chairman of the BHB and a vocal critic of Betfair. I’ve never met Mr Savill before – I steeled myself for a conversation. It didn’t happen – despite sharing the same hotel for a week our paths didn’t cross.
We decided to get out and about, and we went to see a few of the seaside towns in the area. We went to Etretat – stone beach with paths to high clifftops on both sides – and the bustling port at Honfleur. Loads of small family restaurants everywhere, all excellent and packed out at lunchtimes. There was an immaculate park at Honfleur with a lot of old statues – it occurred to me that if the park had been in England it would probably have been ruined by vandals.
Everywhere we went the people were courteous and friendly. Some parts of France can feel very anti English, but Normandy I am told is less so, perhaps because of the war. The younger men in Normandy seemed unusually easy going, and one thing I couldn’t help noticing was how many of them had pets with them at all times. Cats seemed particularly popular – one guy in the hotal carried his cat around with him in a little carry box, and another on the beach had a white cat that seemed to live inside his shirt.
On Wednesday night we went out with bloodstock agent Tom Goff – Tom bought Winker Watson and Bouguereau. We ordered a babysitter for our four children – the hotel insisted that for four children we had to have two babysitters. We met Tom at the Yearling restaurant by the hippodrome – we sat outside for a couple of hours. As far as I could see everyone who walked or drove past the restaurant knew Tom and stopped to say hello – he clearly gets around.
The children seemed to enjoy the week, showing again that the simple pleasures are all that is required. Olly, my two year old, stopped calling me Dad half way through the week and started calling me Burp, which quickly caught on with the rest of the family. Eddie, a little older and shouts a lot, pointed out every flag, calling them slags – “look Dad, there are slags everywhere” – turning a few heads. He can be odd sometimes – on the way back from Honfleur he shouted “nose peel” over and over for the whole journey, causing great consternation with the girls.
By Friday a lot of people were arriving, and on Friday night we went out with a couple of owner/punter friends. One of them had come from the course – he said he had backed a winner which had been 29 on the last PMU show before the race but returned a price of 12. I’ve seen this before – a lot of money clearly goes into the French pools in the dying seconds.
On Saturday we finally made it to the course. Bouguereau was running in the third race, and we were expecting a big run – I backed him but not too heavily as I’m a bit superstitious about these things. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be – he finished a decent enough fourth, but it was a disappointment. I pick up 12,000 Euros for the fourth place – not bad given it was only a listed race. I had a bad days punting as I backed Laureldean Gale in the next and three losers in the UK. Laureldean Gale returned 7/2 (BF 4.5) on the PMU but could have been laid for large amounts at 2.8 on Betfair – a massive arbitrage, and similar (if not quite so extreme) arbs existed on the other British runners. A significant amount of free money sitting around for anyone who could be bothered to take it.
I got up on Sunday and the rain was absolutely teeming down – there were huge puddles on the putting green in front of the golf course and a virtual stream of water running down the road to the hippodrome. I saw Pete at breakfast – he was biting his nails. Pete had said from the start that Winker likes a bit of cut, and would run well on anything other than heavy ground. Pete headed down to walk the course. At around 12.30 he called from the course – the course was soaking and it was still raining hard. He thought we should pull out – I didn’t disagree and neither did any of the other owners, so that was that.
It dried up a little in the afternoon but it was still pretty muggy – the time of the race was faster than last year (Dutch Art) but slower than all other times in the last ten years, including Divine Proportions’ win two years ago on very soft ground. We’ll never know how we would have fared but I’m glad we pulled out – I think it was the right decision.
A disappointing week’s racing then, but an excellent family break. Normandy is an excellent spot for a holiday, and it is IMO far nicer than the south of France, which I find overcrowded and unfriendly by comparison.