I had spotted them earlier, walking the sales ground at the Hippodrome de Bequet, La Teste-de-Buch. Two elegantly dressed men – swept back white hair, jerseys knotted around their necks and hanging off the shoulders. One pink, one yellow. They were not in a hurry. But being in a hurry does not work at this ‘Vente de Yearlings.’
Now they are seated on a table in front of me, on the terrace outside at the Hotel La Co(o)rniche. I know, where did that affectation of an ‘o’ come from? Not entirely necessary, but quirky and fun, which fits in rather well in these parts.
The two old boys in animated conversation. A well thumbed catalogue on the table between them. A platter of fruit de mer. A bottle of something undoubtedly pretty sensible sitting askance in an ice bucket. Like two players on a stage, their dinner a picture of style and elegance laid out before them. They rock back in their chairs, and laugh together. They lean forward in unison to pluck an oyster, crack a lobster claw, or wrestle with a tiny clam. I suspect they do this often. I suspect that they have had a lot of fun together down the years. Backed a winner or three together. Maybe owned a decent horse. Perhaps there was a Prix de Diane, or a Prix de l’Abbaye, in their past.
Early September in Bordeaux, and a sale that has been kind to us. A sale that is mighty good fun to attend. Off the beaten track for most, although there were a few more familiar faces this year. The word might just be seeping out. How annoying is that?
A sale where what you see is what you get and, sometimes, the ‘what you get’ can include some straw in a tail, or a clod of Pyrenean mud clinging to an underbelly. A ‘raw’ sale, but absolutely none the worse for that reason. Yearlings that are not always primped and preened to look like shiny conkers. Yearlings that often come from smaller farms – from farms where they have been reared to be tough and hardy, but not always to walk with the supermodel swagger.
A loose one or three is no surprise. For many, this will be the first time away from home. And so it’s no wonder that a buck, a squeal, or the flick of a hind leg is in evidence. Guys and girls, thrown to the end of lead ropes as their charges launch themselves off their hind legs. A shouted warning, a slalom across the lawns. Many hands to the deck, and the cheeky and downright naughty are soon safely back in hand.
The French Breeder’s Premium of 60% on top of prize money is a big part of the allure. The prize money in it’s own right is enough to make many British racecourses blush and awkwardly shuffle their feet. From our base in the South East of England, it is much easier to get to many French racecourses than to several ‘points north’ across the UK. And the wine lists are, unsurprisingly, more entertaining that side of the Channel.