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A Monpazier story - Basil de Milo

For a dedicated follower of french rides there has been a lot of pleasure this year to be found in contrasts. The age spread has meant that two riders with over fifty years between their ages can race for the line together, sometimes on horses with seven years separating them. The weather over here can offer extremes with the race starting some twenty degrees (centigrade) lower than the finish. These kind of details are manna to the endurance reporter who otherwise can struggle to find an interesting way to tell the readers that Tom's horse overtook Dick's mare then Harry overtook both of them.

The seventh running of the Monpazier 160k ride, held on Friday 21st September, although smoothly organised, offered nothing exceptional for the spectator. It was as if all the riders were following a scripted manual. Thirty six combinations started just before dawn which included five 'etrangers' (literal translation is strangers) and the best known French rider ? Jack Begaud.

The route headed north for the first 30k and all the riders stayed together riding at just under 15kph which is average for a first, warm up,stage of a hundred mile ride. They rode into the first vetgate together with barely ten minutes separating first from last and after the 40 minute hold, set off on the next 30k still heading north. Speeds stayed at 15kph, the leading group of twenty stayed together as they rode along the tow path of the Dordogne River and the subsidiary race of the 4X4s as they whizzed from crew point to crew point stayed alarming to both onlookers and passengers.

The next vetgate was in the grounds of the Chateau Campagne but few people were here for the sight seeing, and barely an hour after the first horses arrived, the magnificent house was left in peace for another year with only the few discarded water bottles left as mementos.

The thirty horses still in contention now headed back south, crossing the Dordogne (by bridge rather than swimming) to return to the field which had hosted the first vetgate. They had travelled just over half the distance and only four minutes separated the first seventeen horses all of whom were looking good and presenting quickly.

The weather was kind though hotting up in the forest where there was no cooling breeze, the speed stayed pretty constant at just under 16kph on course - which translated to just over 15kph once the horses had presented...

The third vetgate claimed another three victims so just 27 riders set off on the 32k stage which took them back to the venue of Monpazier Hippodrome where the ranks were being swelled by the 70+ horses arriving for Sunday's 119k race.

The great Begaud, at 57 the oldest rider on course, had eased off the pace but he has been known to overcome a fourteen minute deficit in the last loop so it didn't necessarily mean he'd decided on a safe completion. There seemed to be five horses unwilling to relinquish an inch, and who would often arrive to be crewed abreast. The group consisted of Belgium's Karin Boulanger whose ride at Portugal had finished at vetgate 5; P-Marie Morvan who trains for Sh Mohammed and is never seen on the same horse twice but they are invariably stunning horses; the youngster Pierre Fleury, son of better-known Stephane Fleury who was French Champion in his time, and Marilyn Lemoine who, with her partner Denis Pesce (?King of Florac?) are very big fromages indeed, with up to twenty top league horses in training at any one time. Last of the five, but on the best looking horse, was Laetitia Goncalves who had won the 119k here last year and has had Begaud as her mentor since she was knee high to a Shetland.

The fifth loop dropped south and offered the largest climb of the day up to Biron which is a fortified village including a castle, cobbles and olde worlde cafes where tourists drink pastis and admire both surrounding views and, on Friday, the spectacle of riders leading horses through the arch.

The last vetgate, held in a field in the shadow of the castle, saw Boulanger and Fleury arrive together some five minutes ahead of the rest of the field. Both vetted in under three minutes as they had done throughout the ride and then took off together for the last, fast 13k back to the hippodrome.

There was only one crew point on the last loop and the riders nearly arrived to find nobody there owing to one old and very unhurried man who was moving his herd of cows at the exact moment the crew cars were attempting to leave the Biron vet gate.

They came onto the hippodrome with Boulanger a length in front and though both were driving for the line Fleury was unable to close the gap. Which brought them both to the constant dilemma of when to present to the vets. In a 160k there is a window of 30 minutes and the longer you take, the more chance of your horse stiffening up, but after a racing finish the pulse can take a little longer to come down to 64 and nobody was rushing.

The next two riders to arrive were Lemoine and P Marie, Lemoine on an arab/appaloosa cross who had never completed a hundred miles before and who had taken an extra minute or two at each vetgate. But she held off the challenge and they had arrived in time to watch the first two horses go in for their final vetting.

Boulanger vetted first, a pulse of 54 and a sound horse and a huge round of applause as it's a rare thing for an 'etranger' to win a French ride. Fleury then presented but was clearly lame and eliminated on the second trot up. So Marilyn, if she vetted successfully, stood to gain second place on the podium and her horse, trotted up by a very lame Denis Pesce, was clearly sound. As was P Marie's horse Larra D'en Sicre ? an eight year old by Djelfor also attempting his first hundred.tr

Only eleven finishers with two hours separating first from last. No horses requiring treatment, no big dramas but a well run, successful ride and the countryside had made driving round the Dordogne all day a genuine pleasure.

Basil de Milo