About Punt King

Punts, Kicks

My final full day in Paris took me to Saint-Cloud and an eight race all-flat card on the grass.  I’d been to St.-Cloud on previous visits to Paris but the weather was beautiful Monday so I couldn’t resist going back.  

With schoolkids in France on a two-week Autumn break, there were a lot of adults with their children on hand to see the horses.  It was a more festive vibe than on previous visits.  Just five euros to get in.  I don’t bet on the French races given my unfamiliarity with the sport there but I love how they’re presented.  At St.-Cloud, big fields of classy horses bred mostly in France, Ireland and the UK (with a few German-breds too) are paraded in two separate walking rings in advance of the race – and then unsaddled and inspected afterwards in a small, enclosed space near the grandstand afterwards.  Jocks, trainers, owners, grooms all converge in this space while horses circle in tight quarters.  Watching this play out while attempting to eavesdrop on the interactions was great fun.  The jockey Sophie Chuette was especially animated and appeared happy describing her two notably strong closing rides for the Mikel Delzangles barn.    

Italian apprentice jock Andrea Cottu won the second race with a big late rush aboard Port Au Prince for Delzangles.  It was the second race in France ever for Cottu.  He’s just sixteeen years old.  

Old pop music played between races on the sound system.  The Robert Palmer tune “Johnny and Mary” came on between the 5th and 6th.  I hadn’t heard it in forever.  “Mary always hedges her bets, She never knows what to think…”  It sounded perfect.  A race track song, for sure. 

The ham and cheese on a baguette from the track concession was great.  

Rain started on the way back to the hotel.  It was the only time the weather was anything other than great the entire 11-day trip.  

I abandoned my plan to take an RER train to the airport for my Tuesday morning flight home.  I saw a tweet from RATP (the public transit operator in Paris) Monday night about overnight construction on the B line and stewed about it as I laid in bed in advance of an early wake-up to make the 518 AM train.  Even if the train was on time, it could have been a scramble to make the 920 AM flight home.  The RATP tweet suggested possible delays coming out of the overnight work.  So, when I checked out of the hotel at 415 AM, I asked the clerk about lining up a taxi.    

My driver looked fatigued on arrival and he was driving a little erratically on the highway, so my anxiety kicked in hard.  I asked him if he spoke English.  He said no.  So, I threw down some basic questions in French purely to promote alertness, engagement and my own sanity.  He became animated.  He was fine.  My desperate attempt to gauge his fitness worked almost immediately.  He said he had just started his shift.  He discussed a recent trip to the states which included a visit to see a wealthy sister in California.  I became completely comfortable. 

The fare was 62 euros.  I gave him 75.  We shook hands.  

The airport process was a piece of cake.  No lines at any point.  Flight was good.  Back to work on Sunday.  Gotta pay the piper now, keep the head down with hopes of a return to France in late 2023.  For those going to Paris anytime soon, I offer this tip.  Take a stroll down two great streets in two distinctly different Paris neighborhoods:  1.  rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis in the 10th (especially the stretch near Passage Brady – and especially at night when it’s totally jumping) and 2. rue Daguerre in the 14th.    

They turned the clocks back an hour in France this morning, a week before we do it in the US.  It didn’t feel beneficial, though.  I’m in vacation mode and had nothing to wake up for this morning.  I guess I like the idea of getting an extra hour in successive weeks on different continents although I’m in the camp (a majority opinion) that supports eliminating clock changes altogether. 

Tom from Toulouse is here and recommended a visit to the Paris Masters tennis tournament Saturday.  They played qualifying matches all day in advance of the week-long men’s tourney that will include Rafa, Djokovic, Alcaraz, Ruud, Medvedev and Tsitsipas.

It’s being staged at a big indoor arena in Bercy, an easy-to-reach neighborhood in the 12th.  It was just 10 euros to get in.  A couple of matches were played on the showcase court in the main stadium but the most interesting ones played out in the bowels of the arena, on small auxiliary spaces officially called courts “1” and “2”.  

The French fans on hand Saturday were there to see Hugo Gaston from Toulouse.  Gaston’s game defies logic, convention in the modern men’s competition.  He’s short and stout and lacks high velocity on serve.  He’s an old school drop-shot guy with a big lob.  Clay is his preferred domain.  This was a hard court but fans sang and chanted for Hugo throughout his two-hour plus thriller vs. the big, hard-hitting Swiss player Marc-Andrea Huesler.  Gaston is intent, almost obsessive about placing shots that flirt with plopping within just inches of the top of the net.  When the ball falls short, fans groan at what feels like a wasted chance.  But when Gaston finessed it onto Huesler’s side, there was a whoosh of oh-my-gosh as Huesler raced to reach it.

When Huesler did manage to eek out a lunge to continue the point, Gaston would either blister a return down the lane – or lob it deep to make Huesler sprint backwards to find it.  Hugely entertaining.  Gaston fought back love-40 down 5-6 in the third and then all the way back from 0-4 in the tie-break before eventually losing 5-7 in the extra.  It was a thriller that will go down as one of the best matches I’ve ever seen.  

We sat in the second row on the service line.  Former French tennis greats Sebastian Grosjean and Paul-Henri Mathieu sat in the end zone, presumably there to see Gaston.   When we waited for a break in the action during match prior to Gaston / Huesler to enter court 1, we saw confused tournament officials prevent Huesler from gaining immediate access to the locker room.  “Typical French disorganization,” said Tom.    

The French don’t use the automatic electronic line call technology deployed at the US Open.  Tom says despite acceptance the now time-tested tech is infallible, there is resistance to change given what would be an ensuing loss of labor.  So, as it is, there are two human judges on both baselines and one watching the service box (in addition to the chair ump).  Player challenges that prompt reexamination using technology during our day-long sample size were producing overturns at about a one in five rate.  With straight-up use of the line technology, there are no debates, challenges, and in theory, mistakes.         

Friday night, we gathered at Rush bar in the 11th to watch the TFC – Lens match.  The bar was packed and it was a great time, although Toulouse lost 2-nil.

I wandered all over Sunday, covering lots of ground on foot.  I don’t have the confidence to get on a bike here but the bike lane infrastructure is incredible for its width, coloring and placement.  A guy at Rush bar told me Friday night that the pandemic-created flood of new bike riders has brought a batch of rule-flouting pedallers who offset the benefit of the new space for two-wheelers.  Tom disagrees, saying the conditions for cyclists in Paris are such that it’s the best way to get around, even better than the Metro.