11/27/2009 12:00AM

Heartland transplant now has French accent

Gina Rarick poses with Turfani in the winner's enclosure at Chantilly.

She is racing's American in Paris. Or, to be more specific, racing's American in Maisons-Laffitte, the training center west of Paris where she maintains a string of American -and British-owned horses, the only Yankee - male or female - currently training in France.

Wisconsin native Gina Rarick has cracked the rarified world of French racing with a handful of victories this year, and on the ultra-competitive Parisian circuit, no less. But don't look for her name in the bloodlines of the great American racing families like the Vanderbilts, the Hunts, or the Strawbridges that have prospered in France at one time or another during the last century. Rarick is a self-made horsewoman from the environs of Marshfield, Wis., a region better known for milk cows than Thoroughbred racehorses.

"I was raised on a dairy farm," she said, and you can believe her. She has the well-muscled hands of a milkmaid, well suited to riding horses, something she didn't take up until she was 34 and had already been living in France for three years.

Racing was off the radar for a woman who studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But neither the Badger State nor the Milwaukee Journal held much promise for a young newspaper reporter, and wanderlust soon set in.

Seeking something more challenging over the rainbow, Rarick successfully applied in 1994 for a position as a correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the English-language daily published in Paris for American tourists and expatriates.

She was assigned to the Tribune's racing desk, a beat that introduced her to the delights of France's major racecourses - Longchamp, Chantilly and Deauville - as well as Royal Ascot and Nad Al Sheba. Rarick was soon hooked on the game and decided to supplement her meager reporter's salary by riding work in the morning for an assortment of trainers.

As a writer she was eligible to compete in an annual race at Maisons-Laffitte restricted to journalist riders in 2001. Her instinctive competitiveness kicked in, providing her with a memorable victory in her first ride at the tender age of 38.

"The race was supposed to be fixed, but I didn't know it," she recalls. "I went all out and went past the guy who was supposed to win. It became a big joke for everyone whenever we met in the press room after that."

Her appetite duly whetted, Rarick became a permit-holder in 2002, allowing her to train as an amateur. Six years later she passed the grueling test on the "code des courses," or French rules of racing, and received a license to train professionally. On Sept. 1, 2008, she began her new life as a public trainer at Maisons-Laffitte.

Her first runner was Pixie's Blue. A 4-year-old son of Hawk Wing purchased by British owner Ian Kellitt at Tattersalls for $8,200, he finished 10th in a one-mile Chantilly allowance for women professional riders, but improved dramatically two weeks later, landing a Maisons-Laffitte claimer named the Prix Cardmania by three lengths at 56-1, earning $9,500 in the process.

Rarick hit a purple patch in September when she sent out three winners in a row on the Parisian circuit. Her Danetime filly Turfani got the ball rolling at Chantilly with a victory in the Prix du Pain de Sucre, a 1 1/4-mile handicap. Two days later, the stouthearted Hard Way duly obliged in a 1 15/16-mile handicap at Craon. On Sept. 25, Maisons-Laffitte was the site of Skid Solo's win in the Prix du Castillon, a six-furlong handicap.

"It was a week of celebrations," said Rarick, who uses top riders like Olivier Peslier, Gerald Mosse, and Thierry Thulliez. "We drank a lot of champagne."

Operating as high as the quinte handicap level, or just below listed stakes competition, Rarick now has 11 horses in training, most of them bought at Tattersalls for prices ranging between $1,500 and $10,000. Email Exit, a 2-year-old Titus Livius colt bought for $7,200, is a full brother to Italian listed winner Kathy Livius. Rarick's yearling Enrique colt El Camino Real is a half-brother to a pair of multiple winners in England. All of her horses are available for sale or lease, and none of them race on drugs.

An avowed opponent of raceday medication, Rarick writes on her website, www.gallopfrance.com, "Closing the Pandora's Box of pharmaceuticals in the United States will not be easy. The partial steroid ban that most U.S. jurisdictions have enacted over the last two years is a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go, although I keep hoping for a change. I hope that one day I get lucky enough to have a horse good enough to bring to the Breeders' Cup, and that by then no one will have to face the choice of running on Lasix."

Refreshing words from a French-based trainer raised on the clean air and water of central Wisconsin.