The hotshot trainers and ace jockeys you need to know in France
The return of French action from Monday will quickly become an essential part of the daily diet, even as the wait goes on for authorities in Britain and Ireland to navigate the new virus-hit landscape.
New viewers may quickly find an affinity for certain jockeys or trainers but to get you started, here are some of the biggest and hottest names in the French racing scene . . .
Christophe Soumillon remains the darling of French punters and that is often reflected in shorter odds than his mounts might otherwise attract. As hungry as ever, Soumillon only managed fifth in the 2019 table and there are plenty of his weighing room colleagues it's worth keeping an eye on
Roared to a first jockey's title in 2019 with 234 wins, having taken nearly 400 more rides than his nearest pursuer, Pierre-Charles Boudot. His retainer with Wertheimer et Frere ensures regular employment from Andre Fabre, Carlos Laffon-Parias and Freddy Head, while he also has useful alliances with trainers Pia Brandt and Frederic Rossi. Worth noting are the occasions he might be sent to the south west to ride a Wertheimer horse trained by Christophe Ferland or Yan Durepaire.
Capped a stellar 2019 with victory in the Arc aboard Waldgeist for his mentor Andre Fabre, while it is also worth remembering that he won a pair of Group 1s for Francis Graffard courtesy of Channel and Watch Me. A firm favourite with British trainers such as William Haggas once foreign runners are admitted.
No jockey has won more Classics in France than Demuro in the last five seasons. Now rides the majority of Jean-Claude Rouget's first string Paris horses in addition to his retainer with major French owner/breeder Gerard Augustin-Normand, while his fourth place in the 2019 standings was no fluke. Rouget likens his sympathetic style to that of Christophe Lemaire.
Having been a champion in both pony racing and in the amateur ranks, Madamet became leading apprentice on the Flat in 2019 with 40 winners from fewer than 300 rides, and is another young jockey who is being given every chance by Fabre. To judge by his social media efforts has spent the lockdown challenging fellow jockeys to fitness tests – and winning. Still some months away from riding out his claim.
Finished 13th in the championship in 2019 and is as accomplished and stylish as any woman riding on the Flat in Europe, even before you take into account the 1.5kg weight allowance she is granted in all races below Class 1 level. Being attached to the powerful Rouget stable gives her the chance to really make a significant breakthrough.
Felix De Giles
While James Reveley has made most of the headlines as a British-born jockey in the French jumping sphere – three Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris wins and the title in 2016 – Felix de Giles has quietly established himself as one of the most effective riders on the circuit. Particularly effective on horses that need to be given time to find their feet around Auteuil's demanding chase course.
Staying with the jumping theme and the man who has broken Guillaume Macaire's stranglehold on the trainers' title in the last two years. Like Macaire based on the Atlantic coast at Royan, Nicolle has deep reserves of both quality and quantity. Arguably even stronger come the autumn when his younger horses get to the track.
A man many expect to become champion trainer sooner rather than later, Graffard's team were in flying early-season form when the shutdown came. Whether he can pick up where he left off after a seven-week halt remains to be seen, but with the Aga Khan and Khalid Abdullah among the latest major owners to send Alain de Royer-Dupre's former assistant a first batch of two-year-olds, the quality in the yard is only going to improve.
Last season Castle Lady provided a first French Classic success for the popular Pantall since West Wind landed the 2007 Prix de Diane while he rounded out the championship podium alongside Fabre and Rouget for the third straight year. Look especially for Pantall-trained horses to improve from their first to their second run, sometimes leaving behind a debut performance at attractive odds.
It may seem obvious that the trainer who has topped the championship standings in 30 of the last 33 seasons is a man to follow. But that is not news to French punters and avoiding horses that are simply overbet is the key to making it pay with Fabre. One potentially lucrative angle is maidens stepping up in grade to Listed company or beyond.
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