A son of the Cotswolds enjoyed a marquee moment today when former Point-to-Point rider and one time trainer at Postlip, near Winchcombe, James Grassick, trained his first winner in France, at St Malo.
Grassick, who sold up to start a new life with his young family at the Dreux training centre within a few miles of Mont St Michel last autumn, finally received his French training licence toward the end of May. He's one of a growing number of smaller UK-based trainers trying their hand at training under the better conditions for horsemen in France. Running a start up training business is a low cost operation there; gallop fees are just €41 per month per horse, and generous travel allowances apply to support fledgling businesses.
But it's not just the finances that are proving attractive. Whilst French and British culture is not always aligned, the quality of life in France is good, property prices are sensible, and foreign horsemen are generally welcomed into the fold. The transition into a foreign land where the French are notoriously reluctant to speak English (unlike the Germans for example) is relatively simple. Notwithstanding that, there is a significant ex-pat community both within the training community, and generally, offering great scope for growing ownership among French-based racing enthusiasts.
James, pictured left, with Sophie Ralston, rider of his virgin UK winner, 100-1 Valentine Mist, at Bath in August 2019
As to today's winner, Irish-bred Glockenspiel was the 4l winner of a €10,000 claimer over 2,500m, ridden into a lead 1 1/2f out, and winning going away. No fairytale Group winner, but a reset to a career that faced impossible odds in a British market where smaller trainers are patently failing to compete against bigger operators. Even the larger stables will now tell you that they need the 100+ volumes in their yards to make sense of the UK business model.
The warning lights for British racing have been flashing for some time. This is not to say that the great minds leading our sport are not aware of the predicament facing the sport. However, they are largely powerless to do very much about it. To that end, Grassick's success overseas is likely to be just another example of talent leaking away from this country to overseas territories, where smaller operators are embraced and nurtured in order to allow their fledgling businesses to grow.
No easy answers for racing's administrators.