Is it Brexit or the lack of crowds that has stung British trainers to spread their wings in France? Until quite recently, British-trained Jumps runners were few and far between at Auteuil, never mind the provincial tracks. But this is changing. British owners and trainers are proactively seeking out less competitive races that are oftne better endowed, especially with travel remuneration too. And that international competition has to be good for the trade in bloodstock, and for that matter for French owners, who might be more inclined to tilt at British windmills.
Over the weekend two innovative British trainers sent runners over to France with great success. Tom George's two runners on Saturday at Angers were first and third, picking up £13,303, £2,000 more than Ian Williams received for winning a Listed Mares Novices Hurdle at Doncaster the same afternoon. Bannister, the winner of the Prix Ubu Conditions Hurdle, is a French bred, and this was no trial run; he'd been runner-up in a similar race at Compiegne last September, and has been targetted at French conditions races. Rock The Kasbah, third in a 5yo+ conditions hurdle, was only 2 1/4l off the winner in his race, so winning is well within his compass too.
Meanwhile, back at French Jumping's HQ, Sophie Leech continued her successful plunder of French steeplechases with Enfant Roi, a 7 year old French-bred who won handsomely easing up in the Prix Karcimont, a handicap. The winning purse of £40,178 was £17,000 more than Ian Williams picked up for winning the Grimthorpe the previous day.
What all these three winners have in common is James Reveley, who has forged a successful career as a rider on the other side of la Manche. His 51 winners in 2020 recouped €1.89m in prize money, so you can understand why he might have made the switch. This year, his 6 winners to date put him in sixth place in the Cravat d'Or, the Frech Jockeys' Championship. Former British rider Felix de Giles is two places ahead of him. However, it's surprising that more British and Irish riders haven't followed Reveley's example for an easier career choice; no need to ride at two meetings a day in France when the earnings are so much greater.
Suffice to say the the Entente Cordiale is thriving on the racecourse. Every British owner coming to raid a race or two is a potential purchaser of a French-bred horse, and that is the real raison d'etre behind encouraging the wealthy British to travel further afield. And by all accounts, it's a strategy that's working. Time was when British Jumping was dominated by Irish-bred horses. Now precocious juveniles able to chase by 5 or even 4 in some instances are quite the norm over here, courtesy of the French market.
We like to boast that British racing is the best in the world. In the small world of Jump racing, that is undoubtedly true, even against the Irish, where the market leading trainer Willie Mullins has long been an advocate of the French racing system. But our most competitive racing is based on importing the best bloodstock from Ireland and the continent. French and Irish breeders can sell on into the wealthier and larger British market.
It looks like a game where everyone can be a winner.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)