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Allez France! A tale of contrasting fortunes

30-September-2020 19:22
in General
by Peter McNeile

Whilst most British racing fans are watching Enable's progress toward this weekend's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, a little closer to home, British Jumps trainers have been taking the fight to the French on home soil. 

Tom George, well established in the top rank of British trainers, was beaten a neck in a Conditions Hurdle at Compiegne yesterday with French bred juvenile Bannister, ridden by James Reveley, having led a majority of the 2m until headed. The £7,728 in second-placed prize money is some consolation for a journey that is less far than Perth in the opposite direction. 

Stable companion Crealion at least managed to pay his travelling expenses in the following hurdle, finishing 9 lengths fifth to a horse of Francois Nicolle, as did Fanfan du Seuil in the later Conditions race. Sophie Leech also had two runners. 

It's pertinent to ask if this will become a trend amongst British trainers, especially at courses in the Paris and Normandy areas that are easy to reach, given the prize money on offer. More than that, British trainers struggling to make ends meet in the UK are investigating the viability of training permanently in France. 

James Grassick, one of Gloucestershire's newest licence holders, has recently upped sticks to move to the Mont St Michel area, where a purpose-built training centre at Dragey hosts trainers of the reputation of Gilles Chaignon, Jacky Chapdelaine, Isabelle Pacault and Patrice Quinton. 

Put simply, Grassick can hope to own his property outright and achieve better returns from training and breeding than he could ever hope to in the UK. Add the scenery around Mont St Michel, a better education system to bring up a family,  and the more relaxed work-life balance of the French, and it makes for a compellinga argument, fueled by programmes of other ex-pats in France, like Dick Strawbridge and his colourful wife in Escape to the Chateau.

And he's not alone. Jim Allen, former permit holder and senior executive at ARC, is pursuing his licence in France too, having spent time in the USA as well. In short, the current crisis is making demands on our sportsmen and the system is creaking at the seams. 

 James Grassick (left) after a winner at Bath in 2019

British trainers have long forayed abroad to plunder top French races, albeit largely on the more international Flat scene. And the French have done the same to us; this week's news of the untimely death of Gold Cup winning rider Adam Kondrat is a reminder that Francois Doumen pioneered the modern day cross-channel adventures of the French that have become quite normal at the Festival and occasionally at Aintree. 

But the trend to emigrate altogether takes this to a different dimension, and its all being run by the simple commercial returns from managing horses in the UK in an intensely competitive market. In the short term, this is hardly going to improve either; despite Fakenham's valiant and meritorious efforts to bolster prize money more than the Levy alone, most courses in the middle and lower tiers are trading on media rights and thin air. The list of redundancies is rising day on day.

Sadly this trend is mirrored across the parochial world of Point-to-Point racing, which starts again on October 24 with fixtures at Bishops Court in Devon and Maisemore near Gloucester. The advent of behind closed doors racing between the flags means some races will be run for no prize money at all. If you were minded to attend an early fixture, prepare to be disappointed. No spectators will be allowed beyond immediate connections.

However, it's not all bad news. Among our county's trainers, Fergal O'Brien finishes September at the same relentless pace as he started, tallying 14 winners in the month, 33 in total. at a strike rate of 29%, it's small wonder he's leading the Trainers' Championship. Whilst near neighbor Graeme McPherson has also been running into form. His 9 winners to date include 4 this month, the latest an 8l winner at Huntingdon this afternoon. 

Contrasting fortunes for Gloucestershire's trainers show just how competitive our sport has become. 


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