Racing in France: The Top Flat Trainers

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France and her trainers have been responsible for some of the world's greatest racehorses. Headed by 30-times champion Andre Fabre, the training ranks include many that have enjoyed great success internationally as well as domestically and will be familiar names to British racing fans. Here, Nicholas Godfrey profiles the top French trainers.

Note: Ages correct as of 1 June 2020.

Age 67
Former Sir Mark Prescott and Francois Boutin assistant will hit a 40th anniversary training in his own right in 2021. Chantilly-based, renowned as specialist in the Prix du Jockey Club, having trained six winners of France’s senior Classic: Celtic Arms (1994), Ragmar (1996), Dream Well (1998), Sulamani (2002), Blue Canari (2004) and Study Of Man (2018). Has often enjoyed significant victories abroad to supplement G1 haul at home, among them the Dubai World Cup, at the time the world’s richest race, with ex-Brazilian Gloria De Campeao in 2010; also won a 1,000 Guineas (Natagora 2008), Irish Derby (Dream Well 1998) plus three races at Breeders’ Cup (Miss Alleged, Six Perfections, Domedriver). Main trainer for Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings; also has powerful Gerard Augustin-Normand and Khalid Abdullah among long-term clients supplying ammunition to 80-horse string.


Age 75

Surely needs little introduction: quite simply, Chantilly’s pre-eminent trainer is a legend in the horse racing world, having won the French title in 30 of the last 33 seasons and possessing an exceptional record overseas. Last year’s victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with Waldgeist was a record eighth success; other winners include Trempolino (1987), Peintre Celebre (1997) and Hurricane Run (2005). Up to the end of the 2019 Flat season, Fabre had won 25 French Classics and also boasts a full house of British Classics, among them long-coveted Derby success with Pour Moi and 2,000 Guineas with stars like Zafonic and Pennekamp.  A plethora of major successes elsewhere includes Breeders’ Cup races and he remains only European trainer ever to win the Classic on dirt (with shock 1993 winner Arcangues). Now in the veteran stages of a glorious career, Fabre continues a long association with Sheikh Mohammed as Godolphin’s principal French trainer. The son of a diplomat and a law graduate, this latterday ‘Little General’ is certainly not without his idiosyncrasies: notoriously, he has refused to speak to French press for three decades over a perceived sleight. Be that as it may, the formidable former champion jump jockey commands utmost respect wherever he goes.

Age 44

Chantilly-born son of former jockey/head lad but based since 2007 at La Teste de Buch near Bordeaux in the southwest of France. Shot to fame in 2011 with dual Group 1-winning two-year-old Dabirsim, a cheaply bought colt who won the Prix Morny and Prix Jean Luc Lagardere under Frankie Dettori. String now numbers more than 100 and rapidly approaching 700-mark for career victories and reliably hits the half-century – personal best score of 82 achieved in 2017. Learned his trade in England, including during a two-year stint as pupil-assistant to Sir Mark Prescott before nine years (as assistant trainer and travelling head lad) to Richard Gibson in Chantilly. No Group 1 wins since Indonesiene’s Prix Marcel Boussac in 2013 but high hopes this year with Prix du Jockey Club contender Pao Alto, who carries Wertheimer colours. Scored on Lingfield’s All-Weather Championship Finals Day in 2018 with Funny Kid in Betway Marathon.


Age 42

Leading figure among the new generation of French-based trainers and “a man many expect to become champion trainer sooner rather than later”, according to the Racing Post’s French correspondent Scott Burton. A graduate of the Godolphin ‘Flying Start’ programme, Graffard established his Chantilly stable in October 2011 after working for Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley team and three years as assistant to Alain de Royer-Dupre. Has trained four Group 1 winners to date, starting with when Erupt landed the Grand Prix de Paris in July 2015; achieved a pair of notable G1 landmarks within six days last June when his first French Classic (Channel in the Prix de Diane) was followed by a debut Royal Ascot win (Watch Me’s Coronation Stakes). In tremendous form when the coronavirus shutdown arrived and seems to be continuing where he left off with a number of winners since the restart, notably with Royal Ascot contender Wooded for Al Shaqab in G3 company at Chantilly. Queen Elizabeth II Stakes runner-up The Revenant is another stable star. Now has the Aga Khan and Khalid Abdullah among his patrons; wife Lisa-Jane is Darley/Godolphin representative in France.


Age 72

Immensely popular member of French racing’s foremost family dynasty, Freddy Head was a six-time champion jockey with more than 3,000 victories to his name before he turned to training in 1997. He rode more than 100 G1 winners, among them a pair of Breeders’ Cup Miles with the great Miesque and four Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes. A giant in the saddle, he has continued to operate at the very top level as a trainer, in which capacity his name is most associated with the 14-time G1 winner Goldikova, who completed a famous Breeders’ Cup hat-trick in 2010. Other notables include Marchand D’Or, Moonlight Cloud and Solow, while his major patrons include powerhouses such as the Werthemers, Sheikh Hamdan, Highclere and George Strawbridge. Never prolific, he remains a serious force at the Paris tracks, with leading stayer Call The Wind the stable flagbearer.


Age 57

Chantilly’s adopted Spanish son is a Madrid-born former five-time champion amateur rider in his native country. Also part of the Head dynasty by marriage as his wife Patricia is daughter of Criquette Head, to whom Laffon-Parias spent three years as assistant before setting up on his own in 1992. With quality the watchword and a selective approach, rarely trains more than 50 winners in a season – personal best is 68 in 2012 – yet usually in Top 10 in prize-money terms (fifth last year). Has bagged his share of G1 winners over last three decades since, notably with surprise 33-1 Arc success of Solemia in 2012 for longtime patrons, the Wertheimers, whose colours are also carried by recent Prix d’Harcourt winner Shaman. Well-known for his sorties abroad, his first G1 success came in the Hollywood Derby with Labeeb in 1995, while Chinchon scored at the top level in the US and Singapore. He won the Falmouth Stakes in 1999 with Ronda and the Lockinge three years later with Keltos. Top miler Recoletos and Prix Vermeille winner Villa Marina feature among more recent high-profile performers.


Age 67

Godolphin’s second trainer in France is a permanent fixture in the Top 5 among French trainers, behind only behemoths Andre Fabre and Jean-Claude Rouget for each of the last three seasons. Held a licence since 1981 at family’s private training centre of Beaupreau near Nantes in the north-west of France. Numbers usually the thing for this popular figure: often saddles around 1,000-plus runners a year from 200-plus string, reliably hitting the century mark and well beyond – so reliably, in fact, that he has trained at least 100 winners every year since France Galop began its records in 1994. However, there are bouts of quality to match the quantity, among them a couple of Classic winners in West Wind (Prix de Diane 2007) and Castle Lady in last year’s Pouliches. Other good horses to have passed through his hands include multiple Group winner Touch Of Land, classy sprinter Restiadargent, current globetrotter French King plus recent G3 winner The Summit.


Age 50

Long-serving trainer well known in the provinces made breakthrough at top level with emotional first Group 1 success with Dream And Do in Poule d’Essai des Pouliches at Deauville in June 2020, having led the title race for much of the year. Mainly based away from the bright lights at the Calas-Cabries training centre in the Marseille region, Rossi had never before scored above Group 3 level in more than 25 years with a licence. Spent eight years as private trainer for Jean-Claude Seroul before that arrangement ended in 2017, since when he has broadened his client base and has opened satellite yard at Chantilly to target the Paris tracks. Works closely with nephew, Charley Rossi, who was Criquette Head's assistant for 10 years and trained in his own right in Chantilly. Sixth in 2019 trainers’ championship with 110 victories and €3.23 million in prize-money.

Age 67

With more than 6,500 victories, can lay claim to being Europe’s all-time winningmost trainer, seemingly guaranteed to be among the winners both at major Paris tracks and far away from the bright lights in the French provinces. Hardly surprising, then, that Rouget invariably tops the French trainers’ list in terms of races won (beaten only once since 1990, and that was when he had the virus!) but he is one of only two trainers (alongside Alain de Royer-Dupre) to have wrested the official prize-money title from Andre Fabre in the last 30 years. Son of trainer Claude Rouget, took out a dual-purpose licence in 1978 aged 25 at Pau in south-west France - though he now also operates a satellite yard in Deauville - before concentrating almost exclusively on the Flat from mid-90s. French record of 242 victories in 1994 still stands, while the last decade or so has seen him challenge the traditional Chantilly dominance at the top level with a glut of G1 winners. After 30 years without a Classic winner, Elusive Wave started an avalanche when she won the Pouliches in 2009. he now has 14 such victories, including four Jockey Club winners, namely Le Havre (2009), Almanzor (2016), Brametot (2017) and Sottsass (2019). With victories in Champion Stakes in both Ireland and Britain, Almanzor is probably the best to have come through Rouget’s hands. Major clients include the Aga Khan and Al Shaqab.

Age 75

Hugely respected patrician trainer approaching 50 years with a licence, having started out with a handful of jumpers in 1972. French champion in 2008, the year of Zarkava, is chiefly known for a long and fruitful association with the Aga Khan, for whom he became principal trainer at Aiglemont in Chantilly upon the death of Francois Mathet in 1983. Has won every French Classic at least three times (and six in the case of the Jockey Club and Diane), and also boasts two victories in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with his two best horses, Dalakhani (2003) and the unbeaten superstar filly Zarkava (2008). Has enjoyed G1 winners in ten different countries and three different continents. International ambitions signalled nearly four decades ago when he won the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Turf with the Aga’s Lashkari at Hollywood Park in 1984. Glittering CV also features Hong Kong Cup with Pride in 2006 (after her Champion Stakes success) and Melbourne Cup with Americain in 2010 and Dubai Sheema Classic (Dolniya 2015). Don’t expect to see him overburdened with runners as he plots a typically patient course with the Aga’s bluebloods.

Racing in France: The Top Flat Trainers
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