I spoke to David last weekend, he is in fine form which is just like his string at the moment. I can say, this is a very honest and open interview.
Was it a natural step to start training on your own?
It was a natural step. My parents were farmers in France and used to breed thoroughbreds too. I can’t remember a day of my life without a racehorse but I was always more attracted to racing/training than breeding and decided I was going to be a trainer at the age of 7. This is why following over 10 years as an assistant trainer, the step up was obvious but not uncomplicated. Very hard to get the leg up when your family isn’t wealthy or when you don’t have the financial backup to get you going.
It was a matter of putting all of Kim’s (my partner) and my Life savings into the business and rely entirely on our expertise and a great deal of good fortune to make it happen! We started with 4 horses of whom only 2 were runnable, no owners, no money but a strong conviction that it was going to work because we always privileged quality and hard work throughout. Doing things better than anybody and leaving no stones unturned was our motto and still is.
Having worked alongside John Dunlop, Christine Head-Mareek and Richard Mandella what attributes, do you think you have taken in to training?
The main attribute I would say is horsemanship. I don’t believe there’s a training method. You have to feel your horses and train them accordingly. This is all down to a strong sense of horsemanship. Obviously, each trainer has a routine but I think it’s important to adjust the routine to the horse rather than set the horse in your routine.
I’m quite happy to do this on a regular basis and this flexibility has allowed me to improve some horses dramatically (I.e. Thundering Blue). To have this tailored training, you have to have a yard of a reasonable size, you would struggle to do it with 200 horses in training. My aim will always be to produce quality rather than quantity.
The yard is having a fantastic time at the moment, what do you put that down too?
This is the worst kept secret of training horses: time, patience and hard work. Some horses take more time than others to come to themselves, you just have to give them a chance. At the moment, a lot of horses find it tough to cope with the weather, ground too quick, extreme heat, etc…
I am just glad that the horses we always thought very highly of are coming to hand and show their true colours. Hopefully, they will keep on going forward and upward.
Do you set targets for the season and if you see a horse progressing better than expected, do you change your targets?
I don’t set targets for the season as such. You kind of try and make long term plans for your best horses during the winter and you gauge how things are going throughout the season. It goes without saying some horses surprise you positively and negatively as you go along.
They are animals and therefore remain unpredictable sometimes. You have to adapt yourself to what they show you on the racecourse. I have a number of horses who have underwhelmed me so far this season and you spend more time worrying about them than enjoying your good results.
Fran Berry has ridden a few winners for you this season, how did that link up come about?
I have been working very closely with Tony Hind (jockey’s agent of Ryan Moore, Jim Crowley, Andrea Atzeni, Kieran Shoemark, Fran Berry…) for the last 2 years. The vast majority of my winners have been with the help of his jockeys. I like to keep continuity on my horses as it is always frustrating to have a different jockey every time, you want to build a bond.
Most of the good jockeys are retained by big yards or big owners, Fran was a retained jockey last year but I was always impressed by how clever he was tactically and how horses did relax in his hands. When he decided to become free-lance at the end of last year, I contacted Tony straightaway and said to him I’d like to meet him. Fran came down to ride work for me at the end of the winter and we got on like 2 peas in a pod, the rest is history.
Do you think there is too much racing on Saturdays? And would it be better spread out during the week?
It can be very frustrating when there are 3 or 4 meetings at some of the best tracks on the same day. Makes it difficult to deal with the logistics I.e. Staff, jockeys, transport… So I would be in favour to spread out the Saturday fixtures between Saturday and Sunday rather than during the week so the public can come racing for big weekends rather than big Saturdays. Sunday racing is quite unexciting in the U.K. as opposed to France or Ireland by example and perhaps it could or should change.
We keep hearing about a Stable Staff shortage crisis, what are your thoughts on this?
Very difficult to recruit in England, not enough youngsters are keen to join the industry. Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to hire a lot of French staff since I have started training as a lot of French people want to go and work abroad and being French myself does reassure them as there’s no language barrier.
Unfortunately, since the Brexit vote last year, it’s becoming harder and harder to recruit as people are not so keen to face the uncertainty of the current and future political situation.
Vintager landed the big handicap at Newmarket, what are the plans going forward?
I was setting my eyes on a few races coming up in August at Gr3 and Gr1 level but the horse was sold last week and unfortunately left my yard so I am sad to say it will be somebody else’s good fortune to have the pleasure to deal with this very talented horse.
If you could train any horse PAST or PRESENT, who would it be and why?
I would have to say ZARKAVA. She had the speed, she had the stamina and was very quirky in the meantime. It does take some remarkable skills for a trainer to get the best out of a horse like her. On top of this, the privilege of training for His Highness the Aga Khan would be an unthinkable honour, an ultimate dream come true.
And finally, can you give our readers a couple of horses to follow please?
No point mentioning the obvious ones, therefore I will say Nuits St Georges, he is a late developer who is starting to get his head around what Life’s all about and should be useful to follow in the next few months. I would also follow Place Des Vosges who has a huge frame to fill out but who should just be going the right way in the next few months when the grounds are getting softer.
A huge thanks to David for his time and honesty. We would like to wish David and his team all the success for the future and we a sure they will continue to make big waves.
Interview – Rich Williams
Pictures- Search engine(Aka the Internet!)