We are delighted to present an Interview with Laurent Barbarin, from Sky Sports Racing. Laurent has had a varied career in racing, which has taken him all over the world from his home in France via America & Godolphin to the Studio of Sky Sports Racing.
Laurent tells us all about his life from his early years right up to today as we talk nothing but racing….
Can you remember your first racing memory?
Must have been at Nantes in the spring, on the day of the local Derby when I was 6 or 7. The “Derby de l’Ouest” used to be a very prestigious race in Western France until the mid-90’s. I remember that I spent most of the afternoon in the same spot in the grandstand with my grand-mother, as there were so many people at the races that if you left your place, you wouldn’t be able to get back into the stand again.
But it was fantastic atmosphere with a large attendance. A pity that people have deserted races at Nantes nowadays.
When you were growing up, we’re you always interested in horses/racing?
I was born in a racing family in Western France. Although my brother and sister do not have anything to do with horses, I was quickly passionate for the game and started to ride around aged 8 or 9.
That was just something natural and although my dad’s stable had become small, I felt I had a mission to keep the tradition going, a tradition that started in the late 1920’s when my Great Grand-Father was the first in the family to be granted a trainer’s license .
Was journalism always the first choice career or did you have any other plans?
For a long time my only goal for a career was to become a trainer!
I went into journalism the day I decided I was not going to be a public trainer, at the end of 2006.
What was your route into racing journalism and TV?
At age 21, I left University and at that time, my father had just stopped his activity (Training) for health and financial reasons. I decided to travel and learn more about training horses. I spent the next winter at Pau (during the winter-meeting) with one of the leading NH trainers in France at the time, Jean Dasque (who has had few runners at Cheltenham) before leaving to stay for almost 2 years with Henri-Alex Pantall as a pupil assistant -trainer.
I rode several winners as an amateur jockey for Mr Pantall at that time and even managed to fulfill my military obligation while working there!
My next stop was in Ireland, where I stayed for few months with Tom Lacy (I was good friend of Tony, his son, who is now a well-established bloodstock agent in Kentucky). Pat Smullen was an apprentice at Tom’s stable at the time. I think he had ridden five winners when we met (I just went to visit him a couple of weeks ago).
In 1995, I spent a season with John Oxx, the year of the mighty Ridgewood Pearl, when John Oxx was crowned champion trainer for the first time that season, he is such a kind man.
After leaving Ireland I joined Godolphin and I worked there for 7 years as a senior staff member. It was a fantastic experience and I worked in Dubai, Newmarket, France (Evry) and New-York.
In the winter of 2002/2003 I decided it was time to start training but by the time I had a couple of runners in Kentucky (actually it was 3 runners for 2 podiums and no winner…)
I was offered a position as a manager of a pre-training farm in Japan for a big owner, Toyomitsu Hirai who had about 180 horses in training. Japan was an amazing experience, in every aspect.
I returned to France in 2006 and tried to settle a little after a dozen years on the go and that’s when I started to do a little bit of work as a “consultant” for the racing media. In the beginning, it was first for a website that had a live daily show and I had started to do previews in writing for newspapers, I also did some work for Equidia and quickly found myself commentating on races and doing live shows as a pundit.
In January 2019 I started with Sky Sports Racing.
French racing has a fantastic platform on TV now, how do you think the coverage has changed in the last few years?
For many years, only the bigger races were shown on UK TV. Now English viewers have an opportunity to discover the large variety of racecourses we have in France, and they also have a chance to know more about the professionals too (Jockeys, trainers, owners, etc…) and of course the horses.
From a betting perspective, it is interesting to see UK horses racing in smaller races in France or watch potential future French runners in UK. At the same time, it is fantastic for French Racing to be so well exposed in THE COUNTRY (the home) of horse racing, that is England.
Were you surprised by Waldgeist winning the Arc last season and the decision to send him straight to stud?
I’m not going to say that I knew he would win it but that did not come as a big surprise. I remember so well that I was on Sky Sports Racing when he trounced his rivals in the Prix Ganay last year.
I instantly thought that he would be a huge player in the Arc. Two main reasons for that:
1- This performance was absolutely breath-taking considering that he had not run for several months.
2- He was trained by André Fabre and there is no better man to prepare a horse for the Arc.
Waldgeist was available at 20/1 at that time, and was still 16/1 on the first Sunday of October. It seems that the André Fabre “key factor” had been a little underrated…
About sending him to stud after the Arc, this was the legitimate next step. He was a Group I winner at 2, 2nd in the French Derby at 3, won the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud at 4 and finally won the Arc at 5. There was nothing more to achieve for a horse like Waldgeist and it was just the appropriate timing to send him to stud.
The French flat Jockeys Championship was a good contest last season, do you see it being close this year or will there be a breakthrough jockey?
The French Championship is very demanding as it lasts for 365 days. I think after last year’s battle, Guyon will not travel as much and will rather concentrate more on top races although he is still riding many winners since the turn of the year.
Boudot has had a very good start to the season too and Soumillon never has enough and always want to be at the top. I tend to think that the battle will involve these two jockeys and it is likely to be a tight affair again.
If I had a bet, I’d probably go for Soumillon. Also, Cristian Demuro will be riding more for Jean-Claude Rouget this year and could be the “dark horse” in the title race…
Can you tell us the best race you have ever seen?
I would probably say the 2001 Breeder’s Cup Classic at Belmont Park when Tiznow beat Sakhee by a nose. I was working as an assistant-trainer for Godolphin in New York at the time. Although I was disappointed Sakhee got beat, I must admit that this was the most thrilling finish I ever saw/lived as I was obviously very much involved in it.
An Arc winner against a previous Breeder’s Cup Classic winner, a great match between two different worlds. Another day, Sakhee could have won and he would have made history. Had this nose been in his favor, it would have been something really special. What a race that was!
Following on from the best race, who is the best horse you have ever seen?
Tricky question as I have also huge interest in National Hunt and trotting racing in France. So I will point one out for each discipline. But for flat racing it has to be Zarkava, that turn of foot…
Katko (Three French Gold Cup) was the most powerful, the most impressive jumper ever seen in French National Hunt.
Ourasi remains the most amazing horse in World trotting history, and he was an absolute phenomenon in every aspect.
Can you give our readers a horse or two, that they should keep an eye on for the flat season ahead please?
– Victor Ludorum
We would like to thank Laurent for his time and wish him all the best for the future. We look forward to his insight into all aspects of French Racing..
Interview – Rich Williams
Photo’s – Laurent Barbarin