You are the exception to the rule in the weighing room, making regular and successful sorties to ride in France. So how did the Reveley-French connection start?
When I was 18 and working as a conditional for Nicky Richards he sent me to Guillaume Macaire’s for three weeks’ working holiday experience. I loved it over there, had a couple of rides and a winner.
After I’d been back home a week, Mr Macaire phoned to ask me if I’d like to go back because he was short of young lads in the yard and I ended up spending the rest of the summer there.
Riding over 50 winners in France in 2015 (at a one-in-three strike rate), which put you fourth in the jockeys’ table, with two Grade 1 triumphs, is testament to your outstanding form. How easy was it to acclimatise to the different tracks and style of racing?
French tracks are much more varied than here. It was a fantastic experience when I was young to get to know the contrasting variety of jumps on each track; there are more figure of eights and more twisty cross-country courses in France. You find you’re rarely going round in a consistent circle like you do in England. The races tend to be a lot more tactical, while most races in England are run at a solid gallop and very often the toughest horse wins.
British trainers like to see you being positive on a horse, while the French like you to be more patient and finishing in a race. I think that’s why I’ve got on well in France, where they like my style of riding and settling horses. Last year I got a lot more rides outside Mr Macaire’s stable.
I am regarded as quite aggressive by French standards – but in England I’d be looked upon as a quiet rider
You are regarded as a real horseman and a sympathetic rider, rather than a jockey known purely for his strength in the saddle. Is this because you come from a showjumping background and how has this helped you across the Channel?
Showjumping taught me a lot about presenting horses at a fence, but it’s a completely different way of riding and it took me a while to adapt to the racing style. French race-riding is all about tactics, jumping, rhythm. A lot of us over here would look at a French jockey in a finish and think he was useless, but the French don’t look at the way a jockey rides a finish but the way he rides throughout the race.
I suppose I am a cross between the French and English styles, I ride a bit longer than the French lads. Macaire likes the way I ride and he has helped me to slot in with the other lads. I am regarded as quite aggressive by French standards – but in England I’d be looked upon as a quiet rider.
What are the main differences between jump racing in France and England?
In France it’s nearly all conditions races, governed by the amount of prize-money won. There might be a couple of handicaps on the card and the rest are conditions races. The big difference is prize-money, which is at least ten times better in France. At Auteuil, with the exception of claiming races, you wouldn’t race for less than €24,000 to the winner. The funding of prize-money via the Pari-Mutuel is clearly more effective than our system of relying on bookmakers.
When the French come to race in England they all say the atmosphere on our courses is fantastic compared with theirs. There is far more of a public following here than in France. You can go midweek jumping in France and there is barely anyone on course.
Guillaume Macaire is one of your biggest supporters. How time- consuming is the travelling and how accessible are courses like Pau in south-west France from your home in Saltburn on the Cleveland coast?
I have a lot of air miles! Yes, the travelling, particularly driving to and from airports like Manchester and the four hours to Stansted (for Bordeaux), is very time-consuming. But the flying is fine as I can catch up on sleep on the plane.
Mr Macaire is strict, likes everything to be done just right, and is never afraid to give any of us a bollocking
What have you learnt from your time with Guillaume Macaire?
Dad says Guillaume Macaire’s whole establishment and work ethic was my university. Mr Macaire is a real good teacher of a jockey on a horse; especially young jockeys and young horses. He has this knack of bringing out the best in them. He has his own opinions and makes a lot of sense. When he’s in good form he really is a laugh, but when things aren’t going so well he’s not so easy to talk to.
He is strict, likes everything to be done just right, and is never afraid to give any of us a bollocking. I suppose he’s obsessed about the whole job with his horses and jockeys; he has his own theories and never deviates from them. He has a very good system and business.
He can be fairly unique with his training, using elastic bungees all the time and only taking them off when the horses school. The schooling is really intense. His statistics say it all. Last year he had something like 300 winners and the trainer in second place around 120.
Have you considered basing yourself in France and riding there full-time?
I am going to focus mainly on the French side this year and aim to start over there earlier, in March when racing starts at Auteuil, rather than in May. I am getting a French agent, Benoit Gicquel, who used to be second jockey to Macaire and I’ve known all the time I’ve been out there. I want to give it a real go and see how I get on.
I have a mobile home over there, which is fine in the summer but I could really do with more substantial accommodation. I am looking.
Does all the Channel-hopping mean you have to make sacrifices back home, where you ride for your father Keith?
Obviously I want to help dad, who is always very organised with his race plans. Basically I have committed to dad in winter and France in the summer. But he has been very understanding when I’ve had a good ride in France. He seems to be able to juggle things, but it’s not ideal because dad’s always been a tremendous support and wants to do what’s best for me.
Having said that, I try to ride as many as I can for him when I’m around. You have to remember you’d be better off with one winner in France than with seven rides at a meeting in England.
I was riding at Pau on Christmas day [winning on Saying Again for Guy Cherel] and got back for Sedgefield on Boxing Day. I have been very lucky in France because not only does Mr Macaire have a very good strike-rate but I’ve been able to keep up my own strike-rate when riding for other trainers like Francois Cottin, Emmanuel Clayeux and Guy Cherel.
Last autumn I missed a Grade 1 winner, Hippomene, at Auteuil because I was asked at the last minute after I’d been declared to ride at Market Rasen, and I didn’t want to let down trainers here after decs.
Your grandmother Mary Reveley was a celebrated dual-purpose Yorkshire trainer. How big a part did she play in your early career?
Nan bought all my showjumping ponies for me and was a massive support when I was doing junior competitions. Towards the end of her career she used to come and support me showjumping rather than going racing.
When I started riding dad held the licence and always made sure I was going in the right direction, but nan would let me know her opinions and what she thought I should and shouldn’t be doing.
Jump racing in the north has struggled since the days when your grandmother trained 120 horses. What has been the problem?
Fashionable trainers like Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson are in the south and it’s very hard for northern trainers to compete. I know there are good trainers in the north but having horses in the big southern stables seems to be the ‘in’ thing at the moment. It’s frustrating for the northern trainers. The only answer is for wealthy north country owners to have their horses closer to home, as Trevor Hemmings does with a lot of his, and Richard Collins, one of my dad’s owners, who is totally devoted to northern racing. Then we might have a shout in some of the big races at places like Cheltenham.
The recent Jump Racing Review’s recommendation that there should be a new training facility in the north for rookie trainers is encouraging. Also the idea of incentives to encourage trainers to set up stables in Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland would be another plus. And, if they’re considering a new high-profile event like Cheltenham and Aintree, why not stage it in the north?
I ride a lot better quality horse in France than I would in England. Dad has some nice horses but nothing near the standard of those I ride in France
Is the poorer quality of horse in the north one of the reasons you have sought further riches in France?
Definitely. I ride a lot better quality horse on a day-to-day basis in France than I would in England. Dad has some nice horses but nothing near the standard of those I ride in France. That’s one of the main reasons, along with the big difference in prize-money. Everyone wants to get on good horses and that’s why I am going to France.
You must see a lot of promising young French horses that are bought by the likes of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. How could some of that talent be lured to the talented trainers in the north – or is it simply to do with spending power?
It’s all about crazy prices. The French can charge what they like for promising young horses and they know they’re going to get paid. The money is in the south and there are very few owners in the north who can or are willing to pay these extortionate amounts.
Can you compare the biggest day of your racing life abroad and your biggest day in England? Which did you enjoy the most, and why?
Winning the French Champion Hurdle last summer on Un Temps Pour Tout for David Pipe was right up there with the best days in France, while winning the Grand Sefton Chase over the National fences on Endless Power in 2008 and Grand National Trial at Haydock on Rambling Minster for dad would be two of my best days in England. Big winners anywhere mean just as much to me.
You normally get a decent crowd for the French Champion Hurdle and there was a good atmosphere at Auteuil, though nothing like you’d find at the Cheltenham Festival. Endless Power was my first ride over the National fences, which was a special thrill, and the family connection with Rambling Minster at Haydock brought extra pleasure.
Four-year-old So French gave you a Grade 1 victory over fences at an age when the majority of British/Irish-bred NH horses have yet to see a racecourse. How does their system produce more precocious animals?
The French start their jumpers off a lot earlier than we do because their race programme is set out to attract three and four-year-olds; there are all sorts of hurdles and chases for what we would consider to be immature jumpers. Mr Macaire cracks on with them, schooling yearlings with little saddles in the loose school.
Two-year-olds come into training at Macaire’s in October and he prepares them over the big hurdles for the early races in February/March. The progeny of Poliglote and Saint des Saints seem to be more precocious than the Old Vics and Presentings.
I suppose the French jumper may be a little bit lighter-framed than ours and built to do well at a younger age, but in fairness we don’t get so many big, old-fashioned chasers in England as we used to. The breed here has become a bit more refined and racey.
John Francome once said you were “right up there” with AP McCoy in terms of riding ability. What do you feel when you hear comments like this – would you like to challenge for the championship and big rides in Britain?
I was gobsmacked when he said it, because John has always been an idol of mine, definitely one of my racing heroes. Partly because he came from a similar showjumping background and was a top jockey. I always listen to what he has to say but am mindful he is very opinionated. I know a lot of people don’t always agree with him but I was delighted to read his comments.
I’d love to challenge for the championship here but realistically can’t see it happening any time soon. Obviously, if I landed a big job it could become a possibility, but I am turning towards France and will be based much more over there. To be champion in France you need to ride about 100 winners… you never know.
Do you have any exciting rides in the offing for Cheltenham? Is there a northern-trained horse that might be capable of troubling the judge at the Festival?
I can’t see anything on the horizon for me at Cheltenham unless Saint Palois, who I’ve ridden for Emmanuel Clayeux, comes over for the Gold Cup. If he does run he wouldn’t be without an each-way chance. But there is so much prize-money on offer at Auteuil these days the French are happier staying at home. Sue Smith’s Wakanda, who won a decent race at Ascot in December, would be worthy of representing the north at the Festival.
I managed to get beat on him when he was odds-on for a novice chase at Newcastle! Dad has a nice young horse called Waiting Patiently, who has been second twice and is very green but has huge potential. He is worth keeping an eye on.