Racing in France: The Top Flat Jockeys

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France has been the base of some of the greatest jockeys of all time; from Roger Poincelet to Yves Saint-Martin and Freddy Head. 

Here, Nicholas Godfrey profiles the current generation of top flat riders that you can watch on Sky Sports Racing.

Note: Ages correct as of 1 June 2020.

 
MICKAEL BARZALONA
Age 28
Godolphin’s principal rider in France, resulting in a regular supply of quality mounts from Andre Fabre, with whom he rode out his claim as a teenager in 2009. Shot to international fame in 2011 when partnering Fabre-trained Pour Moi to Derby triumph victory at Epsom (ironically, in the Coolmore colours), though greatest triumph may also have contributed to unfortunate reputation as a ‘Marmite’ jockey thanks to whip-waving antics as he stood up in the saddle passing the post. Has always retained confidence of Godolphin operation, however, for whom he has recorded string of major victories both domestically and farther afield, among them a Dubai World Cup (Monterosso 2012) and a Breeders’ Cup Turf (Talismanic 2017), plus second British Classic via Encke’s St Leger in 2012.

 

PIERRE-CHARLES BOUDOT
Age 27
Setting a fierce pace in this year’s race for the ‘Cravache d’Or’ (Golden Whip), dual champion announced himself as a major force on the wider stage with a stellar weekend at last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe meeting, where his six winners included that memorable late swoop on Waldgeist to deny Enable’s hat-trick attempt in Europe’s richest race. Son of trainer Marc Boudot also claimed the Prix de la Foret on One Master for William Haggas, one of several overseas trainers quick to recognise the talents of a jockey who rose fast through the ranks after his first G1 win in 2014 on Gallante in the Grand Prix de Paris. Broke the European record for winners in major racing nations with 300 domestic successes in 2016 for his second title (having tied with Christophe Soumillon the previous year after a ding-dong battle; Soumillon has since taken the European record). Has enjoyed a career-long association with Waldgeist’s trainer, the legendary Andre Fabre, and left mark on Royal Ascot last year with Coronation Stakes victory on Watch Me for Francis Graffard, for whom he often rides decent winners. Also won Sun Chariot Stakes (2015) on Esoterique for Fabre.

 

VINCENT CHEMINAUD
Age 26
A teenage prodigy over jumps who was champion jockey aged 20, landing France’s most prestigious contest, the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris, at Auteuil on Storm Of Saintly in 2014. Cheminaud surprised the racing community by switching attentions to the Flat in 2015 with none other than Andre Fabre as his champion and duly landed that year’s Prix du Jockey Club in famous Khalid Abdullah silks on New Bay; at the time, he was still officially an apprentice on the Flat. He went on to establish himself as principal French rider for Juddmonte operation (also won a G1 at Saratoga on Flintshire) but his most recent top-level success came in October 2017 with Ice Breeze’s Royal-Oak and he has actually ridden more G1 successes over jumps than on Flat. He is still in demand for Fabre (rode Alson to finish third in Poulains) and Alex Pantall among others.


CRISTIAN DEMURO
Age 27
Former teenage prodigy in native Italy, younger brother of Japanese-based five-time Italian champion Mirco Demuro now has over 1,500 career victories. Champion jockey at home aged only 18, he has won three titles in all, establishing a national record with 264 victories in 2011. Also spent three winters in Japan, where he has ridden three Grade 1 winners including first top-level success on Ayusan in Oka Sho (Japanese 1,000 Guineas) in April 2013, the same year he won his first European G1 on Biz The Nurse in Italy. Now retained by owner/breeder Gerard Augustin-Normand, who has a 150-horse string across the country, he now rides majority of Jean-Claude Rouget's better Paris horses. Has become something of a Classic specialist in France, with six such victories (all for Rouget) since 2016 when he landed the Pouliches/Diane double on Le Cressonniere. Also won two Classics on Brametot, while he is the regular rider of last year’s French Derby winner Sottsass. Though Rouget compares sympathetic riding style to Japanese champ Christophe Lemaire, Demuro has also been likened to compatriot Frankie Dettori.

 

MAXIME GUYON
Age 31
Retained rider for powerful owners Wertheimer et Frere, which means regular employment with Andre Fabre, Freddy Head and Carlos Laffon-Parias among others. Achieved a notable career landmark in 2019 when claiming first ‘Cravache d’Or’ as French champion jockey with 234 victories. Had nearly 400 more rides than runner-up Pierre-Charles Boudot, and the pair are again setting the pace in 2020. In a career generally better known for quality than quantity, the former Fabre apprentice has ridden a number of top-level winners both at home and abroad; that said, he has more than 1,000 winners in France, where his first G1 win came on Cavalryman in the 2009 Grand Prix de Paris. Among five European Classic successes is 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket on Miss France (2014). His first ride in Britain was a winner on Byword in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2010. Among other top horses he has ridden are multiple G1-winning miler Solow, dual French Classic winner Lope De Vega and Ambitious Dragon, the dual Hong Kong Horse of the Year. Guyon’s family has little connection with racing, though his mother worked in a PMU-tabac!

 

IORITZ MENDIZABAL
Age 46
Hard-working jockey whose consistency at bread-and-butter brought four jockeys’ titles in the noughties (2004 and hat-trick between 2008 ad 2010) when he was prolific Jean-Claude Rouget’s main sparring partner. Not the same force now and rarely asked to ride Rouget’s better horses at Paris venues these days, though remains significant factor in the Provinces. Has had moments in the spotlight, however, notably with pair of G1 wins including Jockey Club on Vision D’Etat in 2008, when he rode Spirit One to win the Arlington Million. A proud Basque with no family background in racing (father worked in bank; mother a teacher); was born 10km on Spanish side of the border in village of Oiartzun before enrolling at apprentice school of Mont-de- Marsan. Rode first winner in 1990 before joining Rouget the following year. Popular with British trainers: witness black-type winners for Mark Johnston, Hughie Morrison, William Haggas and John Quinn in recent seasons.

 

STEPHANE PASQUIER
Age 42
Colourful and exuberant character who has been in the Top Ten for two decades, winning a Cravache d’Or in 2007 when he rode 185 winners. Former Robert Collet apprentice rode first winner at Amiens in September 1995 before losing his way for a spell in the late 90s. Was involved in a bizarre accident in which he broke a glass in his hand when striker David Trezeguet’s penalty hit the crossbar in the World Cup Final shootout in 2006, costing France a second title. The injury kept him sidelined for two months but won the Arc on Rail Link when he came back. Much in demand since the turn of the century, he has been retained by the Wildenstein family – for whom he rode his first G1 winner on Westerner in 2005 – Khalid Abdullah and, since 2010, the Niarchos Family. Also partnered the outstanding Manduro (owned by Baron von Ullmann) to a sequence of five major wins in 2007 that included the Prix d'Ispahan, Prince of Wales's Stakes and Prix Jacques le Marois. Significant overseas victories include a 1,000 Guineas (Special Duty in 2010) and a Breeders’ Cup Mile (Karakontie 2014).

 

OLIVIER PESLIER
Age 47
One of world’s leading riders for 30 years, four-time champion jockey in the 1990s can be regarded as France’s answer to his good mate Frankie Dettori, two years his senior with a similar career path. A reduced schedule at home means he may not be one for less significant occasions but superb stylist has few peers on major stage, where he is one of the most accomplished and sought-after riders. Fully deserved international reputation and a CV to match – including four Arcs - Helissio (1996), Peintre Celebre (1997), Sagamix (1998) and Solemia (2012) - five Breeders’ Cup races (three on Goldikova), an Epsom Derby (High-Rise 1998) plus 16 Royal Ascot wins, two Japan Cups among a plethora of JRA G1s, seven Hong Kong International races, four Dubai World Cup night races…the list goes in. Throw in big-race wins in lesser jurisdictions – among them Mauritius, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Switzerland – and there is surely no more cosmopolitan rider on the planet. As astute as they come tactically and immensely popular figure in the weighing rooms of France and well beyond. 

TONY PICCONE
Age 32 (born 21 July 1987)
Prominent Marseille-born freelance approaching 800 career winners who often gets the call-up from British-based trainers sending runners to France. Landed first Group 1 event for Harry Dunlop on Robin Of Navan in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud in November 2015; also won Prix Morny (2017) on Unfortunately for Karl Burke and lesser Group/Listed races for likes of Charlie Appleby, Clive Cox, David Menuisier, James Tate and Eve Johnson Houghton. Regular partner of dual G1-winning stayer Holdthasigreen but generally better known away from main stages as reliable jockey for handicaps and in the provinces. Productive winters overseas in recent seasons in Qatar and on a short-term licence in Hong Kong in 2019-20 (eight wins from 91 rides). Usually on the fringes of top ten or thereabouts domestically; personal best of 89 in both 2014 and 2015.

 

CHRISTOPHE SOUMILLON
Age 38
Tactically brilliant and as strong as they come, France’s most charismatic jockey has been among the world’s elite jockeys for nearly two decades with a multitude of high-profile top-level victories across the globe. Belgian-born ten-time champion rode his first winner in November 1997 on a 75-1 shot; first big-race win was the Prix du Jockey Club on Anabaa Blue (2001), two years before first senior title came in 2003 with a record-breaking 207 wins. Still holds European record for wins in a major racing nation (306 in 2017). He has a longstanding (if occasionally fractious) association with his retainer the Aga Khan, for whom he partnered the great Zarkava to all seven victories in an unblemished career culminating in the 2008 Arc, a race he had also won five years earlier on Dalakhani. Associated with a litany of top-class horses, including Cirrus Des Aigles, Hurricane Run, Shirocco, Almanzor and Godolphin’s Thunder Snow, aboard whom Soumillon’s power-packed style was amply demonstrated in back-to-back Dubai World Cup victories.

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