how times change. Jockey James Reveley is the first to admit that he was a raw novice when he made his first foray to France for a summer’s work experience in an attempt to improve his riding.
Fast forward eight years and the quietly-spoken North Yorkshire horseman is now established as one of the pre-eminent National Hunt jockeys in French races thanks to a string of big race successes in 2015.
Still a youthful-looking 26 years old, Reveley is set to finish fourth in the French title race, which ends on New Year’s Eve, and now harbours legitimate ambitions of becoming France’s champion jockey.
He is so in demand that he is set to have five rides at the Pyrenees track of Pau on Christmas Day before flying back to the UK for the Boxing Day racing at either Wetherby or Sedgefield.
The flights were booked weeks ago by this rider who pays as much attention to the airline timetables as racing’s form book.
He is also set to partner defending champion Upsilon Bleu in Sunday’s Castleford Chase at Wetherby, the day two highlight of the track’s Christmas meeting.
While he is still an integral member of the Saltburn stables run by his parents Keith and Fiona, it is inevitable that he will be spending even more time in France where he has capitalised on top dual-purpose rider Vincent Cheminaud’s decision to switch to the Flat full-time following a French Derby win aboard Prince Khalid Abdullah’s New Bay.
He is now one of his mentor Guillaume Macaire’s main riders after earning the respect of France’s multiple champion trainers with his horsemanship and willingness to learn.
The opportunities – and financial rewards – make the sacrifices, and cross-Channel travel, worthwhile. On the day Reveley partnered So French to a high-profile victory at Auteuil, the premier Paris jumping track, on November 8, his successes in the feature races earned connections prize money comparable to the sums accrued by Ruby Walsh when the top Irish rider dominated day one of this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
To put this in perspective, Reveley’s 53 winners – a personal best in France – have amassed €2.3m and compare favourably with the £1.3m yielded by Richard Johnson’s season-leading 164 victories on this side of the English Channel.
With British racing very much the poor relation when it comes to prize money, and the quietly-determined Reveley getting the chance to test himself at the highest level on a regular basis at a time when Grade One opportunities are so few and far between here, he is keen to reap the rewards.
“I’m a clear fourth in the standings, even though I have only been riding in France for half the year,” he told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview. “I’m on 53 winners, which is my best by a long way, and you normally need 100 to win the title.
“In many ways, Vincent’s decision to switch to the Flat opened up a lot of opportunities. After the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby), it was a no-brainer for him rather than risk injury over jumps... it opened a very big door.
“Success breeds success. The better races you are winning, the more outside rides you are getting. People keep telling me if I stayed in France for a full year, I could win a championship. It’s a definite ambition. So, too, is the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris which is the big race of the year. Both are possible.
“I have a good horse in Saint Palois who would have a good chance. I was unseated this year, but he was only just beaten by Milord Thomas in the big Grade One chase on the day So French won.
“So French is also special. My first Grade One at Auteuil for Macaire, he’s only five. With any championship, you need a lot of luck – and you need to stay injury free. If next year is anything like this year, I’d like to think I would have a chance. Never say never.”
It is clear Reveley has a great rapport with the aforementioned Macaire. It helps that the jockey is now fluent in French and has embraced the Continental culture.
“He’s a genius. Very eccentric,” reveals the rider. “He has mood swings. One day, he is very happy and fun. The next, he’s b****cking lads and in a foul mood.
“He’s never the same, but he’s the most successful trainer in France by some distance and I wouldn’t be where I am without his support.”
While Reveley’s rides at the Cheltenham Festival have been few and far between, he did win this year’s French Champion Hurdle – a career highlight to date – thanks to some quick-thinking by his UK agent Bruce Jeffrey, who studied the declarations and noticed that David Pipe might have a spare ride.
He was right. With Pipe’s longstanding stable jockey Tom Scudamore opting to ride Cheltenham winner Ballynagour, Reveley jumped aboard Un Temps Pour Tout, who went on to record an imposing 10-length win over a quality field, which included Ireland’s record-breaking Grade One winner Hurricane Fly.
“The Pipes wanted someone with experience with Auteuil and Bruce got me the ride,” said Reveley, who will be an interested observer if the horse lines up in the prestigious Feltham Novices Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
“The horse has got the ability, he quickened off the turn and he’s a good jumper.
“Everyone wants to get on better horses and it just so happens I’m getting on good horses in France rather than England.
“Dad is to keep tipping away – I will get back as often as I can and Harry Challoner will probably come in for some spare rides.”
No one would begrudge James Reveley such success. A decade after his first winner in Britain, it speaks volumes about his progress that he is now in a position to conquer France.