Weekend Interview: James Reveley ends year as the undisputed No 1

A Yorkshireman abroad: James Reveley will tonight be crowned champion French jockey after claiming a career-best 84 winners.
A Yorkshireman abroad: James Reveley will tonight be crowned champion French jockey after claiming a career-best 84 winners.
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BRITAIN will have a new champion jump jockey tonight. He is North Yorkshire’s James Reveley, who has an unassailable lead in the year-long race to become France’s No 1 rider over obstacles.

With the French championship decided over the calendar year, the 27-year-old’s title becomes official after the New Year’s Eve racing.

James pictured at his dad Keith's racing stables at Lingdale near Saltburn. (Pictures: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

James pictured at his dad Keith's racing stables at Lingdale near Saltburn. (Pictures: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

Nine years after the fresh-faced Reveley from Saltburn first ventured across the English Channel for a summer’s work experience with champion trainer Guillaume Macaire, and with barely a word of French to his name, he is now the undisputed No 1.

His career-best 84 winners – 22 more than the vastly experienced David Cottin – also included the historic Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris, French jump racing’s most iconic contest, which the Reveley-ridden and Macaire-trained So French won so memorably in May.

Even though Reveley broke his left foot in a fall just over six weeks ago which required the bones to be pinned, his lead proved sufficient with his great rival Cottin also on the injury sidelines.

Yet, with the jockey having moved permanently to France to further his career, contacts and connections, it means his father, Keith, is preparing to call time on his own training career at the end of January.

It will be an end of an era at Groundhill Farm, Lingdale, where the jockey’s legendary grandmother, Mary, was a renowned dual-purpose trainer before passing the training licence to her son in 2004.

There is also regret that Reveley will not be fit in time to ride the last horses to be saddled by his father and mother Fiona – the whole family commanded the respect of Northern racing for their success with staying steeplechasers like Rambling Minster and Night In Milan, who were both good enough to line up in the Grand National.

Yet Reveley senior is the first to admit that it was not the same training racehorses for other jockeys to ride. “James is basically French now,” he said. “He’s got the French house and the French girlfriend. It’s not the same without James here, though it does mean I can go and watch him ride and not have to worry about the racehorses.”

It has been some journey since May, 2005 at Plumpton when Times Marches On provided father and son with their first winner.

Then Reveley was just another promising novice rider who was, understandably, slightly in awe of the bigger name jockeys that he found himself competing against.

However, his composed temperament marked him out from other riders. “He was super-sound. No sulking, no dramas,” recalled former Scottish National-winning rider Keith Mercer.

Yet Reveley’s formative years pony racing and show-jumping marked the then teenager out as a natural horseman with an uncanny ability to get the most out of his mounts as they settled into a jumping rhythm.

It was this love of horses, and desire to learn how to present them to their fences, which prompted the decision to spend recent summers in France when there was little National Hunt action of note here.

However, the spells spent under Macaire’s tutelage became longer with each passing year and, in recent times, Reveley commuted between France and Britain as he enjoyed the best of both worlds.

With a realisation that he would not be champion jockey in Britain because of a dearth of opportunities, and that big-race opportunities would, in all probability, be limited to the occasional ride at the showcase Cheltenham and Aintree festivals, Reveley said it made sense to make the switch to France permanent.

To put his success in context, he has won connections more than two million euros in prize money in 2016 – a sum which has probably only be eclipsed by the mercurial Ruby Walsh in Britain and Ireland.

“To be champion means a lot,” Reveley told The Yorkshire Post. “It’s good to have done it and it’s what I’ve wanted to do. The difference has been basing myself here (France) for the whole year.

“The championship and Grand Steeple, that’s what every French jump jockey wants to win at the start of the year and I managed to do both in 2016. If you had asked me at the start of the year, I would have said that I had the better chance in the Grand Steeple because of So French’s form.

“He’s young, very strong and very tough. It’s a three and three-quarter mile race. He doesn’t know when he’s beat. He needs plenty of cut in the ground and a trip. This is my Grand National or Gold Cup and it’s the race I’ve wanted to win since I started coming to France.”

This famous win prompted a heartfelt tribute from the aforementioned Macaire, who is regarded as French racing’s toughest taskmaster because of his fiery reputation.

“When James came to me nobody knew him. He’s an intelligent, serious guy and has never stopped improving over the years he’s come back to me.”

The respect is mutual. “He’s a genius,” said Reveley. “Just a great teacher of horse and jockey. There’s no-one in his league. Actually, I just get on quite well with him.”

It is also significant that British trainers are now aware of Reveley’s reputation in France where the races are more slowly run and, therefore, become a greater tactical test.

When David Pipe sought a rider for the 2015 French Champion Hurdle, it was the Yorkshireman who partnered Un Temps Pour Tout to victory and the reward was a Grand National ride this year on Vieux Lion Rouge, who went on to win the Becher Chase earlier this month.

“I wouldn’t mind another go around Aintree on him!” says Reveley, who says the biggest difference to his career has been mastering the language so he can conduct interviews, and talk to connections, in French. “You can’t get by without it.”

Former North Yorkshire trainer Ferdy Murphy, who is now based in France, says Reveley’s success should not be under-estimated. “The French people have taken to him, they love him,” he says. “He’s got a very good brain and is the ultimate professional. He knew he had to base himself here to be champion.”

As for the rider, James Reveley will have X-rays on his injured foot on Monday and hopes to resume race-riding towards the end of February. Having become champion once, he’s determined to repeat the feat. “I’m over the moon with how it has gone,” he added. “I just don’t want people seeing me as a one-season wonder.” They won’t.

The James Reveley story...

JAMES Reveley came to prominence when winning the 2009 Blue Square Gold Cup Chase at Haydock on his father Keith’s Rambling Minster.

Yet, as his forays into Europe became more prominent, he enjoyed initial success with horses like Reve de Sivola for Nick Williams, who became one of the first British trainers to regularly saddle horses in France where the prize money is so superior to the UK. Indeed, the horse’s triumph in the 2013 Grand Prix D’Automne was the jockey’s very first success at Grade One level.

However, since then, Reveley has accumulated big-race triumphs, notably the 2015 French Champion Hurdle on the David Pipe-trained Un Temps Pour Tout. Yet, without doubt, the most satisfying victory came this May when the admirable So French won the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris – and first prize of £280,000.

Having suffered a kick to his knee the previous weekend, Reveley actually flew back to Yorkshire and underwent extensive rehab at Jack Berry House in Malton.

As well as five big-race wins this year on the Guillaume Macaire-trained hurdler Device, Reveley rounded off 2016 by winning the Grade One Prix Cambaceres on De Bon Coeur for Francois Nicolle – further proof of his burgeoning reputation as France’s premier big-race rider.