Yet Yorkshire’s modest sporting hero looks back on his latest triumph – a third straight win in the prestigious Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris – with justifiable pride after the gallant On The Go prevailed in the last stride.
Asked what his history-equalling win in France’s premier steeplechase meant to him, Reveley told The Yorkshire Post: “Quite a lot actually. I was going through a bit of a quiet patch. I wasn’t get as many winners as I used to. Hopefully it will pick up again.”
Typical of all riders, the 29-year-old will always regard his next ride – and win – as the most important. However Sunday’s short-head triumph over Perfect Impulse in the French capital, scene of so much British cycling success in recent times, deserves fulsome recognition.
Before Reveley’s first odyssey to France over a decade ago for a summer’s work experience with multiple champion trainer Guillaume Macaire, only one British rider, the legendary Fred Winter, had won a race where the obstacles range from hurdles to a wide water jump and a formidable ditch bigger than The Chair on the Grand National course.
It’s the ultimate test of horse and jockey, as Winter demonstrated on Mandarin in 1962 when he still won in spite of the bit in the horse’s mouth, which a jockey uses to control the reins, snapping on the approach to a six-foot privet hedge. Remarkably completed the rest of the marathon course, nearly four miles, on instinct.
Yet Reveley’s race also had a dramatic start as he became only the second rider in history after Jean Daumas (1964-66) to record a hat-trick of triumphs.
So French, the dual winner that he partnered to glory in 2016 and 2017, was brought down at the first obstacle in a melee which claimed three horses.
Reveley was just relieved that the aforementioned Macaire told him to ride On The Go because he would, in all probability, have stayed loyal to So French.
Yet, as the high-profile Irish challenge of Djakadam faltered, On The Go stalked Perfect Impulse on the turn for home.
Both horses were inseparable over the final two fences, Perfect Impulse edging ahead on the run-in before On The Go rallied as Reveley conjured up one last effort in the dying strides. Too close to call, he only knew the outcome when he looked over at the big screen and spotted the horse’s proud owner on the ground in delirium. “I knew it was me,” he said after just his 10th win of an otherwise frustrating 2018.
Previously On The Go had finished second at Auteuil and Reveley had always been confident that the Grand Steeple’s longer trip would bring out the best in France’s new jumping star.
Yet the rider, who grew up at Lingdale near Saltburn where his late grandmother Mary and father Keith trained, was beginning to doubt himself after failing to replicate his success of 2016 when he became France’s champion jockey – another unheralded achievement of note.
“I got concussed in a fall in early March, then I missed four winners at Auteuil,” said Reveley who explained that the races at the Paris track are so prestigious, and valuable, that there’s little likelihood of On The Go competing in the Grand National or Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“The winners I missed, I didn’t get back on and it was a bit of a kick. Another day, I might have got back on them. For whatever reason, the lads that rode the horse kept the rides. It’s racing.”
They included De Bon Coeur who landed the French Champion Hurdle on Sunday under Kevin Nabet. Previously Reveley’s ride, such setbacks are character-building and the jockey has even more reason to appreciate his title success two years ago “when everything fell right from the start”.
Reveley’s first Grand Steeple since his pioneering grandmother’s sudden death last October, he said “she would have been very proud” but fretful that he wasn’t riding as many winners.
However his admirers do include former champion jockey John Francome who began his own career with the aforementioned Winter. “It’s amazing how many people talked about Fred’s win,” he said. “I am so pleased James has done so well. He’s a rare jockey. He has a brain and is too good for the trainers over here.
“I am pleased the best trainer in France (Guillaume Macaire) has got him going. I love watching him ride. He was riding up North and the vast majority of trainers had no idea about his quality, horsemanship and how he thinks races through.”
Like Francome, Reveley spent his early years in the saddle showjumping and took out a National Hunt licence shotrtly after his 16th birthday under the tutelage and guidance of his parents Keith and Fiona. “I was 16 in March and had my first ride in the April, Dad put me on some good horses and I will always be grateful to him, and the owners, for giving me the chance,” said Reveley. “It’s very hard for lads to get a start so I was fortunate. Dad encouraged me to go to France to ride out. That’s where it started. Along with my Dad, Macaire has made my career.”
As for the future, Reveley – who has made France his home with his wife Alexia and their young son George – is open to racing in Britain if there are good rides available, but he and Macaire already have their sights set on next year’s Grand Steeple.
No rider in history has won four successive renewals while victory for Macaire would see the Frenchman land a record seventh win after On The Go’s triumph drew him level with Bernard Secly. “He’ll be going for it,” says Reveley. And so will the jockey.