James Reveley saddles up for tilt at third French crown

JAMES Reveley thought French lessons at school were pointless when he was growing up in North Yorkshire hoping to become a successful jump jockey.

James Reveley has just been crowned as France's champion jockey for a second time.
James Reveley has just been crowned as France's champion jockey for a second time.

Now the proud Yorkshireman begins the New Year as France’s two-time jump-jockey champion after regaining the fabled Cravache d’Or that he first won in 2016.

It follows a remarkable 2021 in which Reveley recovered from a slow start – France’s title race is determined over the calendar year – to post 102 winners.

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Joining legends like Jacques Ricou and David Cottin in a select group of riders to record a century, Reveley is as proud of this as securing over £4m of prize money for connections.

This was James Reveley after winning the 2018 Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris on a horse called On The Go.

By way of contrast, Harry Skelton – Britain’s champion jockey – accrued £1.9m from 152 wins in his 2020-21 title campaign.

It is even more satisfying to Reveley, whose late grandmother Mary and father Keith both trained near Saltburn, after relocating to Chantilly where he will, in time, join the training ranks.

“This means a lot – I didn’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder. It was my objective to get another one (Cravache d’Or),” the 32-year-old told The Yorkshire Post.

“My first one was thanks to Guillaume Macaire (multiple champion trainer) who provided me with most of my winners – he could have made anyone champion. I ended up on 84 winners and was having a good run, but I broke my foot in early November and missed the last couple of months of the season.

This was James Reveley at his family's Saltburn stables in 2015.

“This year I’ve ridden as a freelance and my agent, Giovanni Laplace, has been brilliant, getting me rides for lots of good trainers.

“To be fair, I didn’t think I had a realistic chance because I didn’t have one big stable behind me and it would require a lot of work. For the second half of the year, I have been in Chantilly working with a lot more different trainers.”

Dominant at the Christmas Eve meeting at Pau, Reveley is very different today to the shy schoolboy who dropped French after three years at secondary school because he did not think that he would need the language.

Yet his life – and career – changed when Cumbrian trainer Nicky Richards suggested that he spent his summer months riding out for Macaire to gain experience and develop his horsemanship.

James Reveley with his late grandmother Mary, one of the most successful dual purpose trainers ever, and his father Keith before Rambling Minster ran in the 2009 Grand National.

Reveley did not anticipate any rides and, for several years, plied his trade in Yorkshire – his contemporary, Brian Hughes, is on course to win a second title – while his forays to France became longer each year.

Realising he would struggle to reach the top in this country, he moved to France in 2016 after it had become clear the previous year that the Cravache d’Or was within reach. “In 2015, I had a very good year and finished fourth riding for just half a season,” he explained.

Victorious in the Grand Steeplechase De Paris – France’s most prestigious contest – for three successive years from 2016-18, Reveley’s quiet style of riding is suited to a country where the pace of races is less frenetic.

A successful show-jumper in his childhood, the range of obstacles – and cross-country contests – also plays to the many strengths of the father-of-two who says the 100-winner benchmark in France is “like riding 300 winners on the Flat” because of the balance of the fixture list.

He now has his sights set on defending his title in 2022 after riding for 78 different trainers last year. “More of the same,” he said. “By March 1 last year, I had only ridden two winners. Start the year quite a bit better, keep the winners up, stay in one piece and win the title again. It would also be nice to find a real superstar horse and win another Grade One.”

He also has the respect of his fellow riders. “I’m seen as one of the senior jockeys and looked up to as a senior French jockey,” says Reveley, who paid tribute to the support of his wife Alexia as well as his parents Keith and Fiona, who now work for C&C Horse Transport.

“The jockeys know I am English but they don’t classify me as an English jockey. I’d like to think the younger riders look up to me as someone they can mould themselves on. I’m part of the furniture over here now.”

This also explains why Reveley decided against a return to Britain to complete his career in the saddle.

Now he is preparing to become the third generation of Reveleys to train racehorses after purchasing a yard with 46 stables in Chantilly. “I can’t really change now, I will see my riding days out over here and then I will set up as a trainer,” he added. “There is no mad rush, but it is in the pipeline. You never know in jump racing (with injuries) but that is the plan for the future.”

In the meantime, the race is on to win a third Cravache d’Or – and, hopefully, the respect of all those in British racing who are still to fully appreciate and recognise James Reveley’s status in France as champion jockey.