Jump racing is essentially a parochial sport. For starters, it's only commonplace across the UK, Ireland, France, in a smattering of eastern European nations, in no more than 30 eastern seaboard fixtures of the USA, and in Victoria, Australia. The sport is under considerable pressure from a high costbase, those that consider it a cruel use of the thoroughbred, and simple economics.
All of us who follow the grass roots of the sport in the UK or Ireland know that short of selling a horse, there is little point in travelling too far. It's rare to see a Yorkshire horse racing at Cocklebarrow when identical races against similar opposition exist within Yorkshire itself. And to an extent, this is the case even for horses trained professionally. Fixtures in the north tend to be dominated by northern-based trainers, and ther likes of Nick Alexander have little need to travel to Newton Abbot.
It's only when it comes to the big events that Jump racing creates a world stage such as we saw at Del Mar on Friday and Saturday nights for the Breeders Cup. However, there is one trend that is bucking the norm, as illustrated by Auteuil's splendid end of autumn spectacular over this past weekend. The two day programme staged a 16 race card worth €2,449,000. This is the sort of programme only seen in the UK at a day of the Festival.
Cheltenham Racecourse partnered with Pertemps, the eponymous sponsor of the Pertemps Network Hurdle Series, nearly 10 years ago to encourage French owners to campaign their horses in the UK winter months. A Pertemps qualifier was part of this past weekend's racing, but sad to say, lured no runners to the Final in March. It did however, encourage other French trainers toward our conditions races, like the International Hurdle in December. But the French had to choose whether to campaign for the Festival or for safer (and less competitive) races that were equally lucrative during the Auteuil spring season. It was an unfair contest!
There are British trainers who have been lured by French prizes before, but the timing of the Auteuil programme sits poorly in the British calendar. The autumn prizes, whilst well endowed, interfere with preparation for the big November events at Cheltenham, Haydock and Newbury, whilst the spring programme that continues until early June comes post Festival, when most British and Irish runners have shot their bolt.
The latest two British trainers to tilt at the French windmill ar Philip Hobbs and Richard Hobson who enjoyed contrasting fortunes at Auteuil over the weekend.
Hobbs is no stranger to success in France. Balthazar King was twice a winner of the Grand Cross Country de Craon, a provincial specialist race that was an excellent and lucratuve preparation for the Glenfarclas Cross Country which starts this Friday. He sent over Thyme Hill to run in the Grand Prix d'Automne, a Grade I staying hurdle on Saturday. Heavy ground at Auteuil in November on the back of watered ground earlier in the autumn, makes this an arduous test of stamina, and Thyme Hill this time around was found wanting against two of France's best in winner Galop Marin, and runner-up L'Autonomie.
By contrast, trainer Richard Hobson, who doubles up as a bloodstock agent, found the winning post with nine year old St Xavier, a two length winner of yesterday's opener, an amateur riders conditions chase over 2m 1f. Be sure that St Xavier will be running in the UK with a new owner soon.
We will surely read more of the British who are campaigning in France on a regular basis, among them Tom George, whose son Noel is undertaking his French trainer exams presently, Nick Williams, Sophie Leech and others yet to be identified. The rules stipulate that you may take out a temporary licence for a period of up to 3 months using your British licence; thereafter, you must be registered to train in France.
Leaving aside the Paris race programme, the provinces have a comprehensive programme of racing at every level which makes it easy for start up trainers to set up at a far lower cost than the UK. Point-to-Point aspirants seeking to advance themselves could do a lot worse than assess this.