JOCKEY Olivier Peslier, 37, is hoping for a second win in the French Derby this month.
Peslier last won the Prix du Jockey Club, which is run every June on the prestigious Chantilly racecourse, on Peintre Célèbre in 1997. He will also be competing in the Prix Diane another of Chantilly’s big fixtures this month and the only classic French race he has yet to win.
Peslier was born at Château-Gontier in the Mayenne in the north-west. He showed early interest in riding and told Connexion he was winning pony races aged 10.
"I was spotted by leading trainer Patrick Biancone and at 14 took up his offer to attend a two-year jockey school course and to become one of his apprentices."
Peslier rode his first winner at Rouen in 1989 and was the leading apprentice jockey that year.
His distinctive short riding style (gripping the reigns tight up to the horse’s head) was based on that of American jockey Cash Asmussen, who was a top jockey in France when Peslier started riding.
He said: "Cash used to ride quite a lot for Biancone and I admired his style and judge of pace in a race.
"He was very helpful to me at the beginning, now I do the same thing for the up-and-coming jockeys who ask for advice."
Peslier’s career took off in a big way after riding for leading trainer André Fabre in an eight-year period up to 2001, when he was France’s champion jockey four times.
His first major success came when he won the 1995 Irish Derby on Winged Love. He then won the Arc De Triomphe three times in 1996-1998 riding Helissio, Peintre Célèbre and Sagamix.
With Peintre Célèbre he also won the Prix Du Jockey Club in 1997 and he won the English Derby with High Rise in 1998.
He said: "In the late 1990s, as worldwide media coverage of top French racing developed, I began to get more rides abroad, along with other top French jockeys.
"It takes a bit of adjusting as other countries’ courses and riding styles are very different to France’s and racing has become more competitive as standards improve.
"In France the early pace of a race is generally slower and we tend to sprint the last part in the straight to the finish. In other countries the pace is much quicker throughout and in England the straight is, on a number of courses, a lot longer than in France."
Today Peslier’s following in Japan equals that in France, thanks to winning the Japan Cup on Japanese horses in 2001 and 2004.
"Without a doubt it is my favourite country to race abroad," he said.
"The courses are safe, the crowds are fantastic and the accommodation and service for the jockeys is the best in the world."
Compared to France, Britain’s system of allowing bookmakers to organise bets has led to lower prize money for racing, Peslier said.
In France, he said much of the profits from betting with the Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU) go back to the racing industry. The group held, until this month, the monopoly on betting on horse racing.
"I hope nothing changes with the opening of the betting market," added Peslier.
Peslier’s current favourite is the five-year-old mare Goldikova, winner of 10 races, owned by Chanel proprietors the Wertheimer brothers and trained by former champion French jockey Freddie Head.
Peslier and Goldikova have equalled French racehorse Miesque’s back-to-back wins in 1987 and 1988, when she was ridden by Head.
The prize purse is $2 million (though most of it goes to the winning horse’s owners).
One day Peslier would like to breed racehorses, he said. "I have no wish to retire from riding in the near future but when I do, I would like perhaps to run a stud farm in France and breed racehorses - it’s my next challenge."