Sense of adventure required: homebirds need not apply
Sophie Leech took out a licence to train in the 2004-5 season, and reached a GB personal best in 2018-19 when her 12 winners netted over £204,000 in prize money. Latterly, she has campaigned almost exclusively in France, and with what results.
On Saturday, she enjoyed her biggest success to date in the Group III Grande Course de Haies de Printemps at Auteuil when The Lucky One, rated 129, scored by 3/4l to secure his largest prize too, under Gabin Meunier.
The contrast between the two jurisdictions is very stark. 51 runners in the UK this past season netted 2 victories and £38,052 in earnings. 25 runners in France have resulted in 3 victories and total earnings of €174,260, of which Saturday's handicap success contributed €69,292.
Leech is not the only British trainer to be eyeing up prizes on the other side of la Manche. Tom George has also made a great success of his French horses, and Nick Littmoden and Nick Williams are both practising over there too. Littmoden won a Group III at Auteuil earlier this month netting €114k.
Of course, as you would expect of the sport's main innovator, Willie Mullins has been running horses at Auteuil's major meetings for many years, and sources much of his bloodstock from France too.
However, despite complaining that prize money rewards are poor in the UK market, few are prepared to look further afield in pursuit of better rewards. Jonjo O'Neill, running a pointer at Andoversford this past weekend, remarked that running horses in France involves a lot of hassle. That much may be true, but where the rewards are greater, does it not make more sense?
A single British winner at Punchestown this past week bears out this unadventurous trait among O'Neill's contemporaries. One might understand that Messrs Nicholls and Henderson may not feel the need to chase down big prizes abroad on a regular basis, but were I paying the bills, I'd look to my trainer for a broader outlook than merely revisiting country racecourses for paltry returns.
Commentators regularly remark that British Jump racing is the best in the world. Whilst that is highly debatable presently, with the highest rated horses mostly trained in Ireland, there is a whole rank of horses some 30lb or more off the top rank who could benefit from a more adventurous outlook and a well-franked passport. The Irish are well-used to travel; as an export nation, they've learned to take their horses to far-flung venues like Hewick's success at Far Hills, New Jersey last October. After his triumph on Saturday at Sandown, he is likely headed for the Iroquois in June.
Would that some of our British trainers had the same outlook.