Andrew has been in racing most of his life, working as assistant trainer to his Father Reg, a training legend in the UK. More recently, Andrew and his wife Debbie have moved to train in France. Having arrived in January 2015, they had their first winner in May of that year when Final Attack won at Nort-Sur-Erdre. Since then, Andrew has continued to grow his reputation in France and this year has taken on responsibility for the Marnane horses. We caught up with Andrew to discuss training in France.
Why did you decide to move to France to train?
"There were many reasons, not just the lure of prize money. Debbie and I had never had the opportunity to work together and in 2014, we realised that as our two children had reached an age where they had become independent, if we were ever to challenge ourselves and do something different, it was now or never.
Would you ever consider returning to the UK to train?
"Yes I would, but only if I was allowed to build a yard on Flaxley, a large field my sister and I own on the edge of Cannock Chase, the land is great for gallops and if granted planning permission, it could be state of the art."
Prize Money is a hot topic in the UK currently, especially when it is compared to France. What lessons do you think the UK can learn from French racing and the way racing is funded?
"France’s prize money is good because they have been able to maintain a Tote monopoly, but for the UK that ship has sailed many years ago. However, despite the lack of accord between the betting industry, racecourses and owners and trainers, I still believe that a fair return could be negotiated on media rights and a major step forward could happen if we were able to insist on a share of betting turnover rather than profits."
In the current climate, Racehorse ownership has become increasingly difficult, what do you think the racing authorities can do to support owners and trainers?
"Apart from the obvious raising of prize money, I don’t have the answer to that one, but it would be a start if the authorities recognised that although the top echelons of racing appears healthy and are supported by many wealthy foreign owners, those owners at the ordinary end of the sport are leaving in droves because they realise that owning a horse is akin to pouring money down a drain. As we lose owners we lose trainers too, those that survive are migrating to certain areas leaving racing voids in large swathes of the country, a dangerous situation."
What would you say are the biggest differences between training horses in France compared to the UK?
"There are small differences in training methods and attitudes, but the biggest difference would be the way races are programmed. For example, most racedays, even on premium Paris tracks will end the card with two divisions of a handicap, often for horses rated 60 or below, with an €18-19000 prize fund and an additional 30% premiums for older French bred horses. This makes you realise that a horse only needs to win once a year with a couple of placed runs to cover its annual costs, so if you have a reasonably able horse, the object becomes to gradually accumulate winnings throughout the year. The owner who wants to save his horse for a big ‘touch’ doesn’t really exist in France."
This season you have linked up with the Marnane horses, what difference has that made to your season and what challenges does it present?
"The Marnane horses have boosted our earnings for sure, though having to keep an eye on horses in two different yards a couple of miles apart has not been easy and the Marnane scattergun entry policy takes a bit of keeping up with too!"
What differences do you find between Jockeys and their riding styles in France compared to in the UK?
"I think the standard of Jockeyship in France is pretty high at the moment. I don't notice a great difference in style, but maybe that's because I have been here too long. Journiac and Lecouvre have been excellent this year, watch out for them going forwards."
Your father Reg trained in the UK for many years and was a legend of the game, what influence did he have on you as a trainer?
"The main influences from him would be; Feed them well. Once they are fit don't over work them, that way they can race more often and like him I don't like whip happy jockeys, it should be the last resort."
If there was one horse currently trained in France that you could have the opportunity to train, who would it be and why?
"Eoghan O'Neil has a horse in the sales recently calling King Siyouni, I wanted to buy him as I thought it had been running over too long a trip. Sadly, it was the usual story of the horse you want being withdrawn from the sale, he was dropped in trip and ran a good third shortly after and I'm sure will win soon."
I would like to express my thanks to Andrew for taking the time to talk to us and wish him good luck for the rest of the season and beyond.