Guillaume Macaire is the current champion jumps trainer in France, a title he has held since 2003. He is based in the Charente Maritime region of France at La Palmyre racecourse. In 2006 he ran 231 different horses and regularly campaigns horses across Europe.
In 2006 he wrote a regular column in Paris-Turf in which he provided insight into his runners, discussed current issues in the racing world and would provide his opinion on sensitive subjects.
Guillaume, tell us how you came into racing?
I was born in Compiègne in 1956, I frequented the racecourse at an early age. My family wasn’t involved in racing but when I went, I fell in love with it. The pictorial, timeless side of Compiègne’s racecourse certainly had a big impression on me. After a short career as an amateur rider, I started training a few horses in Compiègne, exercising my horses on the forest’s sand gallops. I then moved in Maisons-Laffitte for 2 years, then fate drove me to the south-west of France, where races were well-attended, I went to La Roche Chalais (Dordogne), I won races regularly, improved my results every year and discovered La Palmyre where I moved to12 years ago.
What are the advantages of training at Royan-la-Palmyre?
The variety of the region attracted me, as well as the track on the racecourse, there’s the nearness of the sea with big beaches, a pine forest and its paths in sand.
When I arrived, the racecourse’s sand track wasn’t really exploited; some trainers had worked on it, one of them Martial Boisseuil (well-known in Arabian racing) had had a certain amount of success from 1975 to 1990 without however leaving the borders of the Southwest of France. The facility has several jump tracks, hurdles, steeple-chase fences and cross-country jumps, and now English fences and hurdles, also the addition of sand in order to have a testing gallop reminds me of the English up-hill gallops. Here, horses must maintain their rhythm and use their back. This allows me to work in good conditions and to make really good jumpers.
I’ve trained in different places and always used the same basics, I adapt to the facilities offered by each place. Here, in La Palmyre, I use the quality of the sand as natural ground and make the best of it. But what is positive here would not be anywhere else, all the methods are good but it’s necessary to adapt oneself. Good horses make the difference.
Could you explain to me your training methods, what do you consider very important?
All the horses intended to work here are pre-selected on their pedigree, on their appearance and on their movement, as only these criteria will allow them to improve their technique in order to be more fluent and more successful. Due to this selection I quickly have an opinion about each horse, if it has “attached legs and a welded kidney” it’s not worth working any more.
I’m talking here about the horses I choose, those for which I assure an “after-sale service”; there are exceptions, other horses I wouldn’t have chosen are brought to me and they are still able to win races. According to the proverb “the good horses make the good trainers”.
I like some of my horses to come to training several times and go back to the fields to recover or simply to grow if needed. They arrive for the first time in the winter as 2 or 3 year olds. Before that, they are broken in and pre-trained by people I know, who know the way I want my horses to be worked. I like to do interval training, as I mostly train jumpers, it allows to build the horse’s fitness without killing it (it’s used a lot with humans anyway); I put bandages on all of them, they help the horse’s back to carry a rider in the right way and they help for the animal’s submission and relaxation. In their first month of training, I school them 3 or 4 times a week in a closed arena with 4 hurdles and deep sand. Indeed my inspirational mentor Baron Finot, (a leading jumping trainer in the 1880’s) whose methods I adopted and adapted to our time and whom rich painting (gouaches and watercolours) I admire had said: “the good jumpers are those who are used to jumping when they’re young”.
The arena is compulsory to me, I say it’s like a pianist is nothing without his scales, he has to practice, so the jumping technique is the main point for a jumper’s career and we have to practice. Then, depending on the horse’s behaviour and its physical ability to bear the training it will either run in the spring of its 3rd year or it will go back to the field to take advantage of the spring grass and will return in the autumn stronger.
Just as each person is unique amongst the universe’s inhabitants, my jumpers are individuals. I train each one of them regarding how it responds in order to get a certain standard, the horse’s quality will do the rest. My work is to form them as studious pupils. The trainer’s art is to find good horses and to find quickly enough if they’re worth it or not.
Feeding is of prime importance in a racehorse’s life; it’s important to respect nature. For this I have all my horses on shavings and the racks are always full of hay (from the area of Crau) which avoids them to be bored in their stable and is a great help for proper digestion. They also eat oats and in the morning and bran mash in the evening (they have it even when they’re away racing, as I own several pressure-cookers).
Another essential thing to me is the horse walker, it replaces the lunging work that was formerly used a lot when people had time. I was the first trainer in France to buy one. It is surely not an economy of staff, but allows the horse to work muscularly and mentally freely without a direct constraint from the rider’s weight and hand.
The walker is used daily for different purposes, a horse that needs to let off steam before concentrating on the work for the track, a horse with a back problem or a horse that needs to recover after the races.
I use a scale, horses are regularly weighed, especially before and after a race in order to know their exact condition. The optimum weight is a precious indicator of the state and health of the horse.
The work list is my puzzle for every day, adapting every horse with his/her rider then adapt them to each string according to the work required. I have as well to adapt to the new horses, their progress whilst keeping their objectives in mind.
No one can imagine how much the quality of a regular and constant work made in the morning is related - and improves - the final result.
Tell me about your staff?
My team consists of about 30 people; it’s a pyramid system whereby each person has their place and their function from the bottom to the top. In the summer we attract English, Irish and now Swiss riders who combine their holiday with a French racing experience. Noel Williams, Alan King’s assistant, spent some time with us last year and seemed pleased by what he discovered here and by the French racing customs, it complemented what he already knew. It is interesting for everybody to exchange different points of view as each country has its own habits.
You like to run horses in England, why?
I consider the level of competition is very high in Great-Britain, our best horses are sold and cross the channel when they’ve shown really good things there. There’s a conquering side in winning races abroad! It is the circumstances that brought me to England with Jair du Cochet, who won a Group 1 race (the Welsh Finale Junior Hurdle at Chepstow) first time out there. He didn’t pass the vet twice, so, pricked in my pride I wanted to show he was a good horse in order to prove my honesty. He adapted very well in England and ran only there, with a certain success. It is impossible for a horse to run everywhere all year through - except for The Fellow who was an extraterrestrial as he had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand Steeple Chase de Paris. I take an outstanding pleasure running in England as this for me is the homeland of the jumping races, a consecration for every trainer to win over there. But I want to go there only with a first class chance or if an English owner of mine wants to see his horse run over there. If I have good entries for a horse who knows Auteuil I’ll stick there.
What are your hopes for 2007?
I hope we can continue where 2006 left off and to find more time for my favourite hobby – painting horses.