Valfredo Valiani (46), the man who discovered Electrocutionist, trains around 50 horses from his base in Pisa, Italy. In love with his motherland, he admits to having had thoughts of moving his operation abroad, to England or France perhaps.
”But I am getting older, it would be tougher to move now”, he explains. He wants to run more horses abroad though. His raids abroad have been very selective and successful. Two runs in England have resulted in two Group One wins. ”When I have the right horse, I like to race internationally”, Valfredo says, and soon reveals his views on how racing is developing in Europe these days. How does he see the current state of affairs?
”If you are talking about the horses”, Valiani reflects, ”I think European racing is doing very well. The quality of our horses is world class, something global results clearly show. If you are talking about the situation of our sport, however, I think it is going quite badly. ”
”England apart, not many have been putting money into the game in serious attempts at attracting new faces at the tracks. That is our main problem. I am not saying it is wrong to have people in betting shops but we must try to get them from the betting shops to the tracks. Hopefully, when they experience this great spectacle they will want to come back. We are missing crowds at the tracks. Unless this is addressed, it will come back to us in a negative way. In fact, it already does. Therefore, I think that our Jockey Clubs, our associations and most of all our racecourses must do better. If the big heads in racing don’t work together, races will soon be much worse than now. The only way to stop this is that owners, trainers, breeders and jockeys get together, face the racecourse ownerships, trying to work together. Unfortunately, in Italy this is almost impossibe. We are trying to do it now. Earlier this year, I went to a dinner with Max Hennau and Jim Kavanagh, where we had the president and vice president of the breeders’ association, a prominent owner, a big bloodstock agent and the president of the European Breeders’ Association present. We tried to socialise and discuss our problems.
”Up to a certain point, the trainers’ problems are also the same problems owners and breeders experience. Organising a good spectacle is the main thing, we must give the racing fans a top class leisure product, and together we can do just that. We all believe that the European Trainers Federation is very important. If we make the ETF work properly, we can become very influential. To do that, we should increase and expand our meetings to include all countries, and work together. We must work as a team in Europe, and representatives from each country must work locally. Racing people should not be overtaken by administrators from outside the sport. I believe racing people are the right people to run our business. Well, as you know, that is not preciseley what is happening everywhere, is it?”
”In Italy, UNIRE is run by people who are mainly political, not people with the right knowledge on racing. The main problem for a trainer, is that he who works harder and tries to be serious and professional, is not properly rewarded. Much too often, hard work makes little difference.”
So, with strong views on how racing should be run, and a desire for change in Italy, how seriously have Valiani been considering a move to a bigger playing field?
”Unless I should get a good offer to go to Newmarket or Chantilly, I intend to stay in Pisa”, he says, ”I love my country, as does my wife Sveva. Our five-year-old son Vittorio Guiseppe is important to me, he is my hobby if you like. Really, my hobby used to be going on long riding treks in the coutryside, on riding horses, not thoroughbreds. But there is little time for that. When I can get a break I love travelling, and normally we go away in January, seeing other parts of the world is both important and relaxing. This year we went to Mauritius and Morocco.”
Racehorse trainers do not have much spare time and for Valfredo the free hours he gets is dedicated to his family.
”I spend more and more time with my son”, he says. Is litte Vittorio Guiseppe going to step into his father’s shoes one day? ”He has ridden of course, he has a pony”, Valfredo explains, ”but we live upstairs in the yard and I think he has too many horses around him right now. Therefore he is not all that interested. A situation I am quite happy about. I hope he is not going to become a trainer – at least not in Italy, I would rather see him becoming a soccer player or something like that”, Valfredo laughs. Although he is a prominent player at home, with international success, it is clear that he sees better conditions abroad.
Valiani has no hesitation when asked which is the best course in Italy. ”Definitely Milan”, he assures us, ”it is big track, and it is well developed, with a 1000 metres straight. You can run races over 2400 metres with just one bend, like at Newmarket. It is a severe racetrack, where the best horse usually wins. I prefer to run my horses there.”
Valfredao was introduced to racing by his father, who was a teacher riding in amateur races in Italy. ”He became a steward, and later on he was president of the Italian stewards”, he explains, ”he put me on a horse for the first time when I was three. From about seven or eight, I was competing in show jumping. This continued until I was 14 and rode my first throughbred – I fell in love with him from day one. I switched to racehorses almost overnight and became the youngest amateur riding races in Italy in 1974. I rode quite a few flat races, won three times and had good fun but I am too tall. Riding was never going to become a career. I always wanted to be a trainer. ”
It was also his father who sent the young, tall amateur rider to Newmarket ten years later, to learn from working with Luca Cumani. Valfredo spent two years with the Bedford Lodge handler, and experienced top class horses like Bairn, Commanche Run and Free Guest. ”Frankie Dettori had just come over from Italy too, and we both learned a lot from Luca”, Valfredo tells us. ”After the years in England, I went to work as assitant to Richard Cross in Los Angeles for a year, and I went on to work with preparations of yearlings in Lexington in 1986.”
After spending over three years learning abroad, Valfredo returned to Italy to set up as a trainer in 1987. His first horse, a colt named Swalk, was owned by Luca Cumani and Doctor Boffa, of Fittocks Stud. Many horses have passed through his hands since, but there is no doubt which is the best he has had in his care;
”I discovered Electrocutionist when he was very young, as he was bred by an owner of mine”, Valfredo tells us, ”he wanted to sell him, and I really liked him a lot. At the same time, Mr Earle Mack, an American ambassador, had asked me to find him a yearling. He bought him privately and, as you know, Electrocutionist proved to be an excellent investment. ”
Does Valfredo prefer buying his horses as yearlings?
”Yes I do”, he says, ”I like to get my horses as yearlings, and I tend to buy late developing types. I hate to say this but I have been better with middle-distance horses, not so much with sprinters. A trainer should be able to train all kinds, but this is still true – I like to buy horses with a future as older horses, horses with scope - and I am not a trainer of juveniles. I like to give them time. As an example, by the 1st of August this year I had sent out only one juvenile runner. I have a nice bunch of young horses in my yard. Hopefully, there is a future Group One winner among them. ”
Valiani trains around 50 horses and owns a few himself. ”I don’t like it, but I do own some”, he says, ”they are for sale, from time to time I buy to sell on, sometimes it works out, sometimes not, one has to take the odd gamble.”
He buys horses mainly in Italy, England and Ireland, where he found a smashing daughter of Lahib back in 1997. We have been lucky before Electrocutionist came along”, he says, ” Super Tassa, who won the Prix Corrida in France and the Yorkshire Oaks in England, was a real bargain. I found her at Fairyhouse, and paid only 1800 Irish pounds for her.”
Valiani tells us that he has an ambition to campaign more horses abroad. ”I like to run my horses in Italy, and if a horse is good enough, I like to send it to Newmarket or Chantilly to prepare for races there. I fly up and down when we are getting the horse ready for a big event.”
Having prepared for his training career by working around the world, Valiani now trains for owners from North America, England and France, though most of his owners are Italians. Individuals own the majority of the horses. Racing syndicates and racing clubs are yet not playing a big role in Italy, he explains:
”The problem with the Italian man is that his attitude is to own the horse outright, not share it with someone else. Partnerships are a good thing, in my opinion, and we are really working on this. Racing partnerships is also an excellent way to attract people from outside the game, as partnerships give members a smaller risk but should give them the same fun”.
From being an amateur rider as age 14, soon to become too tall to pursue a career in the saddle, Valiani has worked his way up the training ranks in Europe, and he is now one of the most respected in his trade. Where would he have ended up in life, if training had not been an option?
”Probably a cowboy”, he laughs, ”I grew up in the Grosseto, a small place in the countryside, where people used horses every day – much like the North American cowboys. Well, if I had not become a trainer maybe I would have been a vet now, however. I thought that I wanted to become a vet, but I soon decided that what I really wanted was to work closely with horses full time. I studied for three years, though did not get very good results. I was spending too much time fooling around with horses!”