Amateur Riders - More than just a tradition

  Courage, honour, elegance, and fair play. That is the list of values that underpin the ethos of the FEGENTRI – the International Federation of Gentleman and Lady Riders. They are values that Elie Hennau refers to regularly as he speaks with enthusiasm and pride about the organisation of which he is now president, and his own career as an amateur rider.    “I won the Amateur Riders’ Derby at Epsom in 1999 on a 25/1 shot and beat Ryan Moore who was second on one for his father. My whip did not comply with the British standards and I had to borrow one. It was Frankie Dettori who gave me his whip for the race so I beat Ryan using Frankie’s whip – this is probably the thing I’m most proud of in my whole life!”    Now 44, Hennau held down a full-time job whilst enjoying a 15-year spell in the saddle, during which time he rode in around 1000 races and partnered almost 100 winners. As a rider in the FEGENTRI series he met new friends, experienced different countries, and got a great thrill from the sport. Racing helped him grow, and now it’s time to give something back. “If I’m completely transparent then this wasn’t the best time in my life to take on this presidency as I already have too many things to do and this is an unpaid job. But I do it for the love of the sport. Maybe I was expecting to do this when I was a little older, but the opportunity was there and I wanted to give back to racing all of the great things racing gave to me.”    Created by a group of enthusiastic amateurs at St. Moritz in 1955, FEGENTRI has expanded and developed into an organisation whose membership currently consists of ‘clubs’ in 23 different countries across four continents and has a high-profile sponsor in Longines. The mission of the organisation is to promote international races for amateur riders and to organise the FEGENTRI World Championship. As Hennau explains, “We don’t organise the races as such, but we provide the riders for them and organise the championships. There are two world championships, one for gentleman riders and one for lady riders. This year there were 60 races across 40 different tracks in 15 different countries, and we had seven gentleman riders and 10 lady riders.”    Not every member sends a representative every year, and the idea is for the series to be contested by the best amateurs around the world, with each member currently able to send just one rider, either a male or female, to represent them. “There is a minimum of five wins required to ride in the series and every country can decide who they send, but normally they should be the champion. Ideally they should be the best and if not, they must be one of the best.”     Hennau regularly speaks about the emphasis on quality riders competing in the series. “I am not worried about quantity; I care about the quality. By that I mean the quality of riding ability, which is the first element, but also the quality of values.” He then explains the other key component of selection to race as part of FEGENTRI: “It is also important that the riders represent our values, and the message to our members is please send a rider that corresponds to our values of courage, honour, elegance, and fair play. It is only when a member has a rider of the right quality who holds the right values that they should be put forward.”    It’s by ensuring quality amateurs are in place to ride and through sticking to these values that Hennau can have confidence in the capabilities of riders taking part in FEGENTRI, and he is keen to press the point home to help ensure the series continues to thrive. “It’s a combination of having racing authorities that understand the need to keep this alive, of having local clubs that explain the series to their trainers, and going to those trainers to tell them that we need their help.” He is aware and understands that some trainers, especially in the major racing jurisdictions where the quality of horse is that much higher, may have some reservations about trusting an unknown rider to give their charge a safe ride that they are happy with. However, he believes that these reservations are misguided. “My message is that we have top quality riders. I want to let trainers know that the boys and girls riding in these races will be top-quality riders, comparable to the best amateur riders you could have in your own country”.    In some cases those assurances will not be enough to ensure a good entry for the FEGENTRI races, and in France it helped when the prize money on offer for the series was slightly higher than is usually offered for races of the same class. That idea is one Hennau would like to expand, but there can be no assurances on that front, so for now he hopes trainers will take him on his word that the riders are good enough. “It’s important that trainers put horses in these races and give these foreign riders a chance. We need to keep this thing alive, keep amateur racing alive and give it a chance. It is only for a few races a year in each country.”    It’s clear, even after a short conversation, that Elie Hennau is extremely passionate about the value of amateur riders to the sport generally and the way that FEGENTRI can highlight that value. “This international championship must be seen as a window. It is something for local amateur riders to look at and aim for. For example, the current champion for the ladies is a Belgian; she rides really, really well, and you can’t imagine the impact for the other Belgian amateur riders. I have seen it myself, they look up to her and find motivation to be better and to improve.”     Improving the FEGENTRI series is something Hennau strives for, but before building, solid foundations must be in place. “I think globally we are doing okay and we receive a lot of assistance from some countries and authorities, but I don’t think amateur racing is valued the same everywhere, and I think there is a job to be performed in making all racing authorities understand what amateur racing can bring.”    In Britain and Ireland the importance of amateurs to the sport, especially in Jumps racing, is clear to see, and with that in mind the president is keen to welcome back those two countries to the fold after they recently left the federation. “It was before I was president that they left and I am not sure of all the details, but FEGENTRI is about friendship and earlier this year we let a couple of the English riders ride in a race in Milan. They were so thankful and so happy and since then I have been speaking to the people in England a lot and I hope to have them and Ireland back very soon.”    The return of Britain and Ireland would certainly be a boost, but with or without them, plans are afoot for FEGENTRI to grow. “I was elected in March and have been looking at the regulations to help them evolve, not just to keep it alive but to broaden it on the racetrack, and I’m really enjoying it. We want to bring in some new ideas, like a grand slam and possibly growing the number of participants eligible from each country.”    The ‘grand slam’ is set to be Hennau’s big project. The FEGENTRI series has already added some prestige to its roster with a race taking place on the Prix De Diane card at Chantilly, something Hennau describes as “a really great opportunity for the amateurs.” It is an opportunity he wants to build on, and the creation of the grand slam is the way he plans to do it. The idea is for there to be six-to-10 races that make up the grand slam. These will be staged on Grade 1 tracks at some of the big meetings, providing an outstanding opportunity and experience for the riders, and coverage for the series sponsor. Explaining the idea further, Hennau says, “We need to think about the exact selection criteria but it will be boys and girls, the crème de la crème of amateurs riding in the same race.”    Hennau reports that the plan has found favour with the likes of Louis Romanet (chairman of the IFHA) and Brian Kavanagh (chief executive HRI / vice-chairman IFHA). “We have already done a lot of work on it and just need to fine-tune the details a little bit. Most of our members are completely behind the idea, and all will be once the fine-tuning is done. We then need to put it to the authorities and fit it into the racing calendar of 2019.”    With plans for the grand slam moving apace, Hennau is looking at further challenges to expand and enhance FEGENTRI, which now consists of only Flat races, by re-establishing a presence over the jumps.     He believes the general decline of Jumps racing outside of Britain, Ireland, and France has impacted the number of opportunities for amateur riders over obstacles, and it has become “a real struggle” to find jumping opportunities for amateurs outside of those countries. He wants to take on the challenge of trying to reverse that decline. “It’s a challenge because we want it to be a challenge. We could decide not to help the Jumps racing but we want to help as it’s in our DNA, and we will do everything we can to help Jumps racing.”  There are already talks underway to move FEGENTRI into Jumps racing, as Hennau explains. “This year we were approached by the Crystal Cup, which has races on all of the famous cross-country tracks across Europe, and we are planning to add FEGENTRI races at these prestigious courses as part of the Crystal Cup.” In addition, another partnership with a Jumps series is also in the pipeline. ‘The Gentleman’s League’ is a European jump championship for gentleman riders set up by Gonzague Cottreau, Maxim Denuault, Patrick Mullins, and Freddy Tett, and this is due to team up with FEGENTRI. “They have already organised a few races and I have talked to them quite a lot this year. We have agreed to help them host their races in the FEGENTRI and so we will be organising their championship next year.”    There’s little doubt that Elie Hennau has the drive to move FEGENTRI forward, and with progress on the horizon, it will soon be in evidence for all to see. For now, he seems happy with the progress being made but there is a long-term goal. “The dream would be to have an amateur race at the Olympic Games but that really is a dream because as we all know that would be very difficult. But it’s the dream, and if we could do it then it would be great for the sport to be seen on that platform.”

EUROPEAN EDITION - ISSUE 61 - APRIL TO JUNE 2018

By Chris Dixon

Courage, honour, elegance, and fair play. That is the list of values that underpin the ethos of the Fegentri – the International Federation of Gentlemen and Lady Riders. They are values that Elie Hennau refers to regularly as he speaks with enthusiasm and pride about the organisation of which he is now president, and his own career as an amateur rider.

Elie Hennau 2017.JPG

 

“I won the Amateur Riders’ Derby at Epsom in 1999 on a 25/1 shot and beat Ryan Moore who was second on one for his father. My whip did not comply with the British standards and I had to borrow one. It was Frankie Dettori who gave me his whip for the race so I beat Ryan using Frankie’s whip – this is probably the thing I’m most proud of in my whole life!”

Now 44, Hennau held down a full-time job whilst enjoying a 15-year spell in the saddle, during which time he rode in around 1000 races and partnered almost 100 winners. As a rider in the Fegentri series he met new friends, experienced different countries, and got a great thrill from the sport. Racing helped him grow, and now it’s time to give something back. “If I’m completely transparent then this wasn’t the best time in my life to take on this presidency as I already have too many things to do and this is an unpaid job. But I do it for the love of the sport. Maybe I was expecting to do this when I was a little older, but the opportunity was there and I wanted to give back to racing all of the great things racing gave to me.”

Created by a group of enthusiastic amateurs at St. Moritz in 1955, Fegentri has expanded and developed into an organisation whose membership currently consists of ‘clubs’ in 23 different countries across four continents and has a high-profile sponsor in Longines. The mission of the organisation is to promote international races for amateur riders and to organise the Fegentri World Championship. As Hennau explains, “We don’t organise the races as such, but we provide the riders for them and organise the championships. There are two world championships, one for gentleman riders and one for lady riders. This year there were 60 races across 40 different tracks in 15 different countries, and we had seven gentleman riders and 10 lady riders.”

Not every member sends a representative every year, and the idea is for the series to be contested by the best amateurs around the world, with each member currently able to send just one rider, either a male or female, to represent them. “There is a minimum of five wins required to ride in the series and every country can decide who they send, but normally they should be the champion. Ideally they should be the best and if not, they must be one of the best.”

Hennau regularly speaks about the emphasis on quality riders competing in the series. “I am not worried about quantity; I care about the quality. By that I mean the quality of riding ability, which is the first element, but also the quality of values.” He then explains the other key component of selection to race as part of Fegentri: “It is also important that the riders represent our values, and the message to our members is, ‘Please send a rider that corresponds to our values of courage, honour, elegance, and fair play.’ It is only when a member has a rider of the right quality who holds the right values that they should be put forward.”

 Fegentri President briefing the Gentleman Riders in Madrid.

Fegentri President briefing the Gentleman Riders in Madrid.

It’s by ensuring quality amateurs are in place to ride and through sticking to these values that Hennau can have confidence in the capabilities of riders taking part in Fegentri, and he is keen to press the point home to help ensure the series continues to thrive. “It’s a combination of having racing authorities that understand the need to keep this alive, of having local clubs that explain the series to their trainers, and going to those trainers to tell them that we need their help.” He is aware and understands that some trainers, especially in the major racing jurisdictions where the quality of horse is that much higher, may have some reservations about trusting an unknown rider to give their charge a safe ride that they are happy with. However, he believes that these reservations are misguided. “My message is that we have top quality riders. I want to let trainers know that the boys and girls riding in these races will be top quality riders, comparable to the best amateur riders you could have in your own country.”

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