Trainer Profile - Nicolas Clément

 Nicolas Clément   Monsieur le président      By Alex Cairns      The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is often cited as one of the races trainers would most like to win. To reach such a pinnacle generally takes a lifetime of steady building. Powerful owners must be recruited, facilities enhanced, elite stock acquired. So when three-year-old colt Saumarez landed France’s premier prize in 1990, his trainer Nicolas Clément signalled himself as a major outlier. In just his second full season with a licence and with his first Arc runner, he had become the youngest trainer ever to win the race. Aged 26, he went from relative obscurity to international renown. But this was no flash in the pan. With 30 years’ training experience now under his belt, Clément has proved he does consistency as well as precocity. And he will surely leave a notable legacy through both his on-track achievements and his actions as president of the French trainers’ association. We tracked Nicolas down on the wooded gallops of Chantilly to talk communication, competition, and cooperation.      VOCATION      Being raised in Chantilly is always likely to increase one’s chances of being involved in the racing world. Add in being the son of Classic-winning trainer Miguel Clément and Nicolas’ vocation appears predestined. It could have been very different however.     ‘I went to high school in Paris and my mother wanted me to go into business. We compromised with vet studies, but I only lasted two months and then told her I’d got a job on a farm in Normandy. I had always been drawn to horses and racing was my passion from a young age. I spent some time at Taylor Made in America, learning how the whole thing works straight from the farm. This gives a great understanding of the whole cycle; breeding to race and then racing to breed. After that I worked for John Gosden, Vincent O’Brien, and François Boutin. So I was lucky to learn from some of the best in the business. I then got my licence and set up in my father’s yard in 1988.’     This was the yard from which Miguel Clément had sent out Nelcius to win the Prix du Jockey Club in 1966, just one highlight from a successful career sadly cut short at the age of 42. Despite Miguel’s early death, Nicolas still feels a paternal influence.     ‘I was very young when my father died, so didn’t get the opportunity to learn as much as I might have from him. He was always an advocate of keeping your horses in the worst company and yourself in the best and I have certainly tried to follow that ethos. He was good friends with a lot of influential people such as Robert Sangster and he had many English and American owners. This open, international approach wasn’t so common in my father’s time and I took a lot from it.’     Taking on the family business in his mid-twenties surely came with a degree of pressure for Nicolas, but winning the Arc at the first attempt is not the worst way to establish one’s credentials.     ‘Winning the Arc at such an early stage of my career was exceptional, but it didn’t turn my head. I’ve always known this game is full of ups and downs. Saumarez’ victory definitely put my name out there all the same and helped me expand my stable, with more owners and better stock. Since then we’ve enjoyed more big days thanks to the likes of Vespone and Stormy River. Style Vendome won the French 2,000 Guineas for long-standing owner André de Ganay in 2013 and that was something special. I had bought him at the sales with my partner Tina Rau for less than €100,000. Not many sold at that price go on to be Guineas winners. In the past few seasons The Juliet Rose has been a wonderful filly for us. She took time, but excelled over a mile and a half.’      COMPETITION      With 30 years in the business, over 900 winners to his name, and over €30m earned, Clément can boast impressive stats. Racing’s fast pace won’t allow for resting on laurels however.     ‘Each season I set myself goals depending on the stock I’ve got. With 70 horses, which is the average I tend to have, I try to have at least 35 winners and any year in which we earn over €1 million including premiums is a good year. Most years we have reached this goal. Our number of stakes winners is also an important measure. If we manage six or seven black type horses I consider that a pretty good achievement.’     Being the youngest trainer to win the Arc is certainly a way to grab people’s attention, but might it have resulted in some middle-distance type-casting?     ‘Maybe in the early days, but I like to train any nice horse. Some people think that if you train one to win over a mile and a half in the Arc it means you are a mile and a half trainer, but I don’t like to be pinned down. I learnt a lot from François Boutin, who was brilliant with two-year-olds and I love to train them. I just wish I had a few more forward types these days, but I’m generally happy with the range I get through the yard. I would love to win more Classics and as many Group 1 races as possible. One race that has always attracted me is the Epsom Derby. And I’d like to win the English Guineas. We came very close with French Fifteen when he was second behind Camelot in 2012.’     Saumarez was owned by an American. French Fifteen by a Qatari. Style Vendome by a Frenchman. The Juliet Rose by a South African. It seems Miguel Clément’s international outlook really did leave a lasting impression on Nicolas.     ‘Racing is an international business these days and my owner profiles reflect this. I have quite a few from America, partly due to the fact that my brother Christophe trains over there. I send him some horses and once in a while he sends me an owner who would like to own in Europe. We also have owners from Ireland, Germany, England, Scandinavia, Switzerland, South Africa, and elsewhere. So it’s a very diverse group, spread across the globe. I am a great believer in communication and think you have to provide a proper information service in order to satisfy owners and spread the word. We have a good number of French owners too, but there is a lack of racing culture among the general public in France these days and if you have a newcomer owner then you have to explain so much. It’s not easy and of course training racehorses is a game where there tends to be a lot of bad news for the few moments of joy. That’s part of the reason I enjoy working with owner-breeders because they know the game is a rollercoaster and see things from a long-term perspective.’     What makes France such a draw for international owners?     ‘French racing has a lot of qualities. Firstly, there is great prize money, which is a huge plus. We’re running maidens for more than twice the prize money they run them for in England. There are also some very nice tracks such as Deauville, Chantilly, Longchamp, Saint-Cloud, Maisons-Laffitte, or Auteuil over jumps. Being based in Chantilly you have access to real quality tracks around Paris and can also ship horses abroad easily via Charles de Gaulle. The gallops here in Chantilly are wonderful, as is the case in Maisons-Laffitte, Pau, Royan, and elsewhere. Overall I think we’ve got a great model, I just hope that we can go forward and maintain it for years to come. There are certainly some adjustments that could be made, but I’m confident that the right people are in place to understand the current situation and make sure the right things happen to encourage the next generation of owners, trainers, bettors, and fans.’     So there are a lot of advantages to training in France, but this doesn’t mean building a career there is a walk in the park. You need only look down the list of trainers and owners in even a lowly French maiden to realise that there are formidable opponents vying for a slice of the pie.     ‘It is very competitive. Partly this is because more and more horses have been coming from abroad to be trained here and to race here. At the same time in France we have a significant presence from the big operations such as the Aga Khan, Juddmonte, Coolmore, or Godolphin and they are always difficult to compete with. I will go to the sales and pick up a €50,000 yearling and maybe it’ll do well, but it can be a struggle for smaller players to make an impact against those big owners, even if I enjoy the challenge.     ‘And we are now welcoming more foreign trainers. Anyone who has held a licence abroad can set up in France relatively easily. For the moment there are still not many English and Irish, but I think that could change soon, especially as there aren’t a lot of French assistant trainers coming through. The average age of trainers in France is 55 and some of the older trainers would be happy to welcome new trainers to the country, whether they’re from Poland, Germany, Italy, or anywhere, because they will want to sell their stables and there is a lack of potential buyers. These international arrivals mean more competition, but at the same time we need new people coming in with new horses and new owners because the number of horses in training is declining. It’s around 4% down for the last five years in fact.’ SUGGEST THAT WE LINK BACK TO CHANTILLY ARTICLE HERE      BIGGER PICTURE      Nicolas is clearly conscious of broader issues outside his own business and became president of the French trainers’ association (‘Association des Entraîneurs de Galop’) in March 2018. He was elected unanimously to take over from Criquette Head-Maarek, who had held the position for 20 years and retired in February 2018. With a busy yard to run, such a role might be considered an unwelcome burden, but Nicolas sees things differently.     ‘Life is about give and take. I have been fortunate in some ways in my life and career and I wanted to give back in whatever way I could. I was already a member of a few trainers’ councils and decided that I was ready to take on this new challenge. If I can have even a tiny input into trying to forge a new future for racing then I will do everything I can. It’s been a very busy period since March, but we have a great team who help me a lot and that makes it easier. We also now have several vice-presidents. Francis-Henri Graffard is brilliant with communication and also looks after other areas such as salary negotiation. Mikel Delzangles does quite a bit with the programme and is our treasurer. Philippe Decouze, who is based in Lyon, takes care of the rules of racing. Etienne Leenders represents the jumping side. Didier Prodhomme represents Maisons-Laffitte, the other France Galop training centre besides Chantilly, and is playing a key role in its restructuring.     ‘There is great support behind what we are doing, from trainers with operations of all different sizes, from all different parts of the country. I may be president, but it’s really a team effort and cooperation is key. Our vice-presidents and other trainers such as Rodolphe Collet and Corine Barande-Barbe all make a great contribution. Of course we all have to concentrate on our day-jobs, but we have one meeting a month and I delegate so that we can get things done together.’     What are some of the central issues to be addressed?     ‘There are a lot ex-trainers in difficult financial situations, with very little pension. One of the great things about the trainers’ association is that it can provide some social assistance to ex-trainers or trainers in financial difficulty. Criquette did great work on this and there are currently 20 to 30 trainers receiving support from us each month.     ‘A totally different project we have is a manure transformation plant where we can ‘methanise’ horse manure, which means deriving methane gas from our main waste product in order to create electricity. The government is very keen to avoid excessive dependence on nuclear energy and we have been working on this project for a while now. It’s a very long process with a lot of administration, but we hope to have something in place in 2019.’     ‘Another priority is communication. On the ground we have heard that a lot of trainers think the trainers’ association is very much Paris and Chantilly, but I want it to be truly national. If this is to be the case then communication is fundamental. We are putting together a website and I have been around the country a few times to exchange with my colleagues. There are some great characters and very talented people in our community. So I just have to listen to them and try to make a plan to address their concerns.’     ‘The big thing we have to address is maintaining and improving the overall appeal of our sport, which is unfortunately declining whether you look at new owners, attendance at the races, or the lack of staff. We are really at the crossroads of two models and need to modernise. There is a lot of politics in our game however and it can be difficult to change things, but if you have the right motivation and a positive attitude then there is progress to be made.’     An example of the sometimes-hindering influence of politics is the fact that there are two trainers associations in France. If union makes strength, then surely it would be preferable to speak with one voice?     ‘The second association is called AEP (‘Association des Entraîneurs Propriétaires’) and is run by fellow trainer Mathieu Boutin, whom I have a good relationship with. Of all the trainers in France, around a quarter are not affiliated to an association, about 15% are with AEP, and about 60% are with us. I believe the AEP was created when certain people believed that smaller trainers had to fight the bigger trainers, which I think is completely wrong. When you are a trainer, 90% of your concerns are shared by all other trainers. But obviously they want a programme where prize money is focused more towards the lower handicaps and claimers. Of course we need those races and they should be supported appropriately, but we need balance. Anyway, the two associations have a decent relationship. We agree on quite a few subjects and work together when we can.’      SUSTAINABILITY      Speaking with Nicolas Clément, one is struck by his passion, his articulacy, and his breadth of knowledge. He can speak with authority on diverse subjects and his rightful pride in the qualities of Chantilly and French racing in general is quite infectious. At the same time, he is frank in his assessments and does not seek to sugarcoat the fundamental challenges that racing is facing both in his home nation and abroad.     ‘The general health of French racing is good. Prize money is at a good level and there is a positive commercial culture among owners and breeders that keeps the whole racing economy going. There seems to be great demand for French stock, for the flat in Hong Kong, the US, and Australia, or for National Hunt in Ireland and England, which is very important for breeders and owners. It’s mainly the betting that has to be looked at. We have a big threat from the government’s sports betting company FDJ (‘Française des Jeux’) being privatised. This could lead to a situation where sports betting will swallow up a lot of the bets previously placed on horse racing. So we need to fight this and think about our product so as to better market our sport towards the new generation. From a trainer’s perspective, an issue we are finding is that yearling prices have gone up a lot as stallion fees have also risen and it is always a worry when your product is proving more difficult to acquire.’     ‘In terms of sustainability, there are big questions to be asked and we need to adapt to the contemporary context. The main arguments in our favour are the 150,000 people working in racing and also the fact that we are a great source of income for the government. Not only does the state receive around a billion euros from betting, it also derived significant income through the VAT on training fees or the sale of horses, for example. So within the next year or two we need to define how the new sports betting system is going to work. We used to have a monopoly and now it’s been opened up, but I don’t think they can play with losing 150,000 jobs. We need to reinvent ourselves, we need to make savings, and we need to think forward so as to ensure we have the right amount of prize money for each of the racing disciplines in France: flat, jumps, and trotting. Clients and investors need to have confidence that the prize money is there. We have €250m currently. That needs to be safeguarded and potentially enhanced with realistic five- and ten-year plans. A secure purse structure, combined with proper communication to enhance the sport’s public appeal, can help us reinvent ourselves and build for the long-term.’     Having exploded onto the international racing scene at Longchamp in October 1990, Nicolas Clément now finds himself as an elder statesman of the French training ranks. For some, success can dull inspiration. For Clément, it has only increased his aspirations.     ‘I’m still very hungry to compete at the top level. With my size of operation things can go up and down quite easily. We really depend on the one or two stable-stars who come along from time to time. You never know how things can change, but if we manage to generate a buzz about French racing and people are attracted by it then I am confident there can be good times ahead.’

Monsieur le président

By Alex Cairns

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is often cited as one of the races trainers would most like to win. To reach such a pinnacle generally takes a lifetime of steady building. Powerful owners must be recruited, facilities enhanced, elite stock acquired. So when three-year-old colt Saumarez landed France’s premier prize in 1990, his trainer Nicolas Clément signalled himself as a major outlier. In just his second full season with a licence and with his first Arc runner, he had become the youngest trainer ever to win the race. Aged 26, he went from relative obscurity to international renown. But this was no flash in the pan. With 30 years’ training experience now under his belt, Clément has proved he does consistency as well as precocity. And he will surely leave a notable legacy through both his on-track achievements and his actions as president of the French trainers’ association. We tracked Nicolas down on the wooded gallops of Chantilly to talk communication, competition, and cooperation.


VOCATION

Being raised in Chantilly is always likely to increase one’s chances of being involved in the racing world. Add in being the son of Classic-winning trainer Miguel Clément and Nicolas’ vocation appears predestined. It could have been very different however.

‘I went to high school in Paris and my mother wanted me to go into business. We compromised with vet studies, but I only lasted two months and then told her I’d got a job on a farm in Normandy. I had always been drawn to horses and racing was my passion from a young age. I spent some time at Taylor Made in America, learning how the whole thing works straight from the farm. This gives a great understanding of the whole cycle; breeding to race and then racing to breed. After that I worked for John Gosden, Vincent O’Brien, and François Boutin. So I was lucky to learn from some of the best in the business. I then got my licence and set up in my father’s yard in 1988.’

This was the yard from which Miguel Clément had sent out Nelcius to win the Prix du Jockey Club in 1966, just one highlight from a successful career sadly cut short at the age of 42. Despite Miguel’s early death, Nicolas still feels a paternal influence.

‘I was very young when my father died, so didn’t get the opportunity to learn as much as I might have from him. He was always an advocate of keeping your horses in the worst company and yourself in the best and I have certainly tried to follow that ethos. He was good friends with a lot of influential people such as Robert Sangster and he had many English and American owners. This open, international approach wasn’t so common in my father’s time and I took a lot from it.’

Taking on the family business in his mid-twenties surely came with a degree of pressure for Nicolas, but winning the Arc at the first attempt is not the worst way to establish one’s credentials.

‘Winning the Arc at such an early stage of my career was exceptional, but it didn’t turn my head. I’ve always known this game is full of ups and downs. Saumarez’ victory definitely put my name out there all the same and helped me expand my stable, with more owners and better stock. Since then we’ve enjoyed more big days thanks to the likes of Vespone and Stormy River. Style Vendome won the French 2,000 Guineas for long-standing owner André de Ganay in 2013 and that was something special. I had bought him at the sales with my partner Tina Rau for less than €100,000. Not many sold at that price go on to be Guineas winners. In the past few seasons The Juliet Rose has been a wonderful filly for us. She took time, but excelled over a mile and a half.’


COMPETITION

With 30 years in the business, over 900 winners to his name, and over €30m earned, Clément can boast impressive stats. Racing’s fast pace won’t allow for resting on laurels however.  

‘Each season I set myself goals depending on the stock I’ve got. With 70 horses, which is the average I tend to have, I try to have at least 35 winners and any year in which we earn over €1 million including premiums is a good year. Most years we have reached this goal. Our number of stakes winners is also an important measure. If we manage six or seven black type horses I consider that a pretty good achievement.’

Being the youngest trainer to win the Arc is certainly a way to grab people’s attention, but might it have resulted in some middle-distance type-casting?

‘Maybe in the early days, but I like to train any nice horse. Some people think that if you train one to win over a mile and a half in the Arc it means you are a mile and a half trainer, but I don’t like to be pinned down. I learnt a lot from François Boutin, who was brilliant with two-year-olds and I love to train them. I just wish I had a few more forward types these days, but I’m generally happy with the range I get through the yard. I would love to win more Classics and as many Group 1 races as possible. One race that has always attracted me is the Epsom Derby. And I’d like to win the English Guineas. We came very close with French Fifteen when he was second behind Camelot in 2012.’

Saumarez was owned by an American. French Fifteen by a Qatari. Style Vendome by a Frenchman. The Juliet Rose by a South African. It seems Miguel Clément’s international outlook really did leave a lasting impression on Nicolas.

‘Racing is an international business these days and my owner profiles reflect this. I have quite a few from America, partly due to the fact that my brother Christophe trains over there. I send him some horses and once in a while he sends me an owner who would like to own in Europe. We also have owners from Ireland, Germany, England, Scandinavia, Switzerland, South Africa, and elsewhere. So it’s a very diverse group, spread across the globe. I am a great believer in communication and think you have to provide a proper information service in order to satisfy owners and spread the word. We have a good number of French owners too, but there is a lack of racing culture among the general public in France these days and if you have a newcomer owner then you have to explain so much. It’s not easy and of course training racehorses is a game where there tends to be a lot of bad news for the few moments of joy. That’s part of the reason I enjoy working with owner-breeders because they know the game is a rollercoaster and see things from a long-term perspective.’

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