“The horse makes the trainer”
According to racehorse trainer Philippe Van de Poële, what makes a good trainer is their ability to make judgment calls.
It is 6:00 AM in Deauville and Philippe Van de Poële begins the daily training of the first of his four lots of horses. Each lot counts 6 racehorses. The mounts switch elegantly from walk to trot, then walk again and swinging gallop on 1,500 m. Before going back to the stables, the training ends with a canter (a warm-up gallop). The trainer watches thoroughly the horses' gait, looks out for potential stiffness, listens to their breathings and gauges their moods.
Gauging the horse“What makes a good trainer is their ability to gauge the horse”, says Van de Poele who inherited his passion of horseback riding from his family. This ability proves useful when dealing with horse owners. They can hire the trainer beforehand to find the next champion so that they can buy it. Then, the trainer, together with the owners, has to choose in which races to run, select which horses to make compete and handpick the jockeys to ride them. Afterwards, the trainer is expected to express his opinion on the quality of the investment. When the horse is 2.5 years old, the trainer must be able to tell the owner if his horse has gold in his legs or if he should consider selling the mount.
Racehorse trainer Philippe Van de Poële
“What makes a good trainer is their ability to gauge the horse”, Philippe Van de Poële
The horses he trains are worth between €15,000 and €40,000. Their owners must also pay a monthly fee of about €1,800 for a stall in a racing stable. Miscastings can cost a lot of money. Being both a manager and an advisor is a unique skill-set which helps the best trainers make a name for themselves in the equestrian world. Since trainers only receive a share of the winning race purse, their interests are aligned with those of the owners. This allows for trust in their relationships. The owners receive 79%, trainers 10% and the rest is divided between jockeys (7%), the racing stable (3%) and 1% goes to a welfare fund for jockeys.
Success is unpredictableEvery afternoon, Philippe Van de Poële trades his boots for a suit and goes to the racetracks. He was too tall and heavy to become a jockey. So now, he lives the adrenaline of racetracks through the jockeys’ eyes and hopes one of his horses will finish first. “Unlike Formula 1, the fun in horse racing lies in the fact that chance plays a major role”, he says. And he knows what he is talking about. In 2007, at the famous Hong Kong Cup, he managed the feat of placing third Musical Way, a mare bought for just €16,000, while the other contestants were worth over a million.
Then begins a virtuous circle. The mare's value soars and the racing stable is invited by race organizers, all expenses paid, to great international events like the Singapore Cup. Once the horse has gone through the ordeal that is the plane travel, being perfused in order to remain hydrated, it can shine for the whole world to see. However, when the horses do not meet success at the finish line, they are assigned to a lesser category via a handicap system similar to that of tennis or golf. This way they can return to success and earn money. And when owners find their horses do not yield enough money they can part with it during "selling races". They work on an auction systems where bids are placed secretly prior to the race.
Both humble and realistic, Philippe Van de Poële confesses that “the horse makes the trainer” and not the other way around.
Crédits photo : Pluris