DEPENDING on your interpretation of the facts, it’s easy to portray the outlook for racing in France as either overwhelmingly positive or frighteningly negative.

On the plus side, the prize money is the best in Europe and the biggest racecourses and training centres offer excellent modern facilities, often in highly sought-after and picturesque locations.

On the back of a jump in turnover at the world’s third largest pool betting company, the PMU, France Galop was last month able to announce a remarkable 12% increase in the prize money for 2022 compared to the current season. In total, €278 million will be up for grabs next year.

The other side of the coin is that French flat trainers seem less and less capable of defending their biggest races from the plundering foreign hordes.

And, with some notable exceptions (and Covid restrictions have made the cogent analysis of figures almost impossible over the past two years), racecourse attendances continue to lag way behind those achieved by their Irish and British counterparts.

The champions of 2021

ANDRÉ Fabre will be officially acknowledged as France’s champion flat trainer for a scarcely believable 31st occasion come the turn of the year.

It has not been a great season for the 76-year-old, far from it. Just two Group 1 successes and 13 other pattern race victories is below average for a man of his stature. But a prize money hoard of around €5.4 million, achieved by some 180 different horses, still leaves him over a million clear of the 2020 champion, Jean-Claude Rouget.

With the recent police drug raid casting doubt over the achievements of the Marseille-based Rossi training clan, Frederic Rossi and his nephew, Cedric, the most upwardly mobile trainer of the season was another Marseille resident, Jérôme Reynier.

He finished seventh in the trainers’ table and was the most prolific French trainer in Group 1s thanks to Skalleti scoring twice at the top level (including one in Germany) and Marianafoot completing an eight-timer in the Group 1 LARC Prix Maurice de Gheest.

The flat jockeys championship has been a singularly unsatisfactory competition this year, helping prompt the French Jockeys Association to take action and change the rules for the ‘Cravache d’Or’ (Golden Whip) for 2022.

Threw away

Just when Pierre-Charles Boudot was proving beyond reasonable doubt that he was the dominant name in the French weighing room, following up his 12 Group 1 successes during the previous campaign with a rapid start to the season which saw him notch his century of winners in early May (double his nearest rival), he threw it all away.

Boudot, 28, was then charged with rape of a female work-rider on the night of February 17th, and taken into custody alongside his friend and fellow jockey Pierre Bazire, who was charged with the lesser offences of failing to report a crime and intimidation of a witness.

The pair were released on bail and, while France Galop conceded that they should be presumed innocent until the case has been tried in court, racing’s governing body still felt that allowing them to continue riding would risk damaging the image of the sport, so they have been suspended ever since, with a court date yet to be set.

In Boudot’s absence, a close fight between the reigning champion, Maxime Guyon, and Mickael Barzalona, looked set to enliven the closing weeks of the year. However, with the pair almost level in the standings, Guyon announced his intention to stick to a long-standing plan of taking the entire month of December off for a holiday, in effect handing Barzalona the substantial Christmas gift of a first title.

This is not an isolated case of a top French rider choosing to go abroad during the winter rather than fight out a 12-month long Championship battle. Having canvassed its membership, the French Jockeys Association has decided to move the goalposts, initially for a trial period lasting until the end of 2023, making only winners ridden between March 1st and October 31st count towards the Cravache d’Or.

Jump jockeys

The jump jockeys championship does, however, remain a year-long competition. In 2021 it will be won by the expatriate Yorkshireman, James Reveley, whose prowess in the saddle has shone like a beacon for some years now but, until this term, has found persistent injuries torpedoing his chances of adding to the title he won in 2016 – the first season that he was predominantly based on the eastern side of the English Channel.

In the jumps trainers’ division, Francois Nicolle, who spent over two decades with a licence prior to notching his initial Grade 1 triumph and was almost old enough to draw his pension before he grabbed his first trainers’ crown in 2018, continues to make up for lost time.

Winning machine

Led by the sometimes wayward-jumping hurdling winning machine, L’Autonomie, and Poly Grandchamp, who snapped an 11-race losing streak to grab a highly unlikely victory in autumn’s top steeplechase, the Prix La Haye Jousselin, Nicolle will not be far off breaching the €10 million prize money barrier come year’s end.

This will be his fourth straight title and his prize haul will be more than double of his nearest challenger and old rival, Guillaume Macaire, who now shares his licence with his former assistant, Hector de Lageneste.

L’Autonomie remains the highest rated jumper in training despite her defeat in the Grand Prix d’Automne by Galop Marin, who has now landed that end-of-season Grade 1 four times in a row yet is just two wins from 20 starts in other races since that 2018 triumph.

There can be little doubt about the identity of France’s top chaser as the Louisa Carberry-trained Docteur De Ballon carried off the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris for a second straight year. Sadly, a minor injury meant that he has not been seen since May.