Global recognition the aim of a galloping gourmet

Richard Edmondson talks to Olivier Peslier, a jockey searching for the finer things in life
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The Independent Online
The French town of Cosse-le-Vivien lies in the region of Anjou, Touraine and Maine, which is famous for its eels and crayfish, fine white wines, and orchards full of primeurs, the baby vegetables which find their way into the finest Parisian homes.

The tastes of its most famous son go far beyond the home-grown produce, however. "I have eaten kangaroo, crocodile, alligator, snake and ostrich, which tastes like beef and chicken together," Olivier Peslier, the French champion jockey, says. "And of course I have eaten horse. It's good."

Peslier then not only bites the hand that feeds him. He also chews and swallows it. It is to his great good fortune that the species is stocked by bad communicators, because horses run for Peslier despite his appetite for chomping through their family. In fact, they run for him like few men alive.

The 27-year-old has this season taken the same journey as the William The Conqueror cruise line once navigated and with similar results.

He has completed almost a century of rides in Britain this campaign during the recesses of the French programme, 17 of them winners at a strike-rate of 36 per cent. A pounds 1 level stake on each of his mounts would have yielded a profit of over pounds 60, a statistic propped up by Royal Ascot winners at 33-1, 20-1 and 16-1.

This French produce clearly travels well, unlike compatriots of the past who found so much trouble on our racecourses that they might be have been supplied with saddles incorporating an airbag.

Peslier is different. He is in a rush to be understood both in and out of the saddle. His attempt at our foreign language is energetic rather than precise, but it is considerably better than Pat Eddery's French. Come to think of it, it is better than Pat Eddery's English.

"I am riding in England for my experience," Peslier says. "I want to ride everywhere in the world. And if I can ride good horses here it's easier for everyone when the horse comes to France.

"I think it's easier for a French jockey riding here than the other way round because the pace of the gallop is more regular. The best horse usually wins, but in France it is much slower and more tactical.

"As well, people don't realise how different it is here. There are many journalists, newspapers and television channels discussing racing. In France we have Paris-Turf and that is about it."

A by-product of the Republic's apathy towards the sport of the figures they beheaded is that Peslier wanders unrecognised in his homeland. When, on occasions, a bunch of dark-haired people point expensive camera equipment in his direction there is another at his side they have their sights on.

"Everybody seems to know the jockeys here and I think I'm more famous in England than I am in France," the rider says.

"When I walk down the Champs-Elysees with Yutaka Take all the Japanese tourists recognise him but they think I am his driver.

"I like the English jockeys because they try hard and they are used to riding everywhere in the world. The American jockeys ride only in America. I like Michael Kinane and Frankie Dettori, but a lot of jockeys are good on their day. Even the very best jockeys make mistakes and it is impossible to be a jockey and not make a mistake occasionally."

Peslier's luxurious Chantilly home must have seemed a world away for the stonemason's son. Certainly the estate agent thought so, and when Peslier first completed his inspection of the premises he was asked when his parents were going to arrive.

Dettori is now a regular visitor and when he turns up it seems right to open a bottle of Chateau Margaux '83 from the host's 400-strong cellar. "You can pay pounds 100 a bottle in the shops for some wines, but I have a good friend in St Emilion, near Bordeaux, and he buys for me," Peslier explains.

"I have very good relations with Frankie. We drink wine together. It's good to open a good bottle with a good friend. I have a lot of bottles. I like very good wine. It tastes good with something like pheasant."

As he talks about food and drink Peslier gives a typically Gallic action, making a cluster of his fingers and then kissing them. This is not a gesture you see here in a fish and chip shop or on a building site after the corned beef doorsteps have been removed from greaseproof paper.

Life is good for Peslier, whose daughter Megane will be two in September. He shares his life with Marie, a television reporter who had quite an effect on the decrepit rutting stags of the Channel 4 presentation team when she appeared with them on 2,000 Guineas morning back in May.

Her husband has already won an Irish Derby, a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and, this season, a Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) on Peintre Celebre. It seems there will be plenty more where they came from if Olivier Peslier maintains the extraordinary link he seems to be able to forge with racehorses all around the world.

And remember, when you see him whipping a horse in a finish there is no malicious intent in mind. He is just tenderising them.