Jarnet: not really a bad rider for a French jockey

Greg Wood on the man saddled with an unfair reputation
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Thierry Jarnet has a fair idea of what to expect if Pennekamp - for whatever reason - fails to win the Derby this afternoon.

Three years ago, riding Subotica in the Coronation Cup, Jarnet failed utterly to adapt to Epsom's unique geography. Caught napping and boxed in with three furlongs to run, he extricated the subsequent Arc winner far too late to catch Saddlers' Hall. Punters and press alike heaped bile and contempt on him as he retreated wearily to Chantilly.

A year later he was back, but now as the reigning French champion jockey, to ride Apple Tree, again in the Coronation Cup. Once more his performance was anything but polished, and Apple Tree was demoted from second place to third. Further proof, everyone decided, that French jockeys just cannot ride Epsom.

Jarnet, though, is not a quitter, and he returned to Surrey last year for one more go with Apple Tree. His performance was faultless, with Apple Tree a comfortable winner. It was an ideal example of the single-minded determination which makes Jarnet such a natural ally for Andre Fabre, and the partnership between trainer and jockey all but irresistible.

The English prejudice against French riders remains, however - and who can be surprised when even Fabre recently commented that "Jarnet is not a bad rider, for a French jockey". Everyone remembers Freddie Head arriving at Tattenham Corner on Lyphard in 1972 and forgetting to turn left. The truth, though, is that Epsom simply requires a little practice - British riders take time to learn Longchamp, too - and Jarnet's talents must not be underestimated.

After all, he rode his first winner only 10 years ago, at Cagnes-sur- Mer, but has now been the French champion since 1992. He has arrived at the top through hard work - a photograph of Jarnet outside a night club would be a rarity to merit hanging in the Louvre - and with an effective mid-Atlantic style developed during a spell in the United States in his apprentice days.

"He's a very fine young rider and he's having so much success right now that he's full of confidence," Cash Asmussen, who rides against Jarnet on the French circuit, says. Asmussen also points out that "I'd like to say that the pilot is the important thing at Epsom, because then they'd have to pay us more money. But it's the horse that matters, and if the horse doesn't like it there's just nothing you can do about it."

If Pennekamp wins, the punters will acclaim the horse. If he is beaten, they will vent their fury on Jarnet, even if he is the last person to blame. It is fortunate, perhaps, that he speaks not a word of English.