For Coleridge, ‘…the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us’. Not in racing it isn’t. However sharp the instincts of bright young apprentices on the way up, however exciting the pace shown by a novice horse on the home gallops, there is simply no substitute for racecourse experience. Odd, then, that English trainers have mostly been slow to make use of one of the world’s most battle-hardened front-line jockeys, who has chosen this season to base himself in Britain.
Gérald Mossé, whose strong Gallic features and courteous charm would never have him taken for anything but a Frenchman, now has a home in Newmarket and on the July course earlier this month he rode a double to catch any racing man’s eye. On Ed Walker’s Royal Intervention he showed perfect judgment of pace, leading all the way to take the Listed Betway Empress Fillies’ Stakes by four lengths. In the very next race, Mossé was told by trainer David Elsworth to come late: he brought his free-running mount Sir Dancealot to the front only in the final 100 yards to grab the leader and win the Group Three Criterion Stakes. Two copybook races.
Mossé, who first started in France with François Boutin and Patrick-Louis Biancone, was for eight years first-choice jockey for the Aga Khan and has ridden 65 Group One winners. He won the Arc on Saumarez and partnered the electric Arazi when he was Europe’s champion. He then spent a long spell in Hong Kong, racing’s fieriest crucible of competition, where his 2,300 winners are the all-time record. ‘Riding there improved me. You do a lot by instinct but there things happen so quickly that it really teaches you and sharpens your reactions. After Hong Kong, races in other places have by comparison seemed to be in slow motion.’
He politely refuses to name a favourite victory: ‘When you’ve ridden so many excellent horses, it becomes hard to choose though I’m tempted to say “the last winner I rode”.’ One senses, though, a particular warmth for Americain, on whom he became the first French jockey to win the Melbourne Cup in 2010.
Mossé says of racing in Britain: ‘I always had it in mind. I like the English culture of horsemanship,’ and significantly one English trainer’s first comment about the Frenchman was: ‘He’s a proper horseman. There are plenty riding horses for whom
it is just a job. This guy loves horses.’
Mossé did not expect British trainers to deluge him with calls and initially found it hard picking up rides here because he had spent so much time riding in the Far East and wintered in Dubai. ‘It’s taken a little time to catch on that I am here. People were a little shy at first but I am a patient man and trainers here are beginning to realise I’m not completely cooked.’ Now aged 50, Mossé has fashion to contend with too, but with Frankie Dettori knocking 48, age isn’t the disadvantage it was once perceived to be. Even so, while long-established trainers like David Elsworth and Luca Cumani, for whom Mossé rode a good winner last Saturday, have been ready to employ his services, the younger set has been taking its time. Lambourn’s Ed Walker and Charlie Hills have been the exceptions rather than the rule in swiftly making use of Mossé’s talents, along with the likes of Clive Cox and Chris Wall who have used him on past forays to France.
Says Walker: ‘I’m only 35. I have grown up with Gérald Mossé as a household name but what is striking is how ambitious and hungry he still is. After riding at one track he’ll be heading off to Chepstow or Newcastle for a single mount in a 0–70 handicap, he’s still got that much enterprise. He’ll be walking the track in advance doing the things plenty of apprentices don’t bother to do. He’s been top of the game for 30 years and he still puts some youngsters to shame. He’s hungry to get on horses and it’s great to have his experience.’
Walker met Mossé because he is one of several trainers now handling horses for Dr Johnny Hon’s growing operation and it was Hon’s offer of a retainer to ride his horses that enabled Mossé to start basing himself here. Trainers such as Ed Walker, with Hong Kong clients, appreciate how Mossé understands them, their needs and their eagerness to qualify horses for the Hong Kong market. But how have the English jockeys taken his arrival? Talk to the courteous Mossé for a few minutes and it is hard to imagine nationality being a problem. Racing at the higher levels is an international game and he is no cocky interloper. He says that home-based riders have been friendly. ‘It’s become harder worldwide to be close to other jockeys but it is all about mutual respect. I find if I respect people they respect you.’