Olivier Peslier has been one of the world’s very best riders for 30 years. A four-time French champion, he has a list of international big-race victories to his name that is arguably unmatched - including four Arcs, two French Derbys, an Epsom Derby, an Irish Derby, seven Hong Kong International Races, four Dubai World Cup day races, three Arima Kinens, two Japan Cups and five Breeders’ Cup races (three on Goldikova in the Mile).
Even at 46, with a reduced schedule, he is currently as high as #57 in the TRC Global Rankings.
It is surely impossible to name a jockey who has been successful in more countries - Peslier has ridden winners in France, Britain, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Mauritius, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada and the U.S.
Thoughtful, as well as extremely knowledgeable, Peslier has long been an idol and mentor for many young riders in the French weighing room, and his views on the sport always carry plenty of weight.
Who do you think is the most important figure in the history of racing around the world?
For me, one of the people who has had the biggest influence on both racing and breeding has to be Prince Khalid Abdullah. I was lucky enough to ride some good horses for him, and I even won the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf on Banks Hill in his famous colours.
Every jockey dreams of wearing those colours. The one horse of his that I would have loved to have ridden is definitely Frankel; what an impressive horse he was.
The breeding operation Prince Khalid has created is phenomenal, and they manage to produce a champion almost every year. It is such an impressive achievement to have won the best races all over the world and with horses trained by many different trainers too.
Which is your favourite venue and race (anywhere in the world)?
That is easy, Ascot! I love Longchamp too, obviously, but the week of Royal Ascot is a special occasion when the best horses in the world come together to race. It is not just the racing either, the atmosphere is unbelievable with everybody dressed up in their finest, all hoping to get a glimpse of the Queen. It is pure class!
To be able to say that you won even one race at Royal Ascot is a huge deal for any jockey. From the impressive grandstand when you step out onto the beautiful track to the atmosphere when you return to the winners’ enclosure, it is everything that I love about racing.
My favourite race in the world would have to be the Arc. Every French jockey dreamed of winning the Arc as a child, and I was lucky enough to achieve that four times.
I grew up seeing paintings and statues of Arc winners and, after winning my first Arc, it was incredible to think that I would be in some of those artworks for future generations to see. It brings together the champions, both 3-year-olds and older horses, from all over Europe and beyond at the end of the season. It is a true championship race. (Watch Peslier’s most recent Arc triumph - in 2012 aboard Solemia).
What is your fondest memory in racing?
I have so many wonderful memories from my career, but the years I spent in Japan are very special to me. It was an incredible sensation to have 180,000 people applauding and shouting “Peslier, Peslier” as I cantered past the grandstand on my way to the winner’s enclosure. That is twice the capacity of the Stade de France!
That feeling and the goose bumps I used to get when riding in front of the Japanese crowds are something I have never experienced in any other country in the world.
What do you see as the biggest challenge racing faces today?
The biggest problem facing us here in France is actually getting people to come to the races. They don’t have the same issue in the UK as racing is in their genes there. People come racing in France to bet and that is obviously very important, but we also need to show them that racing is a sport too.
People love football as a sport, whether they bet on it or not, and they are willing to spend €150 on a jersey or €200 to go and see a match. We need to change people’s perception of racing and the best way to do that is to get them to come to the races. The French racing public are getting older, and there currently isn’t a younger generation of fans coming behind to replace them, which is a real concern for our sport.
If you could change one thing in racing, what would it be?
I wish our racecourses were more accessible by public transport. In Japan, just like at some tracks in the UK or Australia, you can take a train that stops at a station right on the racecourse.
Chantilly is easy enough for the public to get to, but that is not the case for somewhere like Longchamp or Saint Cloud. Half the time, when you get in a taxi to go to one of those racecourses, the driver doesn’t even know where they are.
I would love racing to have the same stature in France that it does in other countries, so that the public could get to know the equine and human stars of our sport. The English public know the top jockeys over there, but, if I tell someone in France that I am a jockey, they think I mean a DJ!