Jean-Claude Pecout: the rebirth of an avid traveller
Jean-Claude Pecout started training at Al Ain this season where he soon recorded his first victory on Emirati soil thanks to Brraq in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (Gr1 PA).
The horse: an instinctive attachment
"It's thanks to my mother that I became a trainer. She had bought a mare in Ireland but didn't want to entrust her to the care of my father [editor’s note: a then trainer]. They were divorced and she told me that I needed to prove to her that I could win races. That's how I became a trainer. When I set up shop in France, my mother and my uncles helped me a lot. I won my first flat race with Reine des Forêts (Paris Jour) who was owned by my mother. My first win over jumps was recorded at Toulouse via Roi des Cabanes (Aerosol). He was bred by my godfather Marcel Pecout. My uncle, Francis Pecout, worked at the one of French regional studs at Pompadour before going on to oversee the broodmare band [editor’s note: several important bloodlines and highly influential PA sires have passed through the doors of this institution]. I have other cousins and uncles which either have horses or have bred them. My sister, Dominique Pecout, has a mare in training with François Nicolle's, Datcha des Mottes (Maresca Sorrento). To sum up, it's instinctive in our case..."
A combination of circumstances
"I had to stop training in France for the same reasons as many other professionals. Namely, because it's a job in which you don’t make any money, and which more pertinently drains the cash reserves. I don't know many trainers which get rich... One day, a friend advised me to head to Tunisia and notably to Monastir. I went there with the idea of bringing horses to Tunis so as to break them in before sending them back to France. However, I realised that this was very expensive. Subsequently, the director of racing at Monastir phoned the big boss of Tunisian racing at the time, Monsieur Benjelilla. So the next day I went to Tunis to meet him. He offered me the job of overseeing the Tunisian apprentices’ school, which I accepted. Meanwhile, President Bourguiba's nephew, Sami Torgeman, informed me that he knew a Tunisian who was looking for a trainer. It proved to be a member of the Chergui family in the shape of the father Nourredine: the owner of the Olivier Rouge Stud. I remained in Tunisia for almost two and a half years. However, one day it dawned upon me that I fallen out of love with the job and so I left. I returned to France and worked as a newspaper delivery driver at night. It didn't faze me at all. As I had family members which worked in the transport business. That is until the day when Rémy Mongil, the father of William, with whom I was very friendly, phoned me. I got to know William when I was in Toulouse and he even rode my very first French runner. Rémy asked me if I wanted to up sticks and go to Morocco and work for Monsieur Hakam. It didn't happen. Sometime later he called me again, this time on behalf of Monsieur Sedrati... and I ended up accepting and staying for 14 years."
Two intellectual mentors
"I have had winners on the flat and jumps alike and this applies to English thoroughbreds (delete purebreds) and Anglo-Arabians alike... We’re only as good as the horses we train. It’s the horses which are the makers of men. We try to understand them and they enable us to progress. They take us to the top of the mountain. I have great respect for my former boss, the late Paddy Prendergast, having been his assistant in Ireland. He is the father of trainers, Patrick Jnr. and Kevin. On arrival I didn't speak a word of English. He would talk to me about mares and how to train them... I learned a lot. He was a great man. I was very good friend with the Aga Khan’s stud manager, Ghislain Drion. Paddy Prendergast didn't say a lot but just to see him swaying in rhythm with his horses when they rolled in the sand [editor’s note: he ensured that his horses were unsaddled and rolled in the sand after training], was fabulous. There was a real affinity between them. I perhaps learned my craft with PA horses by observing a Tunisian trainer who was to become a friend, Mohamed Ben Ali. He has since forged a great reputation in Morocco. "
The PA horse speaks to the heart
"It’s true that I’ve also won PA races in France and notably via Gafsa du Moureou (Tidjani), a dual winner at Pompadour, for Monsieur Soueges. I also trained Sisinius (In Chaalah III), who came to me via Adolphe Hardy, for Monsieur Plantin. I ran him in Britain where he was second. I also handled the grandam of a smart Moroccan performer, Mazoga de Ladoux (Tidjani), and she was born at the establishment of a man in the market garden trade based near Toulouse, Yves Minuzzo. She never raced but I trained her daughter, Aabir (Amer), and she proved herself to be one of the best Moroccan mares of her generation. Initially, I trained PA horses for pleasure, as outlined. I really got involved after my time in Tunisia, as I found the breed to be very attractive and more intelligent than English thoroughbreds. It was fun to watch them go about their business, and now I simply adore 'my little Arabian thoroughbreds'. Some will say that they should be trained in the same way as English thoroughbreds. I keep them under intense observation. I let those who are keen to work get on with it, and endeavour to rekindle the enthusiasm of those whose appetite for the game has diminished. It's up to us to understand them. If you show an Arabian horse the correct way of doing things he will respond accordingly. He’s a fast learner when it comes to the correct and incorrect way of doing things. We work on the mental side. However, this isn’t specific to PA horses as it’s also applicable to English thoroughbreds. The late François Mathet used to say that those horses which aren’t so talented must be instilled with the desire to excel themselves. I’m not sure of the exact wording but that’s the gist. In common with human beings, some are stronger than others, but sometimes the less strong ones prove to be the greater achievers on account of their superior willpower. We are the masters of nothing. The horse holds sway."
The ups and downs
"I have won almost everything in Morocco. Monsieur Sedrati told me that I would be considered a great trainer once I had won the Grand Prix de Sa Majesté le Roi Mohammed VI. I achieved this in 2009 with the Thami Zergane-ridden Moubtassim (Leeroy de Chaillac), and I was also successful for same owner abroad thanks to Blue Denim (Singspiel), an English thoroughbred mare, after she landed the Mijas Cup at Mijas [editor’s note: the track closed its doors in August 2012], near Malaga, in Andalucia. We beat French, Spanish and Irish opposition that day. We then travelled to Libya to contest a prestigious race in Tripoli. We got beaten a head [editor's note: by the ‘Lerner’ trained Blue Matrix] because the owner had wanted Blue Denim to be ridden in a certain way. He remained tight-lipped afterwards (laughing). In any case, I think my record speaks for itself. I've trained good horses and have successfully rehabilitated others that have since enjoyed winning streaks. After my contract with Mr Sedrati expired, I was offered the position of overseeing the trainers’ academy in Morocco. However, it took a long time to set up and I didn't see anything coming of it. Happily, Thami Zergane was very supportive during the period when I was out of work, and a great friendship between us was born. During the difficult times, I also regretted a bit turning down offers to work for the stables of Monsieur Karimine and Madame Bengeloun, but I couldn’t accept as I was still under contract at the time. I think I’m straight with others and humble to boot. However, I’m happy with what I’ve achieved and still have many friends in Tunisia and Morocco."
On the rebound
"After the period spent in Morocco, I decided to return to France to be reunited with my family. In the meantime, Jean de Roüalle, whom I knew from time in Morocco, suggested that I should set up shop at the United Arab Emirates hub, Al Ain. I accepted after paying a visit there. Here at Al Ain, as in Morocco, it’s not a case of starting out from scratch. As no stone is left unturned as far as the training is concerned – both in terms of infrastructure and personnel. Furthermore, working for His Highness Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and enjoying his trust is a great honour. Any self-respecting trainer would want to come to a country such as this on account of the facilities, and given the possibility of having one’s profile raised somewhat. I’m unfamiliar with some of the horses, but I was lucky enough to win my first Gr1 PA race with the Adrie de Vries-ridden Brraq (Mahabb). He’s the best jockey on the local circuit in my opinion. I had seen him ride in Germany and Belgium, and he knows William Mongil who is a great friend of mine. Adrie will be the first choice rider of the stable. He rode Ma'Aaly (Baher), one of my charges, the other day. The horse had previously raced up with the pace. I told him to the ride the horse as he saw fit. He rode him from off the pace and the combination finished like the proverbial train and were beaten a whisker into second. He would have won in another stride. I like jockeys which are capable of making decisions, and ones that aren’t simply tied down to riding to orders. I also have Aoun (Mahabb), formerly with Antoine de Watrigant, in the yard. He was third the other day but the horse would have been second in another stride. He’s somewhat of a rascal. We're not planning on a change of jockey, as he knows him now. He should race again on the January 28th. Jugurtah de Monlau (Al Mamun Monlau), formerly with David Morisson, also has ability. He bears the imprint of the Monlau breeding academy, and namely that of Marie-Ange Bourdette. I’m well acquainted with her, David Morisson and Antoine de Watrigant... My father, Jean, was a jockey before becoming a trainer. He was also the first jockey of the Watrigant family and rode for Xavier, the father of Antoine."
Doing his bit for his son
"I still feel have a zest for travel and the work ethic. Today I am here, but tomorrow I could be elsewhere. I was even offered a job in Qatar but I told them that I was contracted to Sheikh Mansoor. However, if I'm here, it's also to help my son Matthieu, 20, currently serving his farrier’s apprenticeship at Chantilly, and doing very well by the way. I'm doing it for him because as I could stay at home in the Corrèze region or at Toulouse. At the age of 66, you're not going to reject the offer of money. We need it so much. I took my son with me to Morocco when he was 3-years-old. I raised him up and gave him a good education, I think. He works in Chantilly and tends to the horses from the Fabre, Royer Dupré yards, and even the Graffard stable. He is respected and his boss tells me he will make a very good farrier. I'm very proud of him and happy too."
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