Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Achard Restarts His Career, Claims His First Graded Win

Jockey Alex Achard may have caught some flack from his fellow riders over his celebration in the winning photograph from last Saturday’s Grade 3 Chicago Stakes at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill., but he hasn’t let that bother him. After all, it’s not every day you get your first graded stakes victory.

“A lot of people made fun of that, but I don’t really mind,” the 30-year-old Achard said. “I was so happy. I was confident before the race, but obviously it wasn’t easy. 

“When I handicapped the race, Brad Cox’s horse was really the horse to beat and after that the race was quite open; I guess I got such a good trip so that’s probably where I won the race.

“At that moment (at the finish line) I wasn’t really thinking about anything, I was just happy.”

Achard began his riding career in his native France, but made the decision to move to the United States in 2018. He knew the opportunities were more plentiful, but he didn’t know which part of the country to try first. 

“I had no clue where to go, absolutely no clue,” Achard said, laughing. “I’d been to the U.S. once before, galloping in California one winter, and when things weren’t working out in France after I lost the claim, I knew I wanted to come back to the U.S.

“I called Flo[rent Geroux], even though I didn’t know him very well, because when he left there was when I was starting to ride, so we kind of crossed paths with each other. I just knew who he was, and that he was successful.”

Geroux suggested Indiana because the grouping of racetracks in the region are all within driving or short flight distance, Achard said.

It’s taken several years to build up his business. When he first arrived, the jockey couldn’t find an agent and wound up making his living as an exercise rider.

“Obviously in France I did well years ago, but you restart from the bottom here,” Achard said. “Nobody knows you or what you’ve done in your own country. It was harder than I thought, I just thought I’d find an agent and it would be all right. When I couldn’t find anyone, I just started galloping for Tom Amoss in Indiana, breezing most of his workers. He sent me to Saratoga for the summer with a string of 10 to 12 horses. Obviously I didn’t race, but it was a great experience.”

After Achard returned to Indiana, he found an agent and picked up a few mounts at the end of the 2018 meet. He followed the local circuit to Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. for the winter, and earned a pair of seconds that December, but it wasn’t until March of 2019 that Achard finally got his first win in the U.S.

He wound up winning 17 races in 2019, and last year, despite the struggles and restrictions implemented by the pandemic, Achard improved his statistics to win 33 races and top $1 million in earnings. 

Achard’s first stakes win came in late summer of 2020 at Indiana Grand, winning the $100,000 Indiana First Lady Stakes on Aug. 26 aboard Wellington Wonder for trainer Michelle Lovell.

“I’m so happy for Alex,” Lovell told Indiana Grand’s publicity department after that win. “When he first got here, I saw him win for someone else and thought he could really ride. He has always liked this filly and he knows her really well. She only has one big stride and he knows how to time his move. He works so hard, so I’m glad to see him get his first stakes win.”

In 2021, Achard has already racked up 23 wins. He has able to travel around the Midwest much more due to the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions, and made a specific request to his agent to try to find mounts at Arlington Park.

“I just told my agent at the beginning of the year, this is the last year of Arlington, and I’ve never been and I want to see it,” Achard said. “I told her, ‘I want to ride there before it’s gone, even if the horse has three legs!’ I had just heard so many good things about it, and it’s really beautiful. It’s so sad to think that this might be the last year.”

The possibility of shutting down Arlington reminded Achard of a similar situation in France.

“They just did that to a big track in Paris last year, a beautiful racetrack where you could run 1 ¼ miles straight,” he explained. “There were only two racetracks in Europe where you can do that, Newmarket being the other, but they just shut down the track last year. That was pretty sad.”

Still, it was that drive to see Arlington Park, plus his willingness and desire to ride races at every available opportunity, that earned him the mount aboard the Anna Meah-trained Abby Hatcher in the Chicago Stakes.

The G3 was Meah’s first graded stakes win as well, and she credited a clever ride from Achard in her celebratory social media post.

Though he wasn’t raised in the sport of horse racing, Achard comes by his love of horses and competition naturally. Both his parents are involved in show jumping in France, and for a time during his youth they also exercised racehorses in the mornings.

“Actually, I grew up with horses, but I never wanted to learn how to ride because I was around horses every day and I wasn’t interested in riding,” Achard revealed. “It came up way later, when I started riding at 13 or 14, but I could have been on the horses at probably three years old.

“I just fell in love with the horses, and that’s the main thing you need. I also love racing, the competition of it, so it’s a good match for me.”

Looking forward, Achard says he can’t compare himself to the success of his fellow countrymen Julien Leparoux, Geroux, or even Flavien Prat, with whom he did ride a bit in France. 

“What I want is to ride the most winners I can, obviously if they are good races it’s even better,” Achard said. “I still have some work to do, but I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself, I just try to do my thing. I don’t compare myself to them, but if I can do some of what they’ve accomplished, that would be amazing.”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Achard Restarts His Career, Claims His First Graded Win appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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