This is the second in a series of features looking at an indelible characteristic of so many facets of horse racing: it is a true family business.
Christophe Clement has been one of America’s leading trainers for about 25 years but one regret he hangs onto is that he did not have the chance to work with his father, Miguel, who was a top trainer in France.
Miguel Clement died in 1978 when Christophe was 12 years old. Still, Christophe was able to make his way in racing, gravitating to the U.S. and hanging out his own shingle in 1991. Today, he savors the opportunity to work with his own son, Miguel’s namesake, who has been his assistant since 2017.
“I’ve always wished I had gotten to work with my father,” Christophe said. “That’s one reason I feel so lucky to be able to do this with my son today.
“Our deal is to try to assess horses every day of our life, to work with the staff every day of our life, and to speak with owners every day of our life. We try to divide the job between the two of us, and to me, it works pretty well. The way the business is today I don’t think you can train as a single person and compete at the highest level, it has to be a team. The fact that you’re teaming up with your family is a great bonus.”
Miguel and Christophe spend winters and this year an extended spring both based at Payson Park Training Center in South Florida. When the stable moves back north to New York, the Clements split up: Miguel is based at Saratoga and Christophe spends about 5 days of the week at Belmont and two days with the division at Saratoga, with Christophe reversing that schedule during the Spa race meet.
Miguel, 28, estimated that he and his father talk on the phone 30 or 40 times a day when they are in different locations.
“We’re very close and we work well together,” said Miguel, who graduated from the University of Duke and the two-year Godolphin Flying Start Program before working for two years under trainer Hugo Palmer in England. “We compliment each other well. It’s nice bringing back ideas and new approaches, training ideologies and different perspectives and be able to discuss them and try to always learn something and always improve. You need to adapt.
“Our operation is always changing, the way we train the horses year to year, you name it. The game is always evolving, so we need to as well. Here’s one example: I spent a lot of stints with Mike de Kock in Dubai and then in South Africa with his son. Most of de Kock’s horses train barefoot. So, now we’ve started doing that with most of the horses at Payson Park. We’re breezing them at full speed with no shoes, and it’s very healthy. There’s no concrete at Payson, so we can do it safely.”
Christophe would embrace the opportunity to recognize Miguel’s role in official race entries, listing the trainer as a tandem, as is commonplace in Australia and parts of Europe.
“I think that would be the next chapter, whenever the licensing office would be able to allow us to do it like so many other places in the world and list the trainer as Clement Stable or Clement and Son or in both our names,” he said. “The rest of the world is doing it, and hopefully we can in the states as well.” ‘