Benoist looks to complete rise from journeyman to star in Arc

A year ago Gregory Benoist was virtually unknown outside France but on Sunday the Belgian jockey will be in the global spotlight as he rides second favourite Ectot in Europe`s most prestigious race the Prix de l`Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

AFP| Last Updated: Sep 30, 2014, 06:53 AM IST

Paris: A year ago Gregory Benoist was virtually unknown outside France but on Sunday the Belgian jockey will be in the global spotlight as he rides second favourite Ectot in Europe`s most prestigious race the Prix de l`Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

The 31-year-old, whose father is a former French jockey who moved to Belgium to get more rides, will have even more pressure on him as he chose Ectot, last year`s top French juvenile, ahead of the unbeaten French filly Avenir Certain.

Avenir Certain`s trainer Jean-Claude Rouget was not best pleased by Benoist saying he had gone with his heart in making the decision to ride the Elie Lellouche-trained colt but the jockey himself is having no second thoughts about it.

Benoist, who has had to be disciplined in what he eats as his girlfriend is a well regarded chef, admits it has been a remarkable change in his profile having had to wait till November last year to pick up his first ever Group One race victory as Ectot won the Criterium International at Saint Cloud.

Since then Benoist, who has won six times in seven rides on Ectot, has found Group One`s to his liking as he collected the French 1000 Guineas and Oaks on Avenir Certain and has won on her on her last four runs.

"It was a delicate decision to take as both are superb horses," said Benoist, who will be riding in his third Arc with his best finish ninth last year.

"However, Ectot I have ridden since he was a two-year-old and between the two horses it is easier to switch jockeys from Avenir Certain as Ectot is a more difficult ride if you don`t know him.

"I took the decision solely on my own and was not put under any pressure by Gerard-Augustin Normand (who owns half of Ectot, having sold the other half to Qatari Sheikh Joaan al-Thani earlier in the season, and is the majority owner of Avenir Certain).

"I was in a fortunate position of being presented with the choice between the best colt and the best filly in the race. However, I am happy with the decision."

Benoist, who likes to relax by dining with non-racing friends in Paris as well as visit museums and go to the theatre and cinema, said he is not concerned by a couple of worrying moments during Ectot`s otherwise impressive return to the track in early September winning the influential Arc trial the Prix Niel.

"He ran a bit loose but he will be calmer for that now as he has got the race under his belt and will be less fresh," said Benoist, who saw his dreams of becoming a footballer ended when as a child a doctor told him he would not grow beyond 1.60 metres (5 feet three inches).

"He did lose concentration when he hit the front at Longchamp but once a horse got upsides him he refocussed and ran on strongly.

"Ectot has shown he can handle the pressure when he is challenged whereas Avenir Certain has won her races easily.

"Thus there is a question mark hanging over Avenir Certain and how she will react if as is likely in the Arc she comes under attack from several rivals," added Benoist.

Benoist, who revealed compatriot Christophe Soumillon is his idol as he has taken race riding to another level, says he should serve as an example to those aspiring to be jockeys of how hard work can pay off no matter what age one is.

"Nothing is ever certain," he told Paris Turf earlier this month.

"One has to always work at it and take oneself forward. I have been lucky to be surrounded by people who have always believed in me.

"They have always told me to stick with it and not to have doubts because if one does that there wil always be rewards."