Clement Scaling the Heights in 2020

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Christophe Clement | Sarah Andrew

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Trainer Christophe Clement has been a familiar face on the racing scene for the last three decades and 2020 looks to be a banner year for the French-born horseman, who is on the verge of collecting his 2000th career victory, and also features among finalists for the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s 2020 inductions.

“Well, you don’t really wake up in the morning thinking ‘I’m going to win 2000 races’,” admitted the 55-year-old native of Paris. “You just wake up in the morning thinking, ‘let’s do the best we can and do our job the best we can’. I never actually thought about the number itself. It’s all about being grateful. Grateful, number one, [for] the horses, and obviously for my owners, because I’ve been very well supported over the years. And [for] my help. I’ve got very, very good people around me, from every level. It’s all the teamwork, family help, owners, everybody is involved.”

Clement is also listed among 11 nominees-including three other trainers–for this season’s Hall of Fame inductions, which are scheduled to be announced in May.

“It’s an honor,” he said about his nomination, the second in two years. “Some amazing trainers I know are in the Hall of Fame. I’ve always thought about myself being a little bit too young but it’s a great honor, so I’ll take it.”

According to Clement, his staff has been of paramount importance to the overall success of his operation.

“Work as well as you can, be as consistent as you can and work to support the team all the time,” he said when asked about his business philosophy. “We try to get the best team around us all the time.”

Among the principal players of Clement’s current team are assistant Christophe Lorieul, his assistant since 1993, and his son Miguel. Also serving as an assistant to his father, the junior Clement, a Darley Flying Start and Duke University alum, spent several years abroad, apprenticing with Mike de Kock in Dubai and South Africa and Hugo Palmer in Newmarket, England.

“It’s a lot of fun for a father, if you get on well with your son–from a human point of view and from a professional point of view–to work with your son,” said Clement his relationship with the 29-year-old. “It can also be a little bit challenging, because we disagree sometimes, which is okay, but it has allowed us to find a rational way to explain our points. So it’s a lot of fun actually, to have your son working for you.”

Asked to point out a key factor in the operation’s longevity, Clement replied, “I really think you always have to adapt. You can’t be training the same way that you trained 20 or 30 years ago, and if you don’t adapt it’s impossible to stay successful.”

Learning from the Best
The son of French trainer Miguel Clement, Clement’s passion for racing was stoked in his father’s Chantilly yard before branching out to work for the Head family’s French operation for a year and a half. Venturing to the U.S. in 1986 to work at Taylor Made Farm, he also served a one-year stint with future Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.

“I spent all my vacation as a kid with the Head family, he recalled. “I used to ride for Criquette Head and her father, Alec Head. They’ve been very beneficial to my career and they’re wonderful people.”

“At 17, I went to university for two years and then went to work for Shug,” he said. “It was around the time Shug took the Phipps horses. He had amazing horses in his barn, like Personal Ensign, Polish Navy, Personal Flag–great horses. And he was winning everything. It was a great year.”

Following his time with McGaughey, Clement returned to Europe to work for legendary Italian horseman Luca Cumani in Newmarket, England before returning to the U.S. to launch his own operation in 1991.

“I had the opportunity to work as an assistant to a wonderful trainer, and also a great human being, Luca Cumani. He is a very smart man and I’ve learned a lot from him. I’m still actually pretty close to him. After four years with Cumani, I wanted to train in England, which was very expensive, so I thought the logical spot would be New York. I started training when I was 25 years old at Belmont Park. And that was it.”

After having apprenticed under some of the biggest names in racing on both sides of the Atlantic, Clement believes the greatest lessons learned from those stalwarts lay at the foundation of many top operations.

“All the successful people in racing work,” he affirmed. “Nobody is lazy and succeeding in racing. That doesn’t work. You have to work and you must have discipline and stay on it, otherwise, you’re not going to stay at [a top] level. Also, you’ve got to have an open mind and be able to adapt, because [there is] change all the time. Some people adapt better than others, which is the reason why they last so long and some don’t, which is why they don’t seem to last.”

Clement, who has amassed over $133-million in purses, ranks 13th of all time and has finished in the top 15 in earnings among North American trainers on 11 occasions since 2000.

Reflecting on the vast changes that the racing landscape has undergone in recent years, he underscores the necessity for present-day trainers to take on greater responsibility in order to succeed.

“There’s a huge difference with training today compared to what it was like 20-30 years ago,” he explained. “I don’t think that one individual could be as successful today, because of the amount of work. Between training the horses and being a horseman, finding the right races and jockeys, finding the talent at the sales, taking care of your payroll and your people, one individual cannot do all of that at a high level. So you have to have a team. You’ve got to find the right people in order to be successful.”

Architect of Success
With 241 graded stakes wins, Clement has amassed 32 Grade I wins and has conditioned 18 graded winners who have become millionaires during their racing careers. Included among his top runners are three-time Eclipse Award winning Gio Ponti (Tale of the Cat). Named Eclipse Champion Turf Horse in 2009 and 2010, he also led the older horse division in 2009. He won seven races at the Grade I level, including the Man O’ War S. and Shadwell Turf Mile twice, in addition to the Frank Kilroe Mile and Arlington Million. Also finishing second in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic, the bay retired with over $6-million in earnings.

Probably best known for his turf runners, Clement later broke through the glass ceiling with Tonalist (Tapit), who halted California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid with a victory in the 2014 GI Belmont S.

“From the beginning, he always trained better than the average horse,” recalled Clement of the Robert Evans-owned colt. “We knew right away that he was something special..He had two top level seasons, we never ducked anybody, we never missed a top race, from the spring to the fall as a 3-year-old, from the spring to the fall as a 4-year-old and he was very competitive. He didn’t always win, but he was always very competitive against the best.”

His roster of Grade I winners also includes Relaxed Gesture, Forbidden Apple, Voodoo Dancer, Rutherienne, Winchester, Discreet Marq, Mauralakana, In Summation and England’s Legend.

Looking ahead to the 2020 season, Clement appears to have all based covered, led by the elder statesman of the barn, Pure Sensation (Zenzational).

A stakes winner every year since 2014, the Patricia Generazio homebred has won eight graded stakes, and is just shy of the $2-million mark in career earnings.

“He’s a great credit to [the Generazio’s] program,” said Clement. “Every winter they give their horses a complete break, which is the way everybody used to do it in the past. And that’s probably the reason why the horse seems to be lasting so long.”

He continued, “He’s been a stakes horse ever since his 2-year-old season, and it’s great fun. He’s very popular because he’s been in the barn for quite a while. But he’s also a beautiful horse to look at and he does not really look like a 9-year-old. If you look at him, he’s very powerful and very strong.”

On the opposite end of the age spectrum is the barn’s sophomore star Decorated Invader (Declaration of War), winner of the GI Summer S. at Woodbine last September. The bay subsequently finished fourth–beaten 1 1/2 lengths–in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Nov. 1.

“He’s doing very well,” said Clement. “He’s a top class horse. It’s very exciting. [Good] 2-year-olds always work well, always race well and even lose well. And like good horses do, they seem to do better than any other horse. And he had a complete break, so he’s on the way back.”

Also included among his team of up-and-coming 3-year-olds are last out winners Stop War (War Front), Morning Colors (Midshipman), Notorious R B G (Speightstown), So Cunning (Blame), Super Cute (Temple City), Bitcoin Passion (Ire) (American Pharoah) and Gufo (Declaration of War).

“She’s out of a very good mare called [Grade I winner] Maryfield,” said Clement of Notorious R B G. “It’s a family I know well because I used to train a filly called Quiet (Roar) for Mr. [Peter] Karches years ago, and she is related to Maryfield. She was very impressive when winning at Gulfstream [Mar. 4] and showed a lot of speed. You know, we’ve got quite a few choices..If she carries on training well, we will probably go back for black-type race next time.”

Clement also has high hopes for his sophomore stakes scorer She’s My Type (Fr) (Dunkerque {Fr}), campaigned by Ghislaine Head. Victorious in her first two starts at Gulfstream, including the Jan. 4 Ginger Brew S., she finished fourth most recently in the GIII Sweetest Chant S. Feb. 1. She is expected to make her next start in the one-mile Sanibel Island S. at Gulfstream Mar. 28.

“She’s My Type was bred by the Head family,” he offered. “They took her to the Keeneland September sale and sold her for $27,000. And they had seller’s remorse, so they bought her back the next day. Thank God, because she’s now a stakes winner, and she’s nice and definitely worth more than $27,000. She’s doing very well and we’re excited about her.”

Sticking to Basics
Earlier this month, racing was left reeling following a slew of indictments stemming from a series of racing-related investigations conducted by the FBI. The indictments, which included several Thoroughbred trainers, once again brought the subject of drug use in racing to the forefront of the news. And while unsettling, Clement believes the outcome will lead to the betterment of the sport.

“I’m very proud that, I’ve been training since 1991 and I never had a medication suspension,” he said. “I also believe that you can be successful without drugging your horses and by being very disciplined. It’s not just me, you have a lot of other trainers who are also very careful about the way they use medication. It’s all a question of discipline. You can see we still win races without stuff that you’re not allowed. So there’s also a good way of doing things, which, for me, still works.”

Concluding on a positive note, he added, “It’s a great sport. I still think that Keeneland is very exciting. Saratoga and Del Mar are great places to be in the summer and Belmont is a wonderful place to race a horse. I think racing has a bright future, but we all have to work together to make sure we keep it honest and fun, and we all have to try to make it more popular to a broader audience.”

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