Ben Curtis is Coming: Ron Faucheux to Represent British Champion Jockey at Fair Grounds
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Kevin Kilroy
Notes Writer/Media Relations
The All Weather Champion and perennial flats championship contender looks to translate his success to American racing
New Orleans, La (Oct. 30, 2023) – There’s a compelling addition to the jockey colony at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. His name is Ben Curtis. Those who follow international racing, especially in England, know that journeyman rider Ben Curtis has racked up over 1,000 wins, has had success in multiple countries, and is as deft across a turf course as he is across dirt and synthetic. Curtis will be represented by agent Ron Faucheux, and those who follow Fair Grounds will immediately understand that Ben Curtis is a live contender for the 2023 – 2024 jockey title.
The 34-year-old native of Ireland began riding in 2006, crossed the Irish Sea in 2014 and since 2018 has figured prominently in the British flat jockeys’ championships, competing with the likes of William Buick and Osin Murphy. In 2020, Curtis secured the All Weather Championship, falling one win short of the record for most wins simply because Covid precautions ended the racing season seven weeks early. He finished fifth in the jockeys’ championship that year, and went on to lead all British flats jockeys with 170 wins. Obviously Ben Curtis is a household name in the UK, and the way things look, he could quickly be on the tip of stateside racing fans’ tongues.
Benefiting from heavy rains which gave him a rare day off, and a chance to hang up a nine-foot skeleton in preparation for Halloween to the delight of his kids, Curtis generously took time to talk about his decision to winter at Fair Grounds, connections to U.S. racing, his riding style and goals for the 2023 – 2024 meet.
Kevin Kilroy: I see you’ve had a couple mounts in the U.S. How much experience do you have with American racing?
Ben Curtis: When I was younger and riding in Ireland, there was no racing in the winter, none at all. There was no all-weather racing. Myself and a friend took it upon ourselves to ring around a few trainers. We rang Todd Pletcher, off our own backs, rang random people to see if there was an opportunity to come over. Winters were long and we thought we might as well use them to good effect. We ended up heading over to Eddie Kenneally, and I did a few winters with Eddie when Brendan Walsh was assistant. Obviously Brendan is flying over there now and Eddie continues doing well.
I never came over thinking I’d like to race-ride. I was doing well in Ireland, and it was more of a working holiday. When you’re race-riding you need to be 110% committed whereas when you’re doing a working holiday you can enjoy the experience. You don’t mind about your weight and it’s not as demanding on you.
KK: What led you to decide to come to the U.S. now and why Fair Grounds?
BC: I’ve always wanted to ride in America. It’s a little different to America in England where racing is seven days a week and there are maybe nine days a year when there is no flat racing, so you are literally racing every day. Getting a break is impossible and tracks are so far apart over here so everyday you get in the car and drive three hours all the way up to seven or eight hours one way. It’s track-to-track every day and all the trainers have their own different training yards everywhere around the country. You tend to head to their yard in the mornings, you ride track work and then you carry on to the racing. Then you have the ride home. It’s a very different way over here and it’s relentless. You could be riding anything from two up to thirteen rides a day seven days a week with no break. With American racing you can base yourself at one track.
I just thought the timing of the season there at Fair Grounds made sense. If by any chance it didn’t work out I wouldn’t want to compromise what I have over here because I’m lucky to ride for some of the biggest trainers in England. I regularly ride on the big stage. I have Royal Ascot winners, and I’ve been lucky to win a lot of the big handicaps every year that are hard to win. I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket and just disappear, so I thought of New Orleans. I’ve never been there, it’s meant to be a lovely place, and I heard that the turf track would be as good as new.
KK: As I’m sure you know, Ron Faucheux won the trainer’s title the past three years before changing gears and becoming a jockey’s agent. What is it about Faucheux that led you to team up with him?
BC: Ron has tons of experience with racing in Louisiana. He’s well known and he seems very up for the challenge. When you get an agent you want someone who is hungry, you want someone who has an ideology that you are going to be the best, opposed to an agent who rings you and says we’ll start nice and slow. I wanted someone who wants to start big and they want to finish big.
I got in touch with Ron and he seems like a great guy. You need to have some sort of social connection because racing is hard. It’s not an easy industry and you need to have that bit of downtime where you can regroup, regather and then you go back to war the day after. I’m excited about coming over.
KK: Tell me about winning the All-Weather Championship. It seems that your success over that surface could translate well to dirt racing in America.
BC: I’ve only done one winter in the UK, one full winter, just because I have a family and unless you give yourself a break, you don’t get one. It was when Covid hit. Everyone was unlucky when Covid hit. The record for winners on the dirt here is 102, we call it all-weather racing, and that year I said to my agent we’ll give it a go. I’m going to hang around and we’ll give it a go. I rode 101 winners by the 28th of January and the season was set to end on March the 20th, but on the 28th of January racing shut down in England (due to Covid). I had six favorites the day after, and then I had another month and a half to put the nail in the coffin.
The all-weather at Southwell pretty much equates to dirt in America. Whenever Aidan O’Brien was bringing the horses over for the Breeders’ Cup or any of the European trainers were prepping their horses for the Breeders’ Cup, they’d always bring them to Southwell for track work. I spent a winter doing that and I’ve ridden 100-plus winners every year for the last six years both on grass and on the all-weather dirt racing, so I thought why not go over. I think my wife is more excited about going over than I am but I am very excited about it all.
KK: Is your family coming over with you?
BC: Yes. My wife is coming for a week to help me to get settled. Try to make the new place a bit homely. Put the wife’s touch on it–milk in the fridge and bread in the cupboard, all that. She’s coming for a week and then I’m booking her and our kids on a flight now to come over a couple weeks before Christmas. Hopefully they’ll stay the better part of seven or eight weeks into February because I couldn’t be away from them for the whole time.
My dad was born in Arkansas. He’s in Little Rock, but a lot of our family lives in Hot Springs. I’m lucky that I have family there in Arkansas so it will be a home away from home. For me it’s going to be a new opportunity. I love to see new places and have new challenges, and it’s going to be an opportunity to see family that I haven seen since I was ten years old. I’ve got a granddad there. He’s 92 and he’s an absolute diamond so hopefully I can incorporate seeing them a little bit amongst the whole adventure.
KK: Fair Grounds is often described as two meets in one. Half the card is top-class horses and half the card is the best Louisiana-breds. Is there anything comparable to that in England or anywhere else you’ve rode?
BC: Over here you’ll have a low grade handicap and then you’ll have three stakes races on the same card. But I finished third in the jockeys title in Dubai in my first year I went over. I rode a lot of thoroughbred winners and I rode a lot of Arabian winners. They’re not going to be the same as the Louisiana-breds, they’re actually very different. The Arabian horses they’re not fully thoroughbred, the class isn’t there, they’re hard work, every race is pushing them from a long way out. I have plenty of experience mix and matching between a top horse and what you might call an everyday horse. If you sit there and expect them to jump, they won’t, and if you don’t ask them to do it, they won’t.
KK: Do you have any goals you wouldn’t mind making public?
BC: I never do things in half, so I’m not going to come in and do anything by 50%. I’ll come in and put 110% percent in but it’s all relative to the support that you get, anywhere in the world. When I go over there I know from speaking to Ron he’s competitive. I’m competitive. Obviously it’s going to be a different experience, it’s a bit of a change. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been in the world whether its France, Australia, Spain, South Korea, everywhere I’ve ridden I’ve adapted and overcame, and I’m hoping hope I can adapt quickly to the American style of doing things. I have the experience from America years ago which will hopefully come back to me very quickly. Listen, I don’t want to be fishing in the small pond. I want to be out to sea catching the big ones so that’s the plan when I get over there.
KK: Are you familiar with any of the other jockeys in Fair Grounds’ colony?
BC: Obviously James Graham. I’ve watched him throughout his career. He came from over this direction. He’s done very well for himself, made a big name for himself. I’ve looked at the races from Fair Grounds, seen the way they ride, seen them all ride, but it will be nice to get over there and see how I fair up against them.
KK: Tell me about your riding style.
BC: I very much ride a race as it unfolds in front of me. Obviously if someone gives me an instruction or tells me how they want a horse ridden, I’ll do it to the best of my ability, but I do like to ride a horse on feel. If the pace is really strong, and my horse is happy and in a rhythm and three parts back, then I am happy to be there because I know I’m going to get the best out of my horse up the straight. But if I hit the gates well, get a good position early and we’re not at 5,000 revs, then I’m happy to be there, too, and keep that. I very much ride a horse on where they’re comfortable, where they’re happy, and make sure they have something left for the final eighth because a lot of races change in the last quarter mile.
Wherever they’re happy that’s my style, I’ve always been brought up that way. I’ve been blessed to have learned from some of the best jockeys in the world. Mick Kinane and Johnny Murtagh and all these lads. I spent years riding track work with them because I was in John Oxx’s barn. When you learn from people like that they teach you you can’t necessarily ride the race, you have to ride the horse in that race. Every race is different and every horse is different, so you have to ride the horse to where he’s happy, where he’s comfortable and where you think he has the best chance.
KK: Eddie Kenneally and Brendan Walsh both do quite well each year at Fair Grounds. Having worked for them in the past, will you ride for them this winter?
BC: Hopefully. Obviously Brendan is flying over there now and Eddie continues doing well. Brendan has done unbelievably. He was always going to. He’s a very talented horseman and he always had that fire to him when he was an assistant to Eddie. You just knew wherever he went next, whether he set up in Kentucky or Gulfstream, he was going to make a name for himself. Eddie is brilliant. He gave me a perfect grounding when I was younger and he always looked after me, and I hope I can pay them back and notch them up a few winners while I am over there. That will be the aim anyway.
About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, one of the nation’s oldest racetracks, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, LA, Fair Grounds, which is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN), also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 16 off-track betting parlors throughout Southeast Louisiana. The 152nd Thoroughbred Racing Season–highlighted by the 111th running of the Louisiana Derby–will run from Nov. 17, 2023 through March 24, 2024. More information is available online at www.fgno.com.