Elizabeth Bernard speaks to Horsereporter (HR) about the changes in her life this year
7 December 2015 ~ Jean-Francois Bernard and his wife and partner, Elizabeth, worked together for over 31 years training horses in many countries. When Jean-Francois became ill and passed away early in 2015, Elizabeth Bernard’s life quickly changed.
In spite of huge challenges, there were many high notes this year for the Bernard training center. Two horses that topped the charts were Sir Bani Yas, winner of the Goodwood, Group I Qatar International Stakes, and Sylvine Al Maury, winner of the Group 1 Qatar Total Arabian Trophy at Longchamp. Even acknowledging a very tough year, the love of horses and racing has kept Elizabeth focused as she alone proves the success of the Bernard training center.
HR: Where are you located and how many horses are now at your training farm?
EB: I am located in the training center of La Teste-De-Buch (southwest France) race course, and we have a top ranked racetrack there. Now we have 24 horses in training and we are waiting for new horses for the next race season. Perhaps 15 more.
HR: How have your duties changed since you are now totally in charge of your yard? How many people do you have working for you now?
EB: Before with Jean-Francois, we did everything together for each day. We’d wake up, I would go early to the stable to ride, feed, and organize the staff, while Jean-Francois maintained the relationship with the different owners and managers of the horses we had in training. Now I do everything alone. I have kept 19 employees.
HR: What are your main obstacles now in gaining your own reputation as a trainer? Do you feel that it is more difficult for you to gain confidence of your owners and managers as a woman trainer?
EB: It’s not a question of man or woman, but that the owners had chosen my husband and not me. He was the trainer with the talent, the good eye, the experience. I helped and we were a partnership, but now I must prove that I can do the work alone as well. Until now many different owners have stayed with me but the number of the horses are less than before.
HR: Can you describe a day in the life of Elizabeth Bernard?
EB: I wake up early every morning and I go directly to the stables. A head groom feeds the horses while I prepare the list of riders/horses for morning work-outs. Normally I ride the first two lots with older horses. Following this I go to the track to see the second two lots of younger horses. After that I head to the office to do the bookwork/secretary work. I am my own secretary. After that I return home. I might go to the accountant or go to the races to see my runners, I come back every evening to the stables from 5:30pm until 7:00pm. The most difficult for me is to do everything without Jean-Francois with me. We did not have any other life, we lived only for the race horses and racing. We were together 31 years.
I love this life and I have the same passion and the same target as always. When my husband and I met I was a rider and jockey and later with him became a World Champion rider. My favorite thing was to win with a horse trained by my husband. He would wait for me after the race and I could see in his eyes his admiration and love.
HR: Jean-Francois had the trainer’s license. Will you be soon getting your license?
EB: I am now at Chantilly to do a five-week exam for the trainer license.
HR: Do you have specific ideas and intuition on what will make a certain horse a good race horse?
EB: Normally we know very early if one horse will become a good race horse. We watch his behavior on the track, his action, his breathing. There is also the matter of his conformation, but is difficult to explain it all. I also like to ride each horse as I can tell a lot by my senses and the horse’s reactions. A good example of this is Sylvine Sl Maury. When she arrived at the stable she was three years old. She was nervous and she did not breathe well. Jean-Francois asked me to ride her one morning because he thought that she had good action but she still did not work well. That first day I understood immediately what she needed. We put blinkers on her to calm her and I rode her for several months. She became quieter every day and this work resulted in her being the best 4-year-old Arabian race filly in France this year. This of course is the result of the eyes of Jean- Francois and my help riding her with my experience.
HR: Do you make a choice of race jockey according to who might work best with each horse?
EB: Regarding the jockey, it is important to have the best jockey that can ride every horse.
HR: Anything else that you wish to add?
EB: I want to say that if I did not have the horses in my life it would be sad. Now without Jean-Francois I have only one pleasure, and that is to continue to train, and do my job well. Jean-Francois worked hard all of his life for his good reputation and I wish to be a tribute to his form and goals. His name is alive in the results and newspapers as we race under Mme Jean Francois Bernard. When we won at Goodwood and Longchamp it was in his memory. That is the most important for me and also for his parents who are very proud of him.