No more carrots or leeks on the land of the fifteen-hectare property in Saint-Augustin-sur-Mer (Charente-Maritime) which he inherited.
François Nicolle has transformed this family farm into a training center for gallopers and manages an SME with 50 employees and 160 horses.
In the early morning, forty horses, thoroughbred, Anglo or AQPS (other than thoroughbred), including the Auteuil cracks, gallop in single file to fine-tune their physical form.
“Action, gone. No social here. At work”, launches the physical and cheeky trainer of Belmondo as his residents pass by.
The hooves strike the ground as their breath follows the rhythm of their athletic strides.
The master, wearing a cap, observes them, checks that they are not stiff or lame.
They only jump once a week, the rest of the time they work on their endurance on the flat.
Horses must “inflate the girths well”, i.e. breathe while jumping.
François Nicolle decodes his jargon: “A good jumping horse must manage his breath, not apprehend the obstacles and jump fluidly without contracting”.
Like any athlete, his horses regularly see the osteopath, the dentist and the veterinarian. He treats small “bobos”.
“We are really tintin!”, he says to Gwen Richard, 20, one of the rising stars of the discipline who will not have a ride in this edition but considers that it is “an honor to work and to going up for Mr. Nicolle”.
The coach “doesn’t like stars”. He gives a chance to young jockeys, like Angelo Zuliani, 22, in the saddle on Sunday on Happy Monarch.
Golden whip in hurdles in 2020, the young man with piercing blue eyes salutes a “demanding” and “fair” man.
His brother Lucas Zuliani will ride Glorice. Niko Has will be piloted by Théo Chevillard and Eddy de Balme by David Gallon.
– A Formula 1 team –
His some 2,300 victories over obstacles, François Nicolle obtained them by “uniting with a close-knit team”.
As with his horses, the trainer walks on trust, respect and reward.
He collects about 10% of his students’ winnings in the race and rewards his team by distributing 4% to his court staff: trainer or training rider.
Often at his side at the foot of the slopes, Jacques Détré, one of his greatest owners, found in him “a human being in difficult times” because, “with horses, you take risks and the results are in the teeth of saw”.
He runs his business like “a Formula 1 team”. “The difference is that I’m on the living and they are on mechanics,” he says.
“With my eye and the indications of the jockeys, I make the adjustments” and in the race “we ask the driver not to go into the sandbox”.
For his horses to have good morale, the “anxious” go to the paddock, an enclosure set up in a meadow, to eat grass and relax, which is rare among professional gallopers.
A horse sometimes worth a million euros can hurt itself “by kicking the ass at the stars”.
His other secret weapon: the state of his track.
“Here the sandy ground is deep and painful. My horses run over distances two to three times shorter than in the Paris region. They therefore have three times fewer problems, bone or tendon lesions”, he comments.
The former “superstitious” horse show and suit rider will follow this marathon race from a screen at the racecourse with the “lads”, “sometimes with their hands over their eyes”, with the hope of a victory and above all that the men and the horses return without injury.