It is often said that some are born into their careers or industries, and for Newmarket-based trainer Kevin Philippart de Foy, that’s the truth.
His mother, Brigitte Jacques, was a jockey for thirty years, and, as he tells it, he was born to follow in her footsteps, making the industry a major part of his life.
"She was a huge influence," he said. "I was nearly born on the racecourse, and she was back riding a couple of months after having me, so I was a regular spectator at the racecourse from a very young age. "Her race-riding career continued until I was about 22 or 23, so all of my childhood and early adulthood was centred around horses and racecourses."
A Belgian native, Kevin developed a wealth of racing experience from an early age, immersing himself in the sport with great passion.
Despite riding in several races and winning a few of those too, he knew fairly early on in his career that he was destined to train rather than ride as his mother did.
"I was always a chubby little kid; I wasn't the lightest," Philippart de Foy grins.
"Even when I lost some weight and tried to be a jockey, I was always too heavy and probably not as good as some of the others."
"So, it was always very clear that I wasn't going to be a jockey and that training was more for me."
He has only been running his training team since November 2020, but the two years have been successful to date, notching up an impressive 60 winners for the year as we go to print.
"It’s been good—I always say it could be better, but everybody around me has said it’s been great, so it must be going alright."
"The highlights have probably been winning the Victoria Cup with VAFORTINO at Ascot and Surrey Mist winning the Prix Vulcain in Deauville, France. "We had a fair few two-year-old winners and some strong places in group races as well, so it’s been a decent start."
Prior to obtaining his own training license, he worked as an assistant to and was mentored by some of the best trainers in the world, including renowned trainers John Oxx in Ireland, Christophe Clement in America, and James Fanshawe in Newmarket.
"I think they all have similarities—they work with attention to detail in the routine and keep their team organized."
"I think they are the key foundations to training: keeping an organised routine, paying attention to detail, and working hard."
During his time working with John Oxx, he got to witness and be involved in the later stages of Sea the Stars' great career before heading back to France to work for the Chantilly-based Criquette Head.
During the five seasons that the current master of Machell Place Stables spent there, he assisted in the training of multiple Group One winning horses, including Epicuris, Full Mast, Special Duty, and the dual Arc winner, Treve.
In 2014, he moved to the United States to work as an Assistant Trainer for French-born trainer Christophe Clement, where he had the fortunate experience of working with great horses Tonalist and Hard Not To Like, securing their victories in multiple Group One races, including The Belmont Stakes, Cigar Mile, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
His role saw him taking charge of Clement’s second operation and the movement of horses between New York, Kentucky, and Florida.
It was this experience of transporting horses both within the United States and globally that has shown Philippart de Foy the ropes when it comes to travelling horses between meets and carnivals.
"I think looking at it, it’s a pretty good system—we've got agents who pretty much organise everything for us and make the process as smooth and easy as possible."
"Obviously, putting a horse on a plane isn’t always the easiest, and they are not used to it, but I think the industry is doing a great job with it." Brexit has made things a bit more complicated to transport overseas and around Europe; there is a lot more paperwork now than there used to be, but the agents are fantastic at dealing with it.
"Being able to transport horses internationally is very important for us; there are big races around the world that we want to target, so we need to be able to get the horses there safely." You need the right horse, and some take it better than others, but I think the process has improved greatly over the years, making it more accessible for more horses.
Starting out his own training venture at Machell Place Stables in November 2020, he took over the facility from Ed Vaughan, who was moving his training operation over to the USA after 10 years in the attractively positioned Newmarket yard.
Machell Place boasts a wealth of history, having been built in 1884 by Charlie Wood, a leading jockey of the late 19th century.
The facility includes 37 large, well-ventilated boxes, a horse walker, a large grass paddock, a spa, and onsite accommodation for Kevin and his family.
In June this year, the demand for additional stables reached its pinnacle, with Kevin and his team needing to expand their facility; the result was taking on a second yard in the form of the historic Kings Yard at Egerton Stud.
He is considered a rising star in the training ranks, and the new yard offers the ability to house a further 42 horses, plus access to private training facilities and year-round turnout.
"Obviously, we want to be competitive at the highest level." It's a numbers game, and the more horses we have, the better our chances are, but I don’t want to get too big too quickly. "We will try to increase the quality of our string every year, and we will have between 85 and 95 horses in training next year. I think that's a good number as it's manageable and provides a good variety of horses from yearlings to older horses."
2022 was a surprisingly interesting year for Philippart de Foy, with Shadwell adding him to their roster by sending him a quartet to work with for the 2023 season.
"It’s also an exciting time for Shadwell and Sheikha Hissa, in terms of their involvement in the industry going forward." "They had a big dispersal but are now reinvesting and have been buying some quality bloodstock for next year." Philippart de Foy said, "We're delighted to get the support of Sheikha Hissa and Shadwell."
"We just need to build the quality of the horse and be competitive on the biggest stage." Obviously, you want to win the Classics in England, you want to win at Ascot, and I think internationally you have some big targets over the winter too.
"Races in Dubai and the Middle East are becoming more influential, and there is the offer of a broader scope of races such as the Melbourne Cup." "It's being competitive on the biggest stage and striving to train as many winners as possible, getting the very best from every horse in our care."
"That's my target."
In mentioning Dubai racing and the profile of the sport and industry in the UAE and surrounding regions, Philippart de Foy was optimistic and confident that it would only increase.
"You want to have the best horses possible in your stable; the higher the quality of horse you have, the better the race they can run in, and thus the higher the prize money."
For the current season, Philippart de Foy has one horse in his yard that would be targeted to showcase in the region this year: EL HABEEB.
"I’ve got a horse named El Habeeb who was a winner at Ascot in September. We gave him a break afterwards to get him ready for the winter. We have an entry to make next week for the long-distance race on Saudi Cup night. Depending on how he gets there, he could potentially be targeted for the Dubai Gold Cup carnivals. "We will reassess after his first run over the winter and see what we do, but he will be the main one for the season."
The 3YO Al Rifai colt has had six starts for two wins and a placing, including the listed Peroni Nastro Azzuro Noel Murless Stakes, where he won by half a length.
His stable also has a few stars that will be targeted for races in Europe that Philippart de Foy says an eye should be kept on.
"Surrey Mist is definitely one we should keep an eye on." He won impressively in Deauville on his latest start and shows plenty of scope.
"We have another horse called Enthrallment that we bought in October who I’m looking forward to running next year."