French female Golden Whip in 2018, Mickaëlle Michel has forged her experience internationally. A true globetrotter, she has decided today to take a new turn in her career and comes back with us to her reasons which led her to this decision.
Why this choice ? What are your motivations ?
It is a project that we had already considered with my agent Frédéric Spanu since the beginning of our association. I postponed this deadline because of my good results in France. Japan then intervened, I really fell in love with this country. Unfortunately since Covid-19, the borders remain closed to foreigners until 2023 and I cannot go back. We had to reorient ourselves towards our basic idea which was to travel and acquire as much experience as possible abroad. The United States was part of the plan that we had set ourselves from the start of my career.
When did you make this decision?
We discussed it at the end of the year. Unfortunately, I had an accident afterwards. This situation got me thinking. I learned something positive in making this decision. During my stop, we carried out the necessary administrative procedures for entry into the USA.
Why the United States in particular?
Definitely the “American dream”. When I see all the French jockeys who succeed there, we say to ourselves that it is within our reach. It is a pioneering country which knew how to give women a chance. They won the Breeders Cup for a woman. Some have acquired great notoriety, such as Chantal Sutherland or Sophie Doyle who are true female stars of horse racing. They have this state of mind, something we lack in Europe, especially in France. It’s an attraction for women jockeys like me to try the adventure on this ground, thinking that in the end we will be given more of a chance in good races there.
My experience in Japan allowed me to discover dirt. I particularly liked this running tactic. It is modeled on American races where there is a lot of speed. Since this tactic worked for me in Japan, I thought why not try it again and put it to good use in the United States.
Which region would you go to and which coach would you work for?
I will be mainly based in Kentucky but in the United States there are a lot of seasonal meetings so I will have to move. I signed a contract with an agent but I don’t have a regular trainer, I will be freelance like in France.
If you were to win a group race there, which one?
There are so many great races that make you dream but I must say that the Breeders Cup is a weekend that speaks to the whole planet. There is a special atmosphere. I’m not going to be my princess, any classic will suit me (laughs).
I will make every effort to do as well as my compatriots settled in the territory. They have set the bar high and I will do everything to carry the colors of France high.
Regarding Japan, is it a farewell or a goodbye?
I can’t leave it out because I really fell in love with Japan. I love this country, its culture and its mentality. My racing experience was amazing. It’s hard for me not to have been able to go back since the Covid. I continue to learn Japanese and I leave the doors open to myself. My experience in the USA will allow me to validate English which is essential for a jockey who travels a lot. I will be able to acquire a new experience, a new style of riding. If not, there are always return flights. What I love is adventure. From a very young age, I told my parents that I wanted to travel and be an explorer, now I am, but on horseback.
What motivates you ?
Americans are proud of their sports cars, and not just in racing. Athletes are highlighted. I appreciate this mentality. In France, there is not a lot of large-scale popularity. It’s the “American dream” as they say. The racetracks are full on weekdays. There aren’t many star female jockeys at the moment, why not become one of them…it would be a dream.
What made you stop your career in France?
I find that women have less and less of a place in the French peloton. Women are riding fewer and fewer winners. There is always this problem of discharge indirectly linked to female riding. If there is no discharge, we prefer to prioritize the jockeys. However, several of us have proven that we have the same level as the men in racing, but there is always this barrier between the woman and the discharge which becomes a kind of excuse. Unfortunately, we are not valued at the highest level. I love my country but I don’t have time to wait for mentalities to change…