‘Carry on, stay positive and keep trying hard’: Alexis Badel’s breakthrough

French jockey Alexis Badel has ridden the highs and lows of Hong Kong racing this season and his Derby win aboard Voyage Bubble is reward for persistence.

Alexis Badel drives home Voyage Bubble to snatch the Hong Kong Derby. (Photo by Grant Courtney)

Michael Cox



A Hong Kong Derby win can be career changing and given the obstacles Alexis Badel has overcome this season it is little wonder he gets philosophical when he reflects on one of the greatest big race rides in recent memory. 

“So, I have been here in Hong Kong long enough to know it is a circle, and everything can go in the right way very quickly, and everything can go in the wrong way very quickly as well,” Badel says a few hours after his brilliant ride on Voyage Bubble in the Hong Kong Derby. 

The 33-year-old Frenchman is standing outside the on-course compound where most of Hong Kong’s jockeys and trainers live. Badel has been riding in Hong Kong since December 2016 and full time for the last three seasons. That is long enough to experience that circle he speaks of spin a few times around. 

After a breakout 2020-21 campaign which included a maiden Group 1 on Wellington and a career best 58 wins, last season was the consolidation: two Group 1s on Wellington and sixth place in the jockeys’ championship. 

But this season had, until Sunday’s triumph on Rick Yiu’s 45-1 outsider, been a test of character. In November Badel broke his ankle and seriously injured his shoulder in a brutal fall at Sha Tin. He missed seven weeks, during which he watched Ryan Moore win the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint on his regular ride. Worse still, he was then replaced on Wellington – this time uninjured – for Sunday’s Group 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup.


The mercenary nature of Hong Kong racing means professional relationships can be fickle. The bubble-like environment – exacerbated in the last few years by strict Covid restrictions – places a unique kind of mental stress on its participants. When that circle has spun to its low point there is no other track to run off to, just the same 22 trainers at the same track as the day before. 

“I think I have learned to be more resilient and less sensitive, and certainly not taking anything personally,” Badel says of his outlook. “I just need to do my best on the horses, give them every opportunity.”

“I understand the pressure for everybody, jockeys and trainers, and you have to deal with a lot of things but sometimes you just have to carry on, stay positive and keep trying hard. If you do that, keep moving forward, then I think everything comes back around.” 

“I think everyone has to deal with rejection, whether you compete in horse racing, or another job, or another type of athlete – whatever you do you must deal with rejection at some point in your life. I’ve been riding in horse races long enough that if something goes wrong you have to question yourself, either in terms of your communication or your riding skills, or both of them.” 

“I just try not to find any excuses, if you do not do things right you need to improve or you need to be better. That’s it. There is nothing else you can do. Obviously it can be very frustrating to be taken off horses that you believe you have ridden well and you get suspensions, injuries, many things come along and you have to deal with everything but at the end of the day you have to believe that if you keep working hard you will always bounce back.” 

Alexis Badel celebrates winning the G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize aboard Wellington. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit/Getty Images)

Alexis Badel boots home Happy Together at Sha Tin. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

Badel is now a father of two girls to wife Eva, “three and a half years and six months” he says proudly.

Clearly the responsibility of parenthood sits well with Badel, and seems to have blessed him with a mature outlook on race riding and life. He says he is feeling settled in Hong Kong and keen to take advantage of the surge of support that is sure to follow his Derby win. 

Still, Badel is a former champion apprentice in France and was second rider for the Aga Khan; so does he still have ambitions in his homeland? 

“The good thing for me is that I left France in good form, so everything is ok there,” he says.”I left with good connections, so I feel I could go back anytime I want. I am still young. All of the doors are open.” 

As the interview winds up, on cue, a reason to stay in Hong Kong appears: Voyage Bubble. The new star is being led along the path from the darkened and empty racecourse tie-up stalls back to the stables. Badel askes the mafoo to stop, and takes a selfie with the horse. He pats Voyage Bubble’s nose before they continue on down the path. 

“But obviously Hong Kong has become my home, this is the place I like to eat my dim sum and congee in the morning,” he says. “My daughters are going to get comfortable with chopsticks and we will carry on.” 




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