Horse Racing

HORSE RACING AROUND THE WORLD: Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe

10/3/09 in Horse Racing   |   appaloosa   |   0 respect

It was one of the highlights of my equine fandom when I got to see the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe at the Hippodrome de Longchamp in France last year. It really is a thrill to experience horse racing all around the world and to compare cultural differences when it comes to horse racing.

The Arc is the most prestigious horse race in all of Europe, and with a prize of 4 million euros, it is presently is the world's second richest horse race on turf (after the Japan Cup).  Many winners of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe are subsequently regarded as champions, and its roll of honour features such highly acclaimed racehorses as Ribot, Mill Reef and Alleged, and last year's winner Zarkava, the 2008 European Horse of the Year.  Popularly referred to as the "Arc" the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe is a flat race run on grass ("turf") in France; open to thoroughbreds from any country aged 3 years or older, and run over a distance of 2,400 metres (about 1½ miles).

Held on the first weekend (Sunday) in October, this prestigious event attracts the best horses from around the world.  The Queen races her horses here, as does the Aga Khan and U.S. multimillionaires, wealthy Arab oil sheikhs, movie stars, celebrities, Englishmen, Irishmen, etc - all rubbing shoulders with the paying public and other racing fans.  They all congregate here on this day - the most famous horse race in Europe.

Held at the beautifully landscaped bucolic and historic setting of Longchamp, France; the racecourse itself is a large grassy expanse, larger than anything in North America. Walking around the concourse and race grounds, one sees plenty of grassy fields with shady trees and little tables, souvenir stands, information kiosks, food and beverage stands, statues of great horses from the past, the rond de présentation (walking ring) and fans from all over Europe. 

The walking ring is about the size of
Belmont Park, well shaded by several large trees and semi-surrounded by a concrete viewing/sitting area for fans to get a good look at the horses before betting. There are no saddling stalls; horses are saddled outside the walking ring away from public view, then led into rond de présentation, paraded around the enclosure once by the handlers (grooms), then the jockeys climb aboard, the horses are walked around one more time, then head off through a fenced-off narrow gap walkway and out onto the track, where the horses warm up while galloping towards the starting gate. Except for a mounted mascot (a lady riding sidesaddle) preceeding the horses before they enter onto the track (and after the race is complete) there is no post parade.

The main grandstands are white-painted concrete and glass, bedecked with streamers and banners in the burgundy colours of the sponsors: the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club.  Since 1982 the "Arc" has had several sponsors, including Trusthouse Forte, Ciga Hotels and Groupe Lucien Barrière.  The present sponsor of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club (QREC) and it covers the five runnings of the "Arc" from 2008 to 2012.The crowd is fashionable and elegant with women wearing fashionable hats and dresses, and men in expensive suits and ties. The horses and jockeys may look the same as they do back in Canada and the USA, but the similarities are definitely outnumbered by the differences when comparing North American thoroughbred racing to European racing.

General admission on Arc day is €8 Euro (approx $12 US/CDN).  Upon entry are tables with stacks of day's racing program, printed in newspaper format. The big, glossy magazine Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe show program is 5€ Euro (you can download and view a copy HERE). As you walk around the grounds, clubhouse, & stadium there are bands playing everywhere and the mood is festive anticipation.

Since the course is so large, you cannot see the backstretch (part of which is obscured by trees), so the infield has three large jumbotron screens to watch the action. At the clubhouse turn is a windmill. The finish line is decorated with a large horseshoe shaped tote board which shows the time of day, race number, the finishing positions of the top seven horses in the previous race, and a one-line message board which indicates whether the last race result is Provisoire (unofficial) or  Officiel  (official).  A second finish line (a simple white post) is located 1/16 miles past the regular finish and is used for certain distances.

Unlike in North America, races are run clockwise and exclusively on turf, so after each race "divot stompers" walk the course to inspect the turf surface and repair any damage from the last race. Race distances are in metres, and assigned weights are in kilograms -- the Arc is 2400 metres (about 1 1/2 miles) and the older horses in the race carry 59.5 kg (about 131 pounds). Also unlike North America, saddlecloth numbers do not correspond with post position but are given in order of weights - with high weights being given lower numbers.

When the race is over, the top seven finishing positions are displayed on the toteboard and the horses are brought back to the walking ring where the jockeys dismount and the horses are unsaddled - there is no winner's circle in front of the stands.  A small stand is set up for trophy and other award presentations.

So, as you can see, a little different from North American races, but some things never change. No matter where you are, horse racing fans love the thrill excitement of the horses thundering down the track, racing for home.  It was a wonderful feeling for me, to be at one of the world's most famous racetracks to watch Europe's most exciting race!

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10/5/09   |   appaloosa

"SEA THE STARS" WINS the 2009 PRIX De L'ARC DE TRIOMPHE!!!

Forget Rachel Alexandra. Right now, the best racehorse in the world is the 3-year-old Sea the Stars. SUPERB performance through and  though - from both man & horse.

Can you believe the jockey (Mick Kinane) is 50 years of age?!  It is truly is a mark of excellence, skill, athleticism & horsemanship that a jockey can keep his cool in a 20-horse field, find a hole from among the pack, and pick his way through an amazing race to an amazing victory. 

Pure class - all the way.

One of the best races and best rides of the year - bar none.

Hope to see SEA THE STARS in the Breeders Cup Classic (but I doubt it), or maybe the Japan Cup?

We'll see...