Horse racing in France – Part 1
Horse racing in France is popular and has been since organized races started to appear at the start of the 19th century. There are many racecourses in the country, but the majority of the most popular ones are found in the vicinity of Paris.
The most famous racecourse in the country is Longchamp, which is located in the Bois de Bolougne, a park in the suburb of Paris. The grounds cover 57 hectares and the race tracks vary from 1000 metres to 40000 metres in length, with the track hosting more than half of the group 1 races that are run each year in the country.
The track is on the banks of the River Seine and can hold up to 50,000 spectators. Its first meeting was in 1857 when the massive crowd included Napoleon Bonaparte, who had sailed down the Seine with his family on his private yacht.
Each first weekend sees the running of the Prix de L’Arc de Triumphe which is a group 1 race of over 2,400 metres for thoroughbred horses older than 3 years old. This race, which provides a true test of stamina, is known around the world and is reflected by its international field.
It is the world’s richest turf race and in the last decade the race has been won by eight different trainers from France, England and Ireland. The quality of the race is such that few horses are able to win the race twice, with only 7 doing so, the most recent being Treve, trained by Criquette Head and ridden by Thierry Janet in both 2013 and 2014.
Chantilly race course is located around 50 km to the north of Paris, in the centre of the country’s main horse training area. Racing first appeared in the area in 1834, but its first grandstand wasn’t built until 1879.
The course is home to two of France’s classic races, the Prix du Jockey Club and the Prix du Diane which both take place at June. The Prix du Jockey Club is for 3-year-old horses over a distance of 2,100 metres and is seen as the “French Derby”. There have been 9 horses that have won the race that have later went on to win the Prix de L’Arc de Triumphe, and no jockey has won more races than Yves Saint-Martin who won it on 9 occasions between 1965 and 1987.
The Prix du Diane is run over the same distance at the same meeting but is for three-year-old fillies. The race is similar to “The Oaks” and there have been two horses, Fille de l’Air and Pawneese, that have won both the English and French double. Six winners of the race have gone on to later win the Prix de l’Arc de Triumphe.
The Deauville la-Touques Racecourse is located in the Normandy region and is home to both flat and jump racing. The area is home to many stud farms and there is always high-quality racing at the track. It hosts a number of group 1 races, including the Prix Jacques Les Marois which is run over 1600 metres for 3-year-old colts. The € 700,000 purse makes it one of the country’s most popular events and is often won by horses that are trained overseas.
The last racecourse to host group 1 races is the Saint Cloud which is situated 6 miles to the west of Paris in the suburbs. Each June, the course hosts the group 1 race: The Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. The prize money of € 400,000 attracts runners from all over Europe.
The most successful trainer in this race has been Francois Mathet who trained 8 winners between 1957 and 1981. There are many other racecourses all over France, but the richest races take part in the north of the country, close to the breeding and training centres.