Back in New York now after almost three and a half weeks in France. As the trip went along, I didn’t look much at a computer. Once the Kavanaugh process and Yankee postseason effort had concluded, I decided to devote pretty much all waking moments to the there and then. No time-wasting distractions from news of the day back home.
So, as I try to recap the trip a bit, I’ll break it up into a few chapters. I’ll start with a look at two visits to the race track.
On Monday, October 8, I went to the “hippodrome” in Toulouse for a seven race card that started at 4:40 PM. There were five flat races on grass described officially as “bon souple” (which equates to the US version of “good” – or a bit of give) and two on the same course with hurdles. No race had a purse larger than 20-thousand euros. Field sizes were good, averaging eight or nine. In French horse racing, the bettor prefers a large field size even more than in the states because of a wagering provision that sets thresholds liberalizing payoffs on certain bets in races that have eight contestants or more.
Admission was five euros. That included a program with an ok-amount of information. I was also handed a two-euros coupon to be applied toward a losing bet.
I’ve now been to five French race tracks and have decided to quit making more than just an occasional small bet. There is an online source for past performance data (with some kind of speed figure metric) that has more depth but I’m not able to digest it enough to make informed wagers. I tinker a bit. I make standard win bets but I’m more intrigued about watching the track’s processes – or how organizers of a card present the day’s events.
The public address announcer (a woman’s voice) at Toulouse was different than the race caller. She would announce outcomes. She called entrants to the walking ring and gave the cue for riders up. After the fifth, she giggled while mentioning Taka Takata Kataka who finished third. Takata’s full name is a tongue-twister and posed a challenge to the race caller as the seven-year-old filly figured prominent throughout.
Earlier, before the third race, I watched the handlers of five-year-old filly Clorinda walk her with great confidence. Beaming with smiles and pride, the two women who prepared Clorinda in the 15 minutes or so before jockey Julien Grosjean climbed aboard made it clear they were associated with the race’s top contestant. Sure enough, Clorinda (seen above with her team posing for the winner’s circle photo) cruised late and won.
It was announced later that the track’s stewards suspended jockey Alexandre Gavilan “pour avoir fait un usage manifestement abusif de sa cravache” (or – abusive use of the whip) while riding Gojici to a third place finish in that same race. The repeat nature of the infraction produced a four-day suspension. Many European jockeys crank fully when snapping their whip. I go through phases honestly where I’m bothered by the excessive aspect of it – while at other times don’t really even notice it.
Exactly a week before (October 1, 2018), I was able to see the first seven contests of a nine-race card at famed Chantilly racecourse about 30 miles north of Paris.
Chantilly has a small, nothing-fancy grandstand but it is famous for its breathtaking backdrop (seen above). There’s a “Museum of the Horse” and a chateau on the grounds of Domaine de Chantilly. On the day I went, it was brilliantly sunny but brisk and windy. There’s a super-accessible, fan-friendly walking ring. About 25 yards from there, you pass through the interior of the grandstand to reach the track apron.
To get to Chantilly, I took a SNCF regional train from Gare du Nord and then walked about 15 minutes from there to the track. Admission was five euros. There was a “program” but it was little more than an entries list.
The quality of racing was high. It took me a few races to figure it out but Chantilly has a narrow all-weather track that looks like dirt. Four events went off on the synthetic surface. The feature was the “Prix de Conde,” an 80-thousand euros affair at 1800 meters (roughly nine furlongs) on the grass. Five majestically-bred two-year olds who all looked sensational in the paddock ran an exciting race. Godolphin’s colt Line of Duty (an Irish-bred son of Galileo) narrowly beat his stable mate Syrtis who happens to be a son of Frankel, one of the greatest runners of all-time.
Attendance was in only the low hundreds at both Chantilly and Toulouse which you can understand given the day of the week. Depressingly low live attendance numbers are common in the US too but the sensible coordination and oversight of racing dates, post times, etc. by France’s horse racing overseer “France Galop” makes the sport’s health in France seem a bit more vibrant. A calendar is set before the year starts. The country has dozens and dozens of tracks in small villages that only put on a few cards per year. Tracks are not stepping all over each other – or competing against one another – for wagering dollars – inside of a day. A national horse racing television channel called Equida is carried on cable systems nationally on the widely-accessible tier. The programming on the channel has a gambling tilt but a lot of time is devoted to the day-to-day passion of the humans who make the sport go through one-on-one interviews by a bunch of reporters scattered about the country where the racing is taking place.
Both Equida and France’s DRF equivalent “Paris-Turf” give what seems to be near parity to coverage of the trotters and jumpers as they do flat racing.
I have limited understanding of the sport’s economics in France but can say for sure that both the central, single-voiced governance and dynamic television coverage are both superior features vs. what we have in the states.
Chantilly temporarily hosted France’s biggest race of the year – the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – in 2016 and 2017 – while it’s longtime home Longchamp got an expensive, well-received makeover.
Images on TV of the new Longchamp reveal amazing features – especially related to the walking ring – and view of Paris looking outward from the grandstand. Visits there on a regular racing day are said to be awesome although this year’s Arc was met with complaints about food, drink, betting and bathroom deficiencies. I watched the Arc on TV at my rented apartment in Toulouse. Equida’s feed was really well done. Commercial-free. It was an extremely well-produced telecast loaded with color, amazing camera angles and interviews with key players.
Enable’s thrilling victory in the Arc (a successful defense of her title despite just one prep in the run-up to this year’s race) has been followed by news she’ll come to Louisville in two weeks to run in the Breeder’s Cup Turf.
If she can prevail at what will be short odds, it’ll be the first time the Arc winner has ever pulled off a Breeder’s Cup win in the same year. I think she’s gonna do it.