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Much has been said and written about the Longchamp experience for racegoers since last weekend and now here’s my somewhat different take.
Although it wasn’t ideal with queuing to put on bets, the ordering of refreshments and visiting the toilets, which is certainly something that British racing fans are not used to (to the same extent at least), I still didn’t think that it was quite as bad as was being made out in the media.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day even if it didn’t go for me from a punting perspective but, then again, I go horse racing to see horses race so I’m not bothered about swilling beer in between races or tucking into snacks (from what I saw there was a choice of waffles, waffles slathered in nutella or waffles with lemon and sugar and very little else) plus I had put my bets on beforehand. It was also my first trip to Longchamp so I wasn’t able to compare the current, since the new grandstand was erected, to the past so I’m probably not the best person to judge. But I am going to anyway.
The most important aspects for me on a trip to the races are seeing the horses close up in the paddock, being able to watch the race without fighting for a position and then being packed in like a sardine, plus easy access between the paddock and the viewing steps. That’s pretty much all that I am asking for and all three received top marks from me in this respect. The walk from the paddock to attaining a comfortable positon on the steps of the grandstand could be achieved in less than a minute. Tres Bien. Try that at Cheltenham in March. Moreover, before all races except the Arc, I could slowly amble my way from the grandstand to the paddock yet still have a front row position. In fact, anyone who even popped along just before the jockeys were due to mount could easily get a position towards the front of the paddock rail. From a total viewing perspective, the layout was excellent.
Admittedly it was strange seeing a queue for the gents and not the ladies for a change but I only had to wait one minute (is that all(?) I can hear some female readers protest!) but the PMU could certainly have been much quicker. Although I like to think of myself as quite betting savvy, for the life of me I couldn’t make head or tail of what all the figures on the screens meant. It was like looking at the control panels in a Boeing 747 so I gave up.
The most disappointing aspect to the day was the lack of atmosphere, though the 35,000 crowd (down a massive 17,000 no doubt due to whacking up prices from around 10 euros to 75 euros to help pay for the new mustard-coloured grandstand) still created much more verve than the massive crowd on Dubai World Cup night where you can’t bet on course. I might be in the minority here, but I think about £60 is a perfectly acceptable price to pay to watch a world class sporting event so I would suggest that regular racegoers had been spoiled in terms of the pricing up until this year so of course they would not appreciate such a hike in percentage terms.
To be able to see virtually all of the lawn in front of the grandstand whilst the Arc was taking place was not something that I was expecting. I did like the grandstand though with its design and colour - all very summery - but it would surely have struggled to deal with its former Arc Day-sized crowd. If I had to describe the feel of the day to a race experience in Britain, I would have said a day out at the Newmarket July Meeting would be the closest.
I was also surprised that there was just one statue at the course that I could see, which was of Gladiateur at the top of the steps of the main entrance. No tribute to Sea Bird at France’s pre-eminent racecourse was surprising given the general feeling that he is considered the best-ever Arc winner and French-trained horse of all time. Horse racing just isn’t that popular in France and, having spent three days in Paris, I didn’t see one single advertisement for the race.
As for the punting - it wasn’t really my day. In the opening Prix Marcel Boussac I went with the once-raced maiden, Matematica, each-way at 14/1 mainly as I like the record of the owners in the race and she looked all set to win until caught close home by the rank outsider of the field, Lily’s Candle. Merd. I left the Lagardere alone as my fancy, Anthony Van Dyck, wasn’t declared and then came the big arab race of the season. It was the first time that I had seen an arab horse in the flesh and knew that they were small but it still came as a surprise to see these ponies walk round the paddock. Not having a clue about the runners I therefore left the race well alone but not so my friend who doesn’t follow racing but decided that he was going to have a bet. That sole bet of his in the race, as it transpired, just happened to be on the 69/1 winner on the PMU. And he had it on the nose too! Chateauneuf du pap.
Onto the Arc and I was hopeful that my 33/1 each-way bet on Waldgeist from June 6th would pay out on at least the place element having been sent off at 13/2 so, to miss out on a return by one place as he finished fourth, was frustrating. My on-the-week fancy of Capri also ran well but he missed out on an each-way return finishing fifth and, no, having been shut down by Sky Bet many years ago, I didn’t take advantage of their first five place terms. The atmosphere for the Arc itself was great and I enjoyed the French commentator’s call building it up slowly unlike some of our top commentators. I wasn’t in the Enable camp at her price but I enjoyed her parade back to the paddock which was greeted like a big Cheltenham Festival winner.
The Prix de l’Opera didn’t go much better for me as With You was a nearest-at-the-finish fourth and I never saw City Light at any stage in the Abbaye. Mind you, with the race taking place getting on for half a mile away on the straight course nearer the woods and behind the corporate hospitality boxes, nobody saw anything of the winner, Mabs Cross, either! Polydream was too short for me to back in the Prix Foret which turned into a blessing as she endured a nightmare trip in finishing seventh. At least that’ll help her odds for the Breeders’ Cup Mile for which she remains my fancy as the American PMU backers might not like seeing a ‘7’ as her most recent form figure
Would I go back to ParisLongchamp? Yes, but maybe not for a few years and for a higher class renewal of the Arc. Still, knocking the Arc off the list is another box ticked and I'm tempted to add the Kentucky Derby next. I don't think that will lack for atmosphere!