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Lessons from Longchamp

YESTERDAY was my maiden voyage to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, just like my Paris taxi driver, who was oblivious to the fact that Europe's premier horse race was on just 20 minutes down the road.

Paris welcomed the event with open arms and in the middle of Champs-Élysées on Saturday a big advert for the race stood proud. Paris is the city of love and the Parisians love their racing.

The 50,250 attendance figure was reported to be up on last year by 17pc, but possibly down on the amount that was actually there as I for one somehow found myself under the grandstand without getting asked for a ticket at all!


Had I not been fortunate enough to escape without paying, I would have only had to part with €8 for access to everywhere you need to go. There is no such thing as reserved enclosures here.

My first thought upon entering the racecourse was about a racecard and then straight ahead was a table full of them. Free for everyone. As bulky and probably as informative as they were, they were all in French, but the gesture was uplifting as opposed to the €3 subjected on Irish punters for one less than half the size.

Having been one to criticise Irish racecourses in the past for their employment of parade ring announcers, I would admit that yesterday probably changed my view.

Without the two men in the parade ring at Longchamp yesterday, the atmosphere would have probably lacked something.

However, there was a difference between yesterday and duties of those on our racecourses.

Longchamp's parade ring announcers were speaking about racing and racing-related topics that were of interest to the vast majority of people on site.

There was a strange similarity to an Irish racecourse after the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.

Crowds rushed around the winner's enclosure to see a Frankie Dettori flying dismount in a similar fashion to that when Oliver Brady trains a winner over here. Like Oliver, Frankie always produces.

The next race was the Prix de la Foret where Goldikova (who made front pages of French national newspapers on Saturday) would make her final appearance in her homeland.

The superstar mare was a short price to bow out with a win and she was applauded as she entered the parade ring and again after the race when she returned.

Unfortunately, though, it was a subtle applause and a few acknowledging whistles as she returned post race with the dream of a final win in France dashed by Dream Ahead and William Buick, who denied Goldikova by a head. That was to be anti-climax number one of two for the French public.


High hopes were put in their biggest chance for the feature contest, Sarafina. However, there was to be a shock winner of the 2011 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as German-trained Danedream bolted up at the unpopular odds of 27/1.

Few were celebrating the three-year-old filly's triumph, yet she was still gracefully welcomed back, admittedly not to the tune of an outsider at a meeting like Cheltenham.

It wasn't to be for Sarafina, or Galikova, the aforementioned Goldikova's sister, but the French still appeared to go home happy after a good day's fare. Those from other racing districts such as Ireland and the UK went home refreshed.

My first trip to the Arc was a pleasant one, one that was affordable for all, and one that could open the eyes of a few Irish racecourses.