- Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe staged at Chantilly on Oct. 1
- Usual venue Longchamp being redeveloped
- Richest flat race on turf
It’s a highlight of France’s sporting and cultural calendar, now in its second year at Chantilly while its traditional Longchamp home undergoes a €130 million ($145 million) revamp.
Europe’s most prestigious race, a one-and-a-half-mile test of speed and stamina for three-year-olds and above, commands a purse of five million euros, with a first prize of 2,857,000 euros ($3.3 million).
That makes it the third-richest horse race in the world, behind the Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup.
The Longchamp racecourse in the Bois de Boulogne public park on the western edge of the city has been the long-standing host of the “Arc” since its first running in 1920, but its 1960s-era grandstands were at odds with its leafy setting and glamorous association.
France Galop, the country’s horse racing governing body, commissioned celebrated architect Dominique Perrault to reimagine the venue, and his futuristic design, which incorporates 360-degree views — towards Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine and the woods of the park — is set to reopen in April 2018 after a lengthy delay.
“Everybody is happy with the project because it has got more green space,” Perrault told CNN in 2015.
“For me, I like the relationship between the architecture and nature — it’s very smooth, very delicate and poetic also.
“The idea is you walk on a different plateau and the view on either side is uninterrupted like a fluid promenade.”
France Galop hopes the new facility will attract more racegoers year-round rather than just during “Arc” weekend, when 50,000 punters pack the stands.
The racecourse at Chantilly, about 30 miles north of the city, lies in the grounds of the impressive Chateau de Chantilly which dates back to the 16th century.
The hot favorite for this year’s race is the John Gosden-trained filly Enable, which has won a string of big races this season including the Epsom Oaks, the Irish Oaks and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. The Newmarket-based Gosden won the race with Golden Horn in 2015.
Beware the wild boar
“If the race was run at Longchamp I’d have a lot more confidence,” Gosden told BBC Five Live radio.
“The management at Chantilly and the clerks have done a brilliant job with the tracks and the grass and everything because they have had a massive amount of racing loaded on them, for two years now with Longchamp being closed.
“Even without the wild boar getting on there it is a narrow track, there’s a lot of racing before [on Saturday and Sunday], we hope we don’t get too much rain on Saturday and it turns into slushing through loose ground so that is a concern.
“The other thing is Longchamp has a long back straight, they tend to roll on down the hill into the false straight and when you straighten up at Longchamp you have got a lovely long run to the finish line.
“Chantilly is so different, it’s narrow, you go out an elbow to the left then you start turning back to the right, back downhill past the royal stables to a very tight hairpin bend.
“You can’t go too fast around that bend so they all drop anchor and steady up and it can get really concertina-ed around there.
“We’ve got a very nice filly and a brilliant jockey who knows the track awfully well but I would be a lot more confident if it was held at Longchamp.”
On having the odds on favorite, two years after winning with Golden Horn, Gosden added: “If you don’t appreciate this you shouldn’t be in the game. We work hard for this sort of thing but we don’t start counting any chickens at this stage.”
Should the filly win she would secure jockey Frankie Dettori a record fifth win in Europe’s richest horse race. Seven jockeys are on four wins, while Dettori has ridden in 28 of the last 29 Arcs, missing one with due to a broken ankle.
Last year jockey Ryan Moore piloted the Aidan O’Brien-trained Found to victory at Chantilly.
The Irish handler also sent out the second and third-placed horses — Highland Reel and Order Of St. George — for the first whitewash in the race’s history.
O’Brien is represented by five — Highland Reel, Order of St. George, St Leger winner Capri, 1,000 Guineas winner Winter this year and Seventh Heaven
The two-day meeting features 16 races with nine Group One events, totaling 9.4 million euros in overall prize money.
The 2017 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe takes place on October 1.