Racecourses in France

French racecourses in France are controlled by the industry body – France Galop.

There are a cluster of racecourses in and around the French capital of Paris – Longchamp, Auteuil, Maison-Laffittes and Saint Cloud.

Other racecourses of note are Pau – in the South West, Deauville in Normandy, Chantilly in Hauts de France and Cagnes-sur-Mer on the Côte d’Azur.

At the last count, there are over 250 hippodromes offering traditional horse racing and trotting races (le Trot)

There are no on-course bookmakers in France, and no betting shops. Pool betting is state controlled and is facilitated in PMU (Pari Mutuel Urbain) shops that you will find in every French town and City, which also act as bars and sell other gaming products such as lotto. The PMU also is the conduit for betting on-course – similar to the Tote offering in Ireland & the UK.

Paris-Longchamp, France

Beautiful Longchamp in the Bois de Boulogne. I was a frequent visitor to the old Longchamp and in the interests of transparency, have only visited the new Paris-Longchamp, once – and in the year it re-opened in 2018.

The magnificent Notre Dame de Paris – 2018, before the fire

Getting there

Paris-Longchamp is easily reached by free ‘navettes’ (courtesy shuttle buses) on Arc day, which depart from opposite Porte Maillot. Porte Maillot is a congress centre, as well as being the dropping off/collecting point for Ryanair passengers to get to and from Beauvais – just in case you know that, as a general marker.

After racing on Arc day the navettes will be under pressure and you will probably have to wait a while to get back into central Paris, but no longer than about 20-30 minutes.

On other racedays, the venue can be reached by bus/ metro/on foot/cycling etc.

Original artwork for the Metro system in Paris, captured in the Musee D’Orsay

Convenient districts in which to stay

Paris is divided up into a group of districts – or arrondisments. The 8th, 16th & 17th are the recommended ones, to have closer proximity to Porte Maillot and therefore Paris-Longchamp. The 8th would generally be the more expensive as it includes the Champs Elysees and surrounds.

If you are looking for a good-value, centrally located hotel off the Champs Elysees, I would recommend Hotel Elysees Ceramic: https://ceramic-paris-hotel.com/en/ Step out the door and the Arc de Triomphe monument looms before you.

The actual Arc de Triomphe

Racecourse

The new structure now has 3 enclosures – the cheapest one having no visibility of the finish line, or access to the parade ring. There are a variety of different options and hospitality packages which you can check out here: https://www.parislongchamp.com/en/qatar-prix-de-larc-triomphe

Photo credit: Katherine Grace

In 2018, we paid about €70.00 per ticket, which we did get discounted by 50% – for the equivalent of a members or club type experience. Unfortunately Paris-Longchamp had not accurately assessed how much Irish & British visitors drink and consequently the facilities fell down in every area, from lack of bars, toilets and places to sit. Perhaps there was a higher than usual attendance of this cohort that first year of the new facility, as everyone wanted to see it and perhaps that led to the underplanning. Overall it was a bit of a disaster and we took refuge in one of the restaurant areas in the cheaper enclosure, as that didn’t appear to be as over-subscribed as the rest of the venue.

The tree-laden parade ring. Photo credit: Katherine Grace.

My understanding is that in 2019, significant improvements were made in all the areas above. I look forward to an Arc day there in the future.

One think that has stuck in my head, was the use of wood for the stand – presumably in keeping with the wider wooded Bois de Boulogne area. It was a fairly damp, wet day in 2018 and if you had slightly impractical shoes on, it was very hairy walking up the steps, in terms of the slippage. Ladies beware!

General vibe

Parisians rarely go racing, but Arc day is one of those days that anyone who is anyone, shows up to show off in their finery. The vast majority of attendees will have made an effort, including all the international visitors, which include the Japanese of course. So jeans and casual clothes, won’t really cut it.

With the quotient of British visitors in particular, the atmosphere can get fairly lively, quite early on. There is also a fair degree of flag waving, with British, Irish and Japanese as well as French flags being brandished by certain racegoers.

Pre-race parade. Photo credit: Paul Roberts.

There is genuinely a fantastic atmosphere, greatly enhanced by rousing music when the winner comes back in, which makes for a great experience, and genuinely gets the blood pumping. It is like a diluted version of Cheltenham, from the general anticipation and excitement point of view. With a card overflowing with group ones and arguably the best flat race in the world – you would need a heart of stone, not to be moved by the theatre of the occasion.

Entertainment – photo credit: Katherine Grace

It – like Cheltenham, has to be a must-visit for any racing fan, regardless of whether you like flat racing or not.

Enable going to start – 2018. Photo credit: Paul Roberts

Enable after winning back-to-back Arcs in 2018, 1st one being at Chantilly in 2017. Photo credit: Paul Roberts.
And the vanquished and sadly missed Sea of Class, just pipped – as evidenced on screen behind James Doyle. Photo credit: Paul Roberts

Summary

My understanding is that the other days outside of that 1st Sunday in October, are much more pleasurable affairs, in terms of enjoying the facilities. I believe there has been some progress in enticing the local community into some of the summer series evenings that they run. My plan before COVID-19, was to visit in July to attend the Grand Prix de Paris on Bastille day, however that looks unlikely due to the current guidance of President Macron with regard to outdoor events. I will update this page, once I have more current experience of a day out at the glorious Bois de Boulogne!

Chantilly, France

Chantilly racecourse, North of Paris is home to the French Derby & the Oaks. The Guineas are run at Paris-Longchamp. The area of Chantilly is the centre of flat racing in France, the equivalent of Newmarket in the UK.

How to get there

There are regular trains from Gare du Nord to Chantilly. It’s a pleasant stroll through the forest to the racecourse and on major days, there are shuttle buses for those that don’t fancy the walk.

There is a great PMU bar at Chantilly station, if you need a stopping off point.

Accommodation

There is limited accommodation in Chantilly town, with some Chateau type hotels in the surrounding areas. As the train ride from Gare du Nord is only about 35 minutes, you can easily travel in from central Paris, unless you prefer the more rural experience.

Racecourse

A rather unique setting, with the stunning Chateau in the background, a unique backdrop as the horses sweep by. In keeping with most French racecourses, it is well-managed with the usual snack and drink carts.

View to stand on Arc day 2017

Vibe

For the Prix Diane (French Oaks) – this is very much the day for the ladies out in their finery, so it’s very much a day for dressing your best. For the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby), there would be a mix of style, but generally on the smarter end of the scale.

A rather dodgy picture of Enable after winning her 1st Arc!

Deauville, France

Where to start? – The beautiful resort where all the well-heeled Parisians retreat in the summer. Consequently, you need a fairly large wallet to stay here for any length of time! However, it is worth it. It’s a town filled with high-end shops and beach restaurants with cover charges, that will make most of us wince and that you would expect more in St. Tropez! As well as the beach and the picturesque racecourse, it is also home to a renowned Film Festival. If you take a walk along the boardwalk, you can see the beach huts with the names of the various luminaries that have graced the town in the past:

Getting there

It’s fairly challenging, as there are no direct flights anymore from London City to the local airport St. Gatien. Your best option is to fly to Paris and take the train from Paris St-Lazare. It generally takes just over 2 hours. The train station in Deauville could not be more central, so no taxis needed to reach your chosen lodgings.

Accommodation

Plenty of high-end options as you would expect, with the like of the Barriere hotels. I stayed in the more modest Mercure, which overlooks the port and is in close proximity to the train station. Deauville is extremely walkable (flat as well for those that could be physically impaired), so I wouldn’t get too hung-up on where your hotel is situated. A useful tip is that if you are really looking for budget accommodation, but still accessible to racecourse, would be to pick a hotel in Trouville, which I suppose is the slightly poorer relation to Deauville, but a 5-10 walk in the other direction away from the station.

Dining/drinks

Eating out can be fairly pricey, but if you look hard enough you will find good value. I ate at Le Cafe de Paris, which overlooks the central fountain. Perfectly acceptable, standard French fayre, waiters can be quite engaging in a good way.

Racecourse

Entrance to the course

It’s in the town, so again no need for transport of any kind.

It’s a really striking course with original Norman beamed buildings which give it a unique charm. Since I first went in 2006, they have built a new stand which supports the capacity requirements, during the summer festival. I previously went to the Prix Maurice Gheest which is at the start of August but in 2019, went to the Prix Jacques Le Marois.

Enclosures

As with all France Galop courses, admission is crazily cheap in comparison to the UK & Ireland. I paid €12 which gave me a seat in the grandstand and that was the most expensive option, aside from a hospitality package. And of course, free glossy racecard included!

There are ample drink stations, along with crepe, ice cream and all the usual snacks you find at racecourses.

What impressed me – even though I am not a parent, is that Deauville (like alot of French racecourses) – has an abundance of activities for children, which are not just confined to a bouncy castle.

General vibe

A kind of French country party, sofas and deckchairs scattered around the parade ring. Some people are casually dressed, others are dressed to the nines. Truly egalitarian!

Summary

You will have a fabulous experience – guaranteed. There are no operational flaws at Deauville. Depending on what day you choose to go, the quality of racing can be sublime.

Ken Condon, trainer of Romanised after winning the Prix Jacques Le Marois in 2019, for Ireland. Ridden by Billy Lee.

Auteuil, France

Auteuil is home to the Grand-Steeplechase de Paris, held every May. Situated on the outskirts of the City of Paris, it’s easy to get to and exclusively for jump racing.

Accommodation

This is not the forum to discuss Paris hotels! However if you are looking for a good-value, centrally located hotel off the Champs Elysees, I would recommend Hotel Elysees Ceramic: https://ceramic-paris-hotel.com/en/ You step out the door and the Arc de Triomphe monument looms before you.

Neither is this the platform to talk about restaurants – you can sort yourselves out!!

Getting there

Invariably you will be staying in the greater Paris area, so the racecourse is reached easily by bus or metro/RER (French strikes permitting of course) – When I was there in May 2019, the Gilets Jaunes movement was in full flow, so I ended up getting the metro, as opposed to the bus – from my base just off the Champs Elysees. From that location, it takes about 40 minutes, with a couple of changes.

Racecourse

Depending from which direction you alight to the racecourse, once through the turnstiles – you will end up walking through one of 2 tunnels for about 10 minutes, where you can pick up a free racecard. As you come out of the tunnel, you are hit with this magnificent and quite unexpected vista. I was quite unprepared for the sheer scale of the old Victorian stand.

Once inside, what is striking, is how spacious it is, no shortage of quiet space, and even a lounge to watch uninterrupted racing coverage.

What is also very evident is the enduring passion of France Galop, to ensure a highly memorable experience for guests at Auteuil . There are more than enough coffee, refreshment stands and in tune with other French racecourses, children’s needs are well-served with relevant racing related activities to hopefully nurture them, into the racegoers of the future.

There are varying levels of admission, I think I paid about €12 for a seat in the grandstand, which was the top level entry price. I appreciated the cushion on the seats as well!

The range of races on ‘Grand-Steep’ day are mesmerising with the unique obstacles.

Davy Russell after winning the big race in 2019 on Carriacou , trained by Isabelle Pacault

Summary

All racing fans endeavor to go to the Arc meeting at Paris-Longchamp once in their lifetime, regardless of which racing code they prefer. However, Auteuil offers such a great product in terms of the facilities, general operational management and value, that a day out at the Grand-Steep is a great introduction to French racing. Paris-Longchamp is still finding it’s place after it’s re-opening in 2018 and is highly congested and can be an uncomfortable experience. So, if you want to experience a first taste of French racing at a top level, I would recommend a relaxing, comfortable day at Auteuil.