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!