Over the past few years, Sportsvibe have been fortunate to attend a number of sporting events, but we have never witnessed an occasion like the Prix de Diane Longines. Taking place at the stunning Chantilly racecourse, we were on-hand to witness the best three-year-old fillies in the world compete over one mile and two and a half furlongs.
That short distance is all that separates the best from the rest in an event that perfectly showcases why racing attracts such a fashionable audience. Much like Royal Ascot attracts a crowd hoping to hit the headlines with their hats, the Prix de Diane Longines is everything you expect from an event in the fashion capital of Europe.
But first of all we must explain just what we were doing on the outskirts of Paris. Invited to Chantilly for the weekend by Longines, the sponsor of the world famous flat race, I was handed an insight into just what makes this one of the most exciting days in the racing diary.
Our trip begun with an early morning wake up call and a visit to the Chantilly Training Centre which boasts an incredible 2000 hectares of land for the 3000 thorough-breads that are groomed at the stunning facility. There are 114 trainers based at the centre and I would go on to learn that 60 percent of all the horses running on Sunday would be trained at this complex.
It is hard to put into context the sheer scale of the training facility but it is fair to say even the most classic images of British countryside would be eclipsed by this vast terrain. In every direction you turn there are champion horses either cantering on the grass or powering along the sand track, the perfect fusion of power and grace.
I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to gain some vital information on the next days racing and a journalist from Le Parisien was my target. Producing four pages of coverage every single day for the national newspaper, he seemed the ideal insider. Unfortunately he wasn’t willing to divulge any tips, simply telling me that a horse by the name Beauty Parlour was the outstanding favourite for the showpiece event.
After a brief encounter with one of the horses, in which I nearly lost a finger after offering out my hand, it was time to head to the Château de Chantilly. Famous for its incredible selection of stables, that are even more breathtaking than the building itself, the legend goes that Louis Henri de Bourbon believed he would be reincarnated as a horse and therefore demanded a stable be built that was suitable to match his rank. Thankfully his eccentricity created a movingly beautiful setting for the Chantilly racecourse.
Featuring an art collection that is second only to the Louvre, you can find Raphael’s Three Graces and Boticelli’s Autumn hanging amongst the thousands of pieces on display. The building itself had been restored thanks in no small part to racing trainer and philanthropist Prince Aga Khan, who donated more than €40million. The famous entrepreneur would have a number of horses riding the following day, one of which would make the headlines and some fellow journalists some serious money.
The next morning we travelled to the racecourse in horse drawn carriage, surely the perfect way to enter the picturesque grounds in Chantilly. It was here I had my first taste of Parisien fashion as I noticed one lady with what can only be described as a fully blown flower display masquerading as a hat. It was the first of many that would grab my attention on a day where you spend as much time watching people as you do the actual races.
But it was the racing that was my main interest, as numerous bets were placed on horses that were picked simply by their name. Unfortunately my French is basic at best and I had no idea how to consult the form guide. It’s not a tactic I would recommend but it has brought me success in the Grand National once or twice.
The fourth race of the day was the Prix de Diane Longines. It was the main attraction of the day and it certainly lived up to its billing as the most exciting race as veteran Irish jockey Johnny Murtagh stormed to victory on unfancied Valyra. The 25/1 longshot is owned by the Prince Aga Khan, who revealed his delight at the victory straight after the race.
“This filly had shown that she could perform to a high level around this track after winning very easily here last time,” said Khan. “Jean-Claude Rouget has brought her along since that race and I had my secret weapon on board, who is the best man in a finish in Europe, if not the world.”
With my limited racing knowledge I had decided to back an Irish jockey, unfortunately I made the wrong choice and went for Joseph O’Brien. The Irishman took an early lead but soon his horse Kissed began to toil and it was revealed after the race that the horse would be retired after just her third race. While the luck of the Irish ran out for the Aiden O’Brien trained filly, it was a memorable day for his fellow countryman.
“The race worked brilliantly, I just travelled round into the straight after being a little bit outpaced,” Murtagh said. “When she came on the bridle in the straight I was always going to win. I was confident from two and a half furlongs down I was always going to get there. When she got to the front she just pricked her ears a little. I think she’s a filly on the improve and she could get even better.”
While I may not have been celebrating an instant cash reward I was able to appreciate the entire experience. There are no signs of pretentiousness as patrons simply choose to turn up in their glad rags and enjoy a day of racing. Each race is tinged with excitement as the grand stand explodes with anticipation of the horses getting ever closer to the finishing line and there was plenty of congratulating for the lucky few who picked the winner.
It is no coincidence that Longines has chosen this spectacular race as a title event. Their slogan of ‘Elegance is an Attitude’ is perfectly matched to such a prestigious event and firmly joins another Longines sponsored occasion, the French Open, as two of sports’ most glamorous spectacles.
Both events are a must. Whether it is the thrill of highly competitive sport or the sheer sense of occasion that you enjoy, there is little doubt that you will want to return year after year.