I frequently search for events in the places I travel. Here in Paris I found http://www.france-galop.com/ and their special Les Dimanches au Galop. That is, Horse Racing Sundays. Strangely enough, the closest one was on lundi (Monday) – today. Online I bought a ticket for entrance and to the grand stand near the finish line.
It was at the Hippodrome d’Auteuil, which is on the western edge of Paris adjacent to Bois de Boulogne, the big park. It is just within Metro range, being at the next to last stop on the #10 line. When you get off the Metro and go up all of the stairs, an entrance is right there. There is a brief security check (as there is almost everywhere in Paris now) and the ticket is scanned. It is a brief walk to the actual grandstand.
The grandstand is in multiple sections and faces the track, which I will describe below. Behind the grandstand are vendors, displays, the winner’s circle area, and the paddock area – basically all other than the track itself. Since the first race was still ahead, I wandered the back area.
This is Al Capone II or so it self-proclaims. I have no idea, but the statue was prominent and nice.
The parimutuel betting is easy! Single horse bets, two horse bets, three horse bets, and a special two out of four. Exact order bets and any order bets. The minimum is €1.50. There were betting machines all over. They would take cash or credit cards. There were also guichets (betting windows) if you did not want to use a machine. Sorry, I did not bet. Trying to understand who was in which race, the original and every changing odds, etc. meant I just watched. I did look at the payoffs after some races. The most simple thing would be to bet on the favorite to win or place or show, the topmost bet described on the board above. A frequent payoff for that is €1.00 earning €1.30 or so. That is, modest. Of course the multiple horse, exact order bets paid out more. I saw €1.00 netting about €59.00.
More fun for me was watching the preparations. Here you see some horses being walked before being saddled. I was a close as I could get for the picture. I also saw horses being washed and rubbed down.
Before a race, the horses were saddled and walked around a different ring (further on my right). Then just before the race, the jockeys came out, talked to the trainer and/or owners, and would mount as their horse came around that ring. There was a path out of the ring to one side of the grandstand and out to the track. That ring’s center was the winner’s circle; the winning horse was unsaddled there with pictures being taken, awards given, etc.
Looking across the track you see Paris with the Tour Eiffel in the background. It is not easy to see, but it is a steeple-chase (steeplechase) and haies (hedges) track. There are many starting points and ways to wind around. The steeple-chase obstacles are not used for a haies race. The sub-tracks even cross over in the center area. Each race was different. Some steeple-chase, some haies. Some longer, some shorter. But, the finish line was always the same finish line right in front of the grandstand section I was in.
Looking left you might be able to get a feeling for how large the track area is. It goes way down there. And there are multiple turn paths for different races. It is also hard to follow the race. The grandstand is not that high and the place is big. There is a large TV that tracks the race. You can see it in the picture above (showing some person).
Looking right just lets you continue to see how big it really is. And it extends off to the further right.
The first race was a steeple-chase. It was a very large field of about fourteen horses and it was a long race. The horses crossed in front of the grandstand three times (as I recall) before the finish.
This was my first ever live horse racing and my first ever live steeple-chase. I’ve read every Dick Francis and have some familiarity with the steeple-chase from that, including how dangerous it is. But, I will say that it did not prepare me for that first race.
First, the start is interesting. Basically, the horses mill around in a fairly limited area on the track and then a bell rings and they are off. No starting gates or anything like that. Pretty much just mayhem.
Not too far into the race there was a fall just after one of the obstacles. The horse and rider did not get up. People scurried out. Some immediately opened up formerly rolled up screening held on poles to block off all sight to the accident. Therefore, I cannot tell you for sure what happened.
Then a little later there was another fall. Again, both the horse and rider were down. Again, people came out and blocked off the area.
Then nearer the end, there was yet another fall. This took down one horse and two riders. This time I did see the riders get up and, after not too long, the horse get up. But, people went out and screened out of sight just the same. Now there was a riderless horse racing along with the main bunch.
It all happens pretty fast and far enough away that I could get no pictures.
Below are three pictures of that first race’s finish. There was a clear winner, but second and third was extremely close.
You can see the finish line between the two Auteuil signs above.
The winning trainer of the fourth race was interviewed and English as he was clearly British. He said he was pleased to win that race, but still saddened by losing his horse in the first race.
With things screened off, I cannot tell exactly what happened, but I do not think those horses that badly feel survived.
In a later race I saw a horse pull up lame immediately after an obstacle. Of course, the jockey immediately jumped off and tried to keep the horse from moving. Again, people were ready and screened off the horse. I don’t even know if that was a simple sprain or much more serious like a broken bone.
Believe the violence in the Dick Francis books. That is, believe the entire world he was writing about had violence in it. That’s what people lived with. I’m sure he enlarged things for the human side of his dramas, but he was no stranger to violence.