Probably the most respected turf race on the international calendar will be held at a new track for the first time in its history on Sunday. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which has been contested at Longchamp since 1920, has been moved - along with a supporting card that includes six other Group 1s, three of them Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifiers - to nearby Chantilly while its regular home is being renovated.
Although in many regards an ideal temporary location for Arc Weekend (there’s a top-class card on Saturday too), Chantilly will also present some challenges that organizers have been working hard to anticipate.
None of them, of course, will affect the quality of the races like the Prix Marcel Boussac (a qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf), the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (BC Juvenile Turf) or the Prix de l’Opera (BC Filly and Mare Turf) - or the Arc itself, for that matter.
“The real challenge was to try and replicate what is done at Longchamp at Chantilly knowing that the overall capacity of the latter is 40,000, compared to 60,000 at Longchamp,” said Olivier Delloye, the managing director of France Galop.
“Even if it is almost impossible to match Longchamp in terms of hospitality, we have done our very best to make sure people can easily get to the racecourse, eat, bet and view the races.”
Some of the ways Chantilly has been modified ahead of the Arc include: 25,000 square metres of high-quality temporary structures, an enlarged enclosure to give owners and trainers more space around the parade ring, and a temporary media center to accommodate the 400 expected journalists. There is also a plan in place to help racegoers eager to place bets throughout the day.
“Because of the size and the capacity of the racecourse, I trust people might not circulate as much this year,” said Delloye. “That’s the reason why we have significantly increased the number of people taking bets through mobile devices. They will go to the clients instead of asking people to seek a betting window. We have also set up 12 large screens throughout the course. So wherever you are, you can follow the races.”
With such modifications, organizers feel that Chantilly will now be able to handle the task ahead, as it was the preferred temporary home for the Arc from the beginning.
“For most of the people working in the industry, the choice of Chantilly was quite obvious,” said Delloye. “From a technical standpoint, it is certainly the best right-handed course we have to run on 2,400 metres. It is also a historical site for French racing, and a city where more than 2,500 horses are trained. Chantilly ticked all the boxes, except the size of the grandstand.”
However, being physically ready to accommodate the crowd on France’s biggest day of racing is only one piece of the puzzle. Because the Arc has always been held in Paris, it was easier to draw in the average fan. Now, they have to be convinced to travel to Chantilly, which is about 30 minutes away by train.
“As far as the general public is concerned, it is a little bit of a question mark,” said Delloye. “Chantilly can attract 35,000 people or more in June for the Prix de Diane Longines, but having the same one-day racegoers in October is a challenge, notably because this is the first time we are doing it. It’s a real change in people’s habits, so we’ll see how they react.”
Both France Galop and the city of Chantilly have also worked to ease the transportation troubles that could be associated with venturing out of the city. The most important initiative was working with France’s national train operator, SNCF, to add five trains from Paris to Chantilly on race-day morning and to provide the same added service back to Paris in the evening.
France Galop is also offering special online deals to encourage people to use the train system instead of driving. Starting at €12, racegoers can purchase a package that includes a two-way train ticket, access to the races, and a €2 gambling voucher.
“The train station is only a 10-minute walk from the racecourse, so it is a really good option for those who want to avoid the traffic,” said Delloye. “We are heavily promoting the event both offline and online, and we are helped by the city of Chantilly. It’s an exciting project for them to host the Arc, and they want it to be a memorable success.”
Although it will be the first time Chantilly hosts the Arc, it is no stranger to top racing. The track opened in 1834, and the inaugural running of the G1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) was held there in 1836, while the G1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) started in 1843. It is also home to an internationally renowned training centre, and the racecourse has one of the most iconic backdrops in the sport courtesy of the Château de Chantilly.
A kingdom for horses
“The fact that the Arc will take place at Chantilly is really exciting,” said Delloye. “It is a nod to French racing history. It all started with Lord Seymour and a group of sportsmen who staged the first races, including the Prix du Jockey Club. It is also a great reward for all the people who were involved 10 years ago in the redevelopment of the racecourse, in particular His Highness the Aga Khan, who has played a very active role in promoting Chantilly and its races in the last decade.”
While moving venues is a new experience for the Arc, it is hardly unprecedented in racing. For example, in 2005, the Royal Ascot meeting was held at York while Ascot was redeveloped. Relocating such a hallmark event is never a completely smooth process, but overall it went well.
Just last year, Keeneland hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships for the first time. Although the two-day event does move venues, there were concerns about the Lexington track hosting due to its small size, but most deemed it a success.
So, while some people may avoid Chantilly because of the logistics of it all, others may seek it out simply for the novelty factor. Originally it was planned to be a one-year host site, but France Galop recently announced that, due to the renovation timetable for Longchamp, it appears the Arc will not be able to return home next year. While no official decision has been made, assuming this year goes well, Chantilly is expected to host again in 2017.
“I wouldn’t change the venue of the Arc every year, of course, but because Longchamp is being redone, I find it quite exciting to organize and experience a ‘new’ Arc,” said Delloye. “It will not happen more than twice in a lifetime so don’t miss it, and don’t wait for next year. This year’s race promises to be very exciting with the likes Postponed and Found, to name just a few.
“Going to Chantilly also gives fans the opportunity to visit the training grounds. It’s not to be missed for people who haven’t had the chance to do it yet. Chantilly is a kingdom for horses, and as such, it really is worth the visit.”