Horse racing is a historically popular sport in France. The country is home to several world-renowned racecourses and features some of the world’s biggest and most prestigious horse races. If you are an avid horse racing fan, you must have heard of the Arc de Triomphe held at the Paris Longchamp Racecourse.
Besides horse races, France is also well-known for its premium horse breeding facilities. However, more on that later! Let’s learn a brief history of horse racing in France and the sport’s current status in the country.
History of Horse Racing in France
The first documented horse race in France was held in 1651. The race was a result of a bet between two noblemen. In the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly during the reign of Louis XIV, horse races were predominantly held for gambling purposes.
Louis XVI, who reigned over France from 1774 to 1793, organised a formal jockey club and laid down the rules of horse races deigning a royal decree. According to the new rules, certificates of origin were required to participate in races. Extra weights were also imposed on foreign horses.
In the following years, organised horse racing became a popular sport all over France. This led to establishment of formal horse racing venues in the country, particularly in Paris. From 1833 to 1857, horse races were held at Champ de Mars. However, in 1857, the Longchamp Racecourse was opened at the Bois de Boulogne. Located near the Eiffel Tower, the Longchamp soon became the centre of French horse racing for the years to come.
The first historic race at the Longchamp was held on 12th April 1857. The race was attended by renowned noblemen, including Napoleon III, the ruling Monarch, and his wife. Following this, the renowned Vincennes Racecourse, nicknamed the “temple of trotting” in eastern Paris, was opened to the public on 23rd March 1863.
French Horse Racing today
Today France is one of the world’s greatest horse racing and equestrian nations. The locals participate enthusiastically in equestrian sports and activities. France currently has around 670,000 registered horse riders. It is a tradition passed down from generations, particularly French horse races and the horse breeding sector.
France is well-known for its exceptional horse breeding facilities. The regions of Normandy and Forez are home to some of the topmost horse breeding operations. It is why France is home to around 840,000, the highest number, outnumbering countries like the UK, Romania, and Greece.
The official governing body for horse racing in France is the France Galop. The organisation is responsible for organising flat, and steeplechase horse races in the country.
The France Galop was founded on 3rd May 1995 after four different industry authorities were merged to have a centralised control authority for horse racing. The first elected president of the organisation was Jean-Luc Lagardere, a renowned horse owner, and breeder.
France Galop has an extensive setup with thousands of horse owners, breeders, jockeys, trainers, and other officials as its members. A board of directors and an oversight committee oversee and run the affairs of the organisation.
France Galop is responsible for organising more than 6500 horse races across France’s various racecourses. It also operates various racecourses, including the Longchamp racecourse, Saint Cloud Racecourse, and the Auteuil Racecourse.
France Galop also manages horse training centres at Chantilly, Deauville-La Touques, and Maisons Laffitte. Another role of the France Galop is to promote and improve racehorse breeding in the country. It also controls Peri-Mutuel Urbain, a body that is responsible for managing the on-track and off-track betting operations on France Galop’s behalf.
French Classic Horse Races
As mentioned earlier, France features some of the most popular horse races in the world. The classic French races that have been around for quite some time include the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which was first run in 1920, the Grand Prix du Paris, introduced in 1863, and the Prix du Jockey Club, which was introduced in 1836.
The Arc de Triomphe is the most significant horse racing event in current times. It is France’s equivalent of the US Kentucky Derby, the UK Grand National, and the Melbourne Cup in Australia. It comprises around 16 races run by more than 200 horses annually, with a purse worth millions. In 2021, the race had a purse of €5,000,000.
The Prix du Jockey Club is the French equivalent of the English Derby. The race was held in Chantilly over a distance of 2100m and had prize money of 1.5 million euros in 2022. The Grand Prix du Paris also takes place at the Longchamp racecourse and has a prize worth €600,000. Other prominent races in the French horse racing calendar include Prix de Diane Longines, Prix Jacques Le Marois, and the Poule D’Essai.