Horse racing in France is a hugely popular sport among competitors and spectators alike. It’s home to some of the biggest races in the world and, over the years, has produced some of the world’s leading horses, trainers and jockeys.
French horse racing is governed in its entirety by France Galop, a central authority which oversees everything from the organisation and promotion of more than 6,500 races across the country to improvements in breeding, training and riding techniques.
Read on to learn more about the races, courses and personalities within horse racing that have made it one of the shining beacons of a sports-mad nation.
Undoubtedly the biggest horse race that takes part on French soil each year is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a 1m 4f flat race held at Longchamp that is widely considered to be Europe’s most prestigious horse race. Commonly referred to simply as the Arc, this race carries a total prize pool of more than £4m.
No horse has ever won the race on more than two occasions, with seven horses sharing this historic record. The most recent double champion is the French mare, Treve, who won the race in 2013 and 2014.
Although France is more widely known for its flat racing rather than jumps, that doesn’t stop their equivalent of the Grand National from capturing the imagination of the nation. The Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris is held at Auteuil in May each year and is by far and away the most famous jumps race in the calendar. Run over 3m 6f, this true test of stamina sees horses taking on 23 gruelling fences with Hyeres III, Katko and Mid Dancer sharing three record-setting wins apiece.
French Horse Racing Courses
Around half of all European horse racing venues are in France, which boasts some of the most aesthetically stunning ‘hippodromes’ in the world.
Longchamp is a coursed steeped in aristocratic history with the first race day attended by Napoleon III who arrived in a private yacht via the Seine River which runs parallel to the course. As well as playing host to the Arc, Longchamp is home to the vast majority of France’s Group 1 races, with 16 of the 27 held here.
Chantilly is another course held in the highest regard by French racegoers and, such is its quality, that the Arc took place at the track in 2016 while Longchamp underwent extensive renovation. It features one of the most luxurious stables of any race track globally, with a 186 metre home for horses located on site.
Although flat racing tends to dominate the French racing scene, Auteuil is perhaps the best known of the country’s jump racing courses. It’s the home of the Grand Steeple-Chase du Paris as well as the Prix du President de la Republique and Prix La Haye Jousselin, all Group 1 races in the calendar.
Prominent Jockeys And Trainers
France has produced a number of world-class jockeys and trainers throughout the years, but arguably none more so than Yves Saint-Martin. He became the French Champion Jockey on no less than 15 occasions throughout a glittering career in which he won four Arcs, four Grand Prix du Paris and five Prix de Diane races among myriad other high-class victories.
In terms of trainers, one of the greats of the sport is still training today. Andre Fabre was a highly successful jockey before taking to the stables as a trainer. He has been recognised as the leading trainer in France 24 times, winning not only the Arc and Grand Prix du Paris, but also the Breeders Cup and Arlington Million in America along with the Epsom Derby and St. Leger in Britain to name but a few.
Betting On French Horse Racing
France has a unique set of betting laws applicable to horse races when compared to Britain and the US. There are no on-course bookmakers, with any bets taken on French racing made via the Pari Mutual, equivalent to Britain’s tote system.
Estimated odds are given rather than fixed prices and therefore any winnings are paid out as a dividend to successful punters. The final payout for winners could be higher on lower than the originally chosen odds depending on the popularity of a particular horse in the market.
This only applies to residents of France betting within their own borders, however international punters such as those from Britain are able to take fixed odds from UK bookmakers. The likes of Paddy Power, William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and Betfair all offer fixed price odds on these races, which are settled in the same way as any other traditional bet.