x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Global warming in racegoers at Paris' Longchamp

Racegoers from as far away as Japan descend on French capital for a truly cosmopolitan day at Longchamp, where people paid around €10 (Dh49.3) to witness seven Group 1 races and the Arabian World Cup.

Hitoshi, a Japanese racegoer, was rooting for jockey Masayoshi Ebina and Nakayama Festa in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe yesterday.
Hitoshi, a Japanese racegoer, was rooting for jockey Masayoshi Ebina and Nakayama Festa in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe yesterday.

Shota and Hitoshi were both wearing jeans and T-shirts, but beside them at the main concessions area at Longchamp yesterday fascinators fluttered gently in a languid breeze.

Racegoers, many in couture dresses and sharp suits, tried to beat the uncharacteristic Parisien heat by sipping chilled drinks. Unlike most of the top racecourses throughout the world, Longchamp operates strictly along egalitarian lines.

Almost as a direct contrast to Royal Ascot's stuffy Royal Enclosure or even Meydan Racecourse's more relaxed policy, racegoers all paid around €10 (Dh49.3) to witness seven Group 1 races and the Arabian World Cup.dre

Shota was thankful it was so cheap to get in.

He had been travelling around the world for the past three months and last week received a call from Hitoshi, his friend, who had come over from Honshu in Japan to watch the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

"I got in touch with Shota because I knew he was in Europe," Hitoshi said. "The Arc is such a legendary race in Japan. Everyone knows about it, especially after Deep Impact and Nakayama Festa went so close."

In 2006, when Deep Impact came from Japan to finish third, the racecourse executive had to open up special betting booths such was the interest from the colt's huge entourage of fans.

Queues of Japanese punters stretched around the course. This year, with two Japanese horses in the 16-runner line-up, the executive had clearly learnt from their experience.

Yesterday there were special betting booths set up with Japanese-speaking cashiers and one of the programmes available at the course had the same number of pages in Japanese as it did in English.

The programme, organised by France Galop, had 24 pages of coverage in French, but given that the British and Irish regularly outnumber the home crowd it illustrates the moves made to accommodate the Japanese. Hitoshi, who is a student of architecture, was rooting for Nakayama Festa.

"It was so cruel when he was beaten last year. We can't really afford it but we will celebrate when he wins for Japan," he said. "This is my first time here. Only VIPs get dressed up to go the races at home, whereas here the fashions are crazy."

Yesterday there were five Japanese broadcasters covering the meeting, either live or delayed. Not bad for an event that was screened live just before midnight in their country. The Japanese invasion may be a relatively new phenomenon - they had their first runner in Paris in 1969, but the British have been coming here in their droves for each of the 90 Arcs staged so far. There is even a stand especially for them, La Tribune Anglais, which is only open on Arc day.

And for those who had crossed the Channel for a weekend, they had a lot to cheer as Tangerine Trees became the ninth British winner of the Prix l'Abbaye, the sprint over five furlongs.

There was a double for William Buick, the Newmarket-based jockey who won the Prix Marcel Boussac on Elusive Kate and the Prix de la Foret on Dream Ahead, owned by the Dubai businessman Khalifa bin Dasmal.

In contrast, when Germany's Danedream took the Arc, a torrid weekend for French sports fans was complete. There was no space for any coverage of the Arc on the front page of yesterday's edition of L'Equipe, the French sports newspaper. The race that regularly crowns the middle-distance champion of the world was relegated to the inside pages as France delved into the soul of its rugby union team and found nothing.

Saturday's historic defeat to Tonga in the Rugby World Cup has hit a proud rugby nation hard and yesterday afternoon there was further introspection as Europe's most powerful racing nation contemplated the Arc that got away.

This morning, French dreams of sporting success lie in tatters along the Grands Boulevards of broken dreams, but as hosts to racegoers from across the world, they were generous.

sports@thenational.ae

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