10/05/2011 4:25AM

Postcard from the Bois de Boulogne


BOULOGNE-BILLANCOURT -- Greetings from Paris -- France, not Kentucky -- where I didn’t make it to the Arc on Sunday, but made the double at Auteuil Tuesday.

When last we spoke, Piscesbymoonlight had just won the 11th at Belmont Saturday to complete that whopping pick-6 where I needed singles to get home in the last three races just to get that $486 payoff. (And that’s only 364.5 Euros – sorry, I’ve been mentally converting currency at every turn for the last 48 hours) Plenty of pick-6’s have paid even less (including the $266.50 payoff, WITH a carryover, on Sept. 17 at Belmont), though I can’t remember one paying under $500 that included a $26.40 winner (Giant Ryan in the Vosburgh). When the other five winners pay $3.20, $3.20, $2.90, $4.80 and $3.40, what can you do? The Saturday all-stakes pick-4 –- which handled $670k, well over the $500k guarantee some of you were hoping wouldn’t be reached –- turned out to offer a little more value at $257.50 for the $26.20, $3,20, $2,90 and $4.80 winners.

Anyway, the ambitious plan was to get to Longchamp in time for the Arc Sunday, but by the time my sleepless, French-baby-filled flight actually got to Paris, and by the time my confused cab driver found my remote hotel in Boulogne-Billancourt, (a 60-euro, or $80 ride pre-tip), Arc Day was a lost cause and I pretty much conked out until Monday’s morning’s International Federation of Horseracing Authorities Conference, the actual purpose of my trip here.

This was my second trip to Paris but my first in 31 years since I saw Detroit win the 1980 Arc (I always think of her as Detroit as in Motown and the Tigers but everyone here pronounces it like “deux trois.”) Another 3-year-old filly won it this time, the German longshot Danedream, who won by five lengths in record time of 2:24.49 on a hot day over a sun-baked course. She seems like a special horse, having won Germany’s biggest race a month earlier over a completely different boggy course, but it doesn’t sound like she’s coming to the Breeders’ Cup, even though the BC Turf looks there for the taking by any Euro whose connections can stand running for the front end of a $3 million purse that’s worth only $2.25 million Euros.

The years between Arcs  had eroded my memory of the linguistic and other barriers. Europeans have a different idea of “hotel” from ours, and the square footage you get for 200 Euros ($266) a night had me wistfully humming the Motel 8 jingle. The sleep-deprivation didn’t help, but upon arrival I couldn’t figure out how to operate anything in the room, from the tv (turns out you don’t use the “Power” button to turn it on, only to turn it off) to the thermostat (the markings appear to be written in Vulcan glyphs) to the toilet (you flush it by pressing the thing that looks like a paper-towel dispenser about five feet up the wall). The laptop died after an hour since no one told me about the need for power-outlet converters, and forget about using an iPhone for anything except a camera and an alarm clock.

At least the iAlarm worked, and I made it to the IFHA Conference Monday morning in time to bolt a croissant and two shots of espresso by post time at the offices of France-Galop, the sport’s national governing body here. (They have their own building at 46 Place Abel Gance, a street named for the French filmmaker who made the silent classic “Napoleon” in 1927. The French reverence for old movies, and not just Jerry Lewis ones, remains strong: Next to the door of my hotel room is a poster for the 1941 Humphrey Bogart classic known here as "Le Faucon Maltaise." )

I’ll write more about the conference itself later this week, but it was more interesting than I expected, even (and maybe especially) the parts about racing in Belgium and (who knew?) Mauritius. My speech and panel  discussion with fellow racing journalists from Britain (Howard Wright) and Australia (Steve Moran) seemed to go pretty well. Even the Aga Khan showed up to deliver a keynote speech, and fortunately he and almost everyone else spoke in English, though there were headphones available for simultaneous transalations provided in French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.

Louis Romanet, the president of France-Galop, rewarded us all for eight hours of conferencing by hosting a dinner that night at Fouquet’s on the Champs-Elysees that quickly melted all my Ugly American travel grouchiness into a Chablis-infused blur of joie de vivre at being in the City of Lights. I wouldn’t remember precisely what we ate if they hadn’t provided a souvenir menu, so I can report that I dined on Dos de saumon fume avec  salad Tzatziki et blinis tiede; Pave de bar de ligne, risotto facon paella, ecume de parmesan; and Chocolat des Cesar, glace a la feve de tonka. Not to mention the Chablis Saint-Martin and Chateau La Licorne de Puplessis and the champagne. Translation: lox, mac and cheese, chocolate cake, lots of wine, but it sounds (and tasted) so much better in French, n’est-ce pas?

I had given myself Tuesday to do some sighseeing before coming home. I was resigned to travelling so far without seeing a racetrack but then was delighted to learn on the France-Galope website that while Longchamp wouldn’t be running , there was Tuesday racing at Auteuil, the all-steeplechase track just a few miles away in the Bois de Boulogne.

 Mrs. Blog called from back home to say that she was pretty sure Hemingway had written about going to Auteuil and right she was:

 “My wife,” Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast, “had a horse one time at Auteuil named Chevre d’Or that was a hundred and twenty to one and leading by twenty lengths when he fell at the last jump with enough savings on him to keep us six months. We tried never to think of that.”

Auteuil has been around since 1873 and hosted the equestrian events at the 1924 Olympics, but for a place that opens up on Tuesdays, I was expecting something akin to Finger Lakes. It was a long walk into the Bois de Boulogne from the metro station to find it, but once I did I found something that looked a lot more like Belmont Park: A huge, five-story plant with multiple courses and chutes. The stands have a classical exterior with iron railings everywhere and the inside is a sparkling, modern plant with plenty of live and self-service mutuel tellers, restaurants with panoramic views of the track, and walls covered with huge posters detailing the history of the course and French racing. Alas, all in French only, but I could recognize the large tributes to the inventors of the parimutuel machine (Joseph Oller) and the tierce wager (Andre Carrus).

It was a cool and cloudy day and most of the Tuesday-afternoon players stayed inside between races then spilled onto the apron at post time. As the races were being run, there was no posting of a running order on the tote board (can you call it a tote board when odds are never posted either?) and the course  is so big – 2400 meters around, with the races run at 3,000 to 5,800 meters – that no one seemed able to see anything until the horses came into the final straight. But when they did, the more animated horseplayers ran to the rail and started shouting “Allez! Allez!” until the horses crossed the wire.

I stayed for four races, lost 20 Euros ($26.66), and thoroughly enjoyed it, then spent the rest of the afternoon playing tourist. I took a taxi to the Eiffel Tower and marveled at it for a while, passing on the estimated three-hour wait to ride to the top. It looked like the only way to beat the line was to dine at the Jules Verne Restaurant, but a look at the menu scotched that idea. I swear I’m not making this up: Entrees started at 71 Euros ($94.67) and that was for pigeon or rabbit.

Instead, I walked down to the water and for a bargain 18 Euros ($24.00) took a one-hour “snack cruise” up and down the Seine (it’s 12 Euros without the snack, but the extra E6/$9 for the “snack” gets you a glass of wine and a Croque Monsieur, a hot ham-and-cheese sandwich without a trace of pigeon in it.)  In 58 minutes flat, we cruised past the Assemble Nationale, the Academie Francaise, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Obelisque de la Concorde and a whole bunch of pretty bridges and palaces. It was pretty swell and I’d love to come back someday and have a more leisurely look, so if anyone needs a speech made in Paris, just ask.

But now it’s time to change those Euros to greenbacks, get back to hearth and hounds, and start fretting about whether Oncle Meaux can get 2000 metres at the Hippodromo de Churchill Downs next month.

Tim Boland More than 1 year ago
Steve, A thoroughly interesting and enjoyable post. It seems as if that long lost literary side of yourself is coming out more and more. Tim B.
the darkside More than 1 year ago
I bet a horse at Santa Anita. With a little over a minute to go it was 9/2. The horse won and paid 8.00. That is a 27% reduction in price. Plus the 17% takeout, that equals a grand total of 44%. I know this game is unbeatable. I know you feel the same SC, I don't see you playing any horse straight up.
Walt P. More than 1 year ago
How I would handle a REVISED Breeders' Cup schedule to reflect a possible move of the Friday telecast from the late afternoon-early evening on ESPN2 to prime time on Friday: Friday (7:00-11:00 PM ET on ESPN, seven races): 7:16 -- The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf 7:49 -- The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint 8:22 -- The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf 8:55 -- The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies 9:28 -- The Breeders' Cup Juvenile 10:04 -- The Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf 10:40 -- The Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic Saturday (2:00-3:30 PM ET on ABC, 3:30-7:15 PM ET on ESPN, eight races total): 2:35 -- The Breeders' Cup Marathon (ABC) 3:13 -- The Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (ABC) 3:55 -- The Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (ESPN) 4:31 -- The Breeders' Cup Sprint (ESPN) 5:07 -- The Breeders' Cup Mile (ESPN) 5:43 -- The Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (ESPN) 6:20 -- The Breeders' Cup Turf (ESPN) 7:01 -- The Breeders' Cup Classic (ESPN) Notable here is the re-structuring of the Breeders' Cup programs with all five Juvenile races plus the Filly & Mare Turf and Ladies Classic, with the Juvenile and remaining Filly-Mare races headlining what would otherwise be billed as "Juvenile Friday Night" while the Filly and Mare Sprint moves to Saturday, with one fewer race than originally planned on Saturday and one race added to Friday to take advantage of what would likely be a far larger-than-originally-planned audience watching the Friday telecast. Although many people did fully expect the NBA Lockout to cause the cancelation of regular season games to happen as early as a year ago, until it was made official on Monday night, no one could have realistically planned for that scenario actually happening. As that now has happened, Breeders' Cup, Ltd. has a chance to step up and help Disney fill a major void in ESPN's schedule on Friday, November 4 since that Breeders' Cup telecast can replace a now-canceled NBA doubleheader telecast that night. Any handle from Europe that would be lost by such a move of the Breeders' Cup races by three hours that Friday night would be more than offset in my opinion by live handle coming from people who right now only plan to be at Churchill for the Saturday BC races, but with Friday being three hours later would be more inclined to also be there on Friday especially if they can do so without taking an additional day off from work (if traveling to CD for the BC) for instance as well as from people who would be more likely to be at simulcast locations simply because they are more likely to be able to be there after work, especially in the west where it would be in the late afternoon-early evening out west as opposed to being entirely in the afternoon.
blackseabass More than 1 year ago
Nice post Dogman. I like your video bringing up the lasix issue as a non-issue. If the mucky mucks want to run without it let 'em figure out how to fund everything without betting.
Walt P. More than 1 year ago
A thought: Now that the NBA has canceled the first two weeks of the regular season, I wonder if ESPN may talk with Churchill Downs about moving the Friday Breeders' Cup telecast from ESPN2 to ESPN and moving it back three hours, with if so it airing on ESPN from 7:00-11:00 PM ET. ESPN has to replace its scheduled programming that night since Friday normally is an NBA night, and with college basketball having not yet started it is something I would be seriously looking at doing if I were at ESPN.
Christine More than 1 year ago
Really nice Paris story and then straight to the Annual Conference coverage....not to be personal but my goodness have you had time to shower, shave, sleep and all those important things a man has to have especially coming so close to the Cup. I LOVE your work but would not be offended - rather commend a "breather" here so you are at your best on the Big Days :) We all know your a machine :)
Strapper More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed your report from Paris! Looking forward to more of your world travels in the future. Are you going to Melbourne for the Cup?
Steeplestakes More than 1 year ago
Happy to hear that you enjoyed your trip to Auteuil, one of my favorite race tracks in the world. Did they jump the Bullfinch or the bank fence in any of the races that you saw?
JP More than 1 year ago
Steve, Greatly enjoyed your blog. I've been to Longchamp many times, love the place. Saw 1 Arc(Sagamix), the day is an incredible experience. Went to Auteuil once(tough wagering on jumpers) & agree w/you on tha majesty of the place. Goldikova has definitely lost a step but hope that FH still brings her for the BC. Next time you go to Paris try taking the train(RER) from CDG instead of a taxi; fraction of the price & just as fast.
mike metro More than 1 year ago
Steve, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments on the trip to France, I laughed so hard, next time you go have some French individual show you around and maybe that will liven things up some, to bad you missed the Arc and the undercard, Goldikova has slowed up a bit but maybe not enough for the Yankees to beat her?