07/22/2004 11:00PM

We have Saratoga; French have Deauville


NEW YORK - The myriad pleasures of Deauville in August should provide Frenchmen with a perfect antidote for the embarrassments they have suffered yet again this July during the Tour de Lance . . . er, that is, the Tour de France. The gently rolling waves of Deauville's broad, sandy beaches should prove beneficial in assuaging the French nation's hurt feelings over Lance Armstrong's likely sixth consecutive victory in the world's most important bicycle race.

And if beachcombing is not soothing enough, the delights of the casinos in both Deauville and its neighboring town, Trouville, are enough to make anyone forget his sporting problems, especially after he has tapped out at the roulette wheel.

But more than anything, Deauville is an earthly paradise for racegoers, probably even more so than Saratoga or Del Mar.

Much of Paris empties out during August, the traditional French vacation month, and the racing industry is no different. Longchamp, Maisons-Laffitte, Saint-Cloud, and Auteuil close down along with Chantilly, and everyone moves 120 miles north to Deauville on the Normandy coast to what Anglo-Saxons call the English Channel, just as the New York Racing Association and its fans trek north to Saratoga while Los Angelenos motor south to Del Mar.

Sixteen days of racing at Deauville and 11 at nearby Clairefontaine await the French racegoer, or any American tourist curious enough to discover that despite political tensions between France and America, the locals are not merely friendly but downright warmhearted, and very eager to cash in on the depressed dollar. With restaurants galore to suit the varied palates of gamblers, bathers, and cyclists; art galleries displaying beach scenes painted by impressionist and post-impressionist masters; two casinos; and sidewalk cafes at every corner, Deauville and Trouville have something for everyone.

The racing season begins at Clairefontaine on Friday with four flat races, three hurdles, and a steeplechase. Variety is the spice of life, and Clairefontaine, home of what is arguably the prettiest grandstand in the world, provides it in spades. Barely a mile up the road from the racecourse at Deauville, Clairefontaine allows everyone entry into the paddock where owners and racegoers rub Gallic shoulders in a spirit of fraternite.

Deauville Racecourse itself opens the next day, but things really heat up on Aug. 1 when they run the Prix d'Astarte. A Group 1 mile for fillies and mares, this is a race that travels well to America. Five of last year's starters have already run in the U.S. The first two finishers, Bright Sky and Six Perfections, ran in the Breeders' Cup. Acago and Campsie Fells emerged as American stakes performers, while Musical Chimes, winner of last year's French 1000 Guineas but just 10th in the Astarte, has finished second in a pair of Grade 1's at Hollywood and Santa Anita. The nominations for this year's Astarte include Six Perfections, Nebraska Tornado, Soviet Song, and Yesterday, any one of whom could play a prominent role in late autumn's international championship events.

There is variety at Deauville as well. On next Sunday's card they run the Prix Yacowlef, a six-furlong listed contest restricted to horses that have never run. Traditionally dominated by fillies, who tend to mature faster than young colts, last year's race produced Taygete, later the winner of her first two starts in Southern California for Bobby Frankel.

If the Yacowlef is not novel enough, Deauville will offer the Prix d'Abu Dhabi and the Prix du President des Emirats Arabes Unis, a pair of 1 1/4-mile stakes for Arabians. Get up early during the week and you might be lucky enough to see some of these beauties exercising on the beach or bathing in the Channel. Stick around till later in the afternoon and a different kind of beauty, the two-legged variety, invades the beaches.

Deauville's Thoroughbred centerpiece, the Prix Jacques le Marois, highlights a holiday card on Sunday, Aug. 15. Six Perfections won it last year sandwiched in between her second in the Astarte and Breeders' Cup Mile triumph. Five Jacques le Marois winners have gone on to victory in one Breeders' Cup race or another. Besides Six Perfections, they are Miesque (twice), Spinning World, and Banks Hill. Other Jacques le Marois winners include Dubai Millennium, East of the Moon, Exit to Nowhere, and Hector Protector, a roster which ranks it as one of the world's premier mile events.

Late season highlights include the Group 1 Prix Morny, Deauville's 2-year-old championship race on Aug. 22, and the Aug. 29 Grand Prix de Deauville, a race in which Hard Buck's Dubai Sheema Classic conqueror, Polish Summer, has crossed the line first each of the last two years, only to be disqualified last time. The listed Grand Prix de Clairefontaine will be run on Aug. 28 with the Grand Steeple-Chase de Clairefontaine slated for Aug. 30. Deauville's summer season ends the next day, after which everyone hightails it back to Paris.

From the beach in the morning to the racetrack in the afternoon, to the restaurant in the evening, to the casino at night, Deauville and its sister cities Clairefontaine and Trouville cater to all tastes for anyone seeking the quintessential racing holiday.