French racecourses offer a whole host of new experiences to the British racegoer.
Provincial French horseracing comprises all types of tracks and racing disciplines, so whether you find yourself enjoying the Derby of the West at the beautiful Hippodrome de Nantes, a trot race in the rural surroundings of La Gacilly or a cross country steeple chase at the scenic Lion D´Angers, you´ll find yourself enjoying what makes French horseracing unique, whilst soaking up the excellent atmosphere that prevails at race meetings. The French also enjoy a "Festival" as much as we do, the most popular of which are run at Craon, a beautiful multi-purpose track that celebrates two major Festivals in September where races of all types are run.
Racecourses may operate up to three disciplines (often on the same raceday), these being flat, jumps and trot. Whilst flat and jumps races are largely similar to equivalent British horseraces, two types of race will have you marvelling at the sights and sounds; cross country chasing and trotting.
Cross Country Steeple Chases
Lengthy races that tend to offer a wide range of jumping challenges and an equally wide range of direction changes! Contestants often disappear into a nearby forest only to reappear moments later scrambling down a large bank. Fantastic to watch, this discipline is particularly attractive at Lion D´Angers where the feature uphill loop into the forest is taken in both directions during the same race! The Anjou-Loire Challenge, run in May, is the jewel in the crown of the Le Lion D´Angers racing calender. This remarkable Listed cross country steeple chase comprises 48 obstacles and at 8000 yards is the longest steeple chase in the world, 110 yards further than the Grand National!
A genuine French passion, trotting horses are "ridden" (by a mounted jockey) or "driven" (by a "driver" on a sulky), depending on the type of race. Races are keenly marshalled, and any horse breaking out of a trot and into a gallop is instantly disqualified, with a decision announced by loudspeaker to the racegoers during the race. Whilst the colour and sounds of a trot race convey a carnival atmosphere, don´t be fooled; with excellent prize money always up for grabs, the French take this discipline very seriously and these races are extremely popular betting mediums with the locals!
At the Racecourse
French horseracing operates a Pari Mutuel system, much like the UK´s Tote system. A wide range of bets are available, with many courses offering a queue for beginners where bets are explained. Many courses also offer the chance to bet course-to-course, allowing racegoers to bet on and watch major races in France and abroad.
Racecourse amenities can vary but there is no shortage of options as the French love their food and drink! In many cases a table at a restaurant (often with panoramic views of the course) can be reserved with a quality 3 course menu costing no more than it would in a normal high street bistro and even the more rural courses offer light refreshments and snacks.
Aside from the on-course entertainment, the racegoers of tomorrow are also catered for, with pony riding, bouncy castles and cycle races just some of the attractions you´re likely to find at the racecourse.
Another pleasing aspect of French horseracing is the freedom afforded to the racegoer; racecourses tend to operate a very relaxed "access all areas" policy allowing the racegoer to get really close to the action.
So let´s have a flutter and take our places in the main stand. Good luck!