Lessons Longchamp will have to learn
Enable’s victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triumph was magnifique; for the way she came back from a long lay-off, having gone lame, with a prep race at Kempton on the all-weather, since when she had a minor set-back that interrupted her training schedule, to seeing off Sea Of Class who came from a poor draw with a scintillating run to have the line arrive a stride or two too soon and go down by a short neck.
For John Gosden it was an amazing training feat to get Enable fit to defend her crown, and for William Haggas nothing is lost in defeat with the daughter of Sea Of Stars – her time will come.
For those who were at Longchamp, it will be a race they will never forget and they can say “J’y étais”.
They may however retain memories of a less than satisfactory experience of ParisLongchamp and its €145m new stand.
The track had already held a number of fixtures, where the main post-redevelopment issue had been problems with the turf. Any issues with the facilities were seemingly not apparent or not raised.
Maybe everyone assumed that for Arc weekend temporary measures would be put in place to cater for a much bigger crowd. Apparently not.
For most, the viewing of the racing was satisfactory from the terraces, but the route from the paddock through the grandstand was heavily congested as people found their way blocked by queues for bars and PMU kiosks. The delays meant they struggled to get a good viewing position.
Others headed for a raised viewing area in the Arc Gardens but that was criticised for being remote from the action.
An alternative was to cross the track to a cheaper enclosure where viewing was just as good. It also had the further advantage that trying to get food and drink was easier.
Back in the new stand, food and drink options were limited and described as understaffed. A major factor in the long wait to be served was that everything was cooked to order – and halfway through the afternoon, the food ran out.
Had a British burger van got Le Shuttle and been allowed to set up shop it would have made a killing.
Those wanting a drink didn’t fare much better but at least a system at some bars of people taking the money and others pouring helped things along.
If there were limitations to getting food and drink, it was just as frustrating trying to bet with the PMU. Kiosks were few in number but machines were plentiful.
Unfortunately, whilst easy to use, the machines did not dispense winnings or change but vouchers, so it still required a wait in a kiosk queue in order to collect.
The final and most loudly voiced criticism was the lack of toilets, especially for the men – whatever the French is for schadenfreude, it was something the ladies experienced on Arc Sunday.
When Ascot finished its redevelopment 12 years ago it was apparent at the soft-launch preview meeting that much was wrong with the viewing of the track and expensive remedial work had to be undertaken.
It is still not ideal but Ascot is a destination racecourse and many visitors attend for that reason and will not remember how excellent the viewing once was. The big meetings regularly sell out.
Longchamp is fortunate that the critical matter of race viewing is not a major issue, and the lack of other facilities can be addressed. But outside of Arc day, Longchamp is not a destination venue and big crowds are not a factor. Ironically, for the rest of its fixtures it will be a pleasurable place to go.
So France Galop’s aim of making Longchamp a major Paris sporting attraction has suffered a serious setback. Crowd numbers were already down on the last Arc day held in Paris and, with a €75 admission price for the main enclosure, talk on returning Eurostar trains was of not going back.
Lessons will have to be learnt – rapidement.
The freedom of Newmarket isn’t for everyone
How nice of Newmarket Town Council to send Sheikh Mohammed a letter of thanks for several projects which he and his wife Princess Haya have supported.
Newmarket’s mayor Rachel Hood was quoted in the Racing Post that a meeting of the council discussed how they should thank Sheikh Mohammed: “The council voted unanimously to send him a letter marking our immense gratitude”.
Sheikh Mohammed has been investing in Newmarket for nearly forty years, including the foundation two years ago of the Newmarket Academy Godolphin Beacon Project and work will start soon on their new library. It warrants the town’s thanks.
But that was only part of the proceedings.
Originally, there was a motion to grant Sheikh Mohammed, who is ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, the freedom of Newmarket but this never got as far as a vote.
Labour councillor Ollie Bowen said “Giving the title of freedom of the town is a medieval practice which originally granted select citizens freedom from serfdom. Other medieval practices continue in the UAE, where Sheikh Mohammed is vice-president, including stoning, flogging and detention of those critical of authority.”
Racing frequently turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in jurisdictions where connections are financially involved in the sport, mostly through ownership, sponsorship and breeding.
It was correct of Newmarket’s council to acknowledge the help the town gets, but it was also correct and refreshing to stop short of granting the freedom of the town.