Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Paris in the sunshine

Authorized coming back, having not won the Arc

I am now speeding through the misty plains of northern France in a Thalys train taking me to Brussels where I will change onto the suburban train through to Rotterdam and then to my office just outside that city. This is a change of plan as I was due to catch one of the last Eurostars to Waterloo and work in London today, erady for a meeting there on Wednesday, the one which was postponed from last week. However, we have managed to postpone that meeting as well, which means I can go home after a week away, which is a nice thought.

Fred and I had a wonderful time in Paris under warm blue skies. I think the sun is essential to really enjoy that city as its white-ish grey buildings look drab and dirty under an overcast sky, whilst they seem to shine under the rays of the sun. On Sunday afternoon we took a walk along one of the east-west boulevards from Sebastopol to the Opera, a walk we had not done before. All the cafes looked very inviting with their rows of rattan chairs facing the sun, the burgundy-red drapings glowing in the sun, as it shed its rays through the still green leaves of the tress lining the boulevards. The pavements were not too busy, mostly Parisians going about their Sunday morning business of walking the dogs, having an expensive brunch or just sitting with friends having a coffee.

Looking up towards the architecture, one felt almost as if one was back in the Bourbon area of Madrid, with all the ornamentations on the facades and the rounded towers on the corners of the streets. In fact, it is probably the other way round, Madrid being influenced by French styles, it is just that I had noticed this before when visiting Paris.

Our walk took us along the Rue des Italiens to the Opera building with the golden statues looking stunning in the sunshine, just a pity that there was still some restoration work being performed. We then walked down to a Napoleon obelisk in a square we had never visited before, home of the now infamous Ritz Hotel where Princess Diana ate her last meal. The paparazzi were still there though and we cursed them as Diana murderers under our breaths (in Dutch) as we passed them.

From here it was a short walk to the very busy Tuilleries and then the Place de Concord and the Champs Elysee before it was time to catch the metro Porte de Maillot, from where we could take a free bus to Longchamp for the races. Once there, we were asked only € 8 entrance money, which is the price they would have charged in England just for the bus ride, let alone the 50 or 60 pounds (€ 70 -85) entrance money they would have asked each of us.
Once again, Longchamp put on a wonderful show, although with no Japanese horse running it was not quite as busy as last year. This year, the masses had come to see the Derby winner, Authorized, confirm his status as horse of the year and it helped, of course, that Frankie Dettori was riding him. I hoped, against hope, that Dragon Dancer would run the race of his life to take a place in what was quite a small field. Otherwise, I looked forward to seeing the Oaks winner, Light Shift, in the Prix de l’Opera and to see Rio de la Plata in the Grand Criterium, a race for two year olds, also to be ridden by ‘Frankie’.

But first we had to attend to the hats, many many hats and as many of them as possible were to be photographed in what was perfect light for photography, as long as one could photograph into the sun, but without the sun shining into the lens. A position under a tree (and there are many trees at Longchamp) was the best position to be in. This was a different sort of Longchamp experience to what Fred is used to as I would normally be spending most of my time standing around the paddock trying to see as much as I could of the horses before they set off to race, which we would watch from the tarmac ‘lawn’ in front of the stands, facing the big screens. But this time, we were more involved in people watching than horse watching, although we did see all the races live in front of the stands.
We first watched Frankie lose on a false favourite in the fillies 2-y-o race before seeing him win easily on Rio de la Plata in the colts 2-y-o race. Light Shift came storming up from the back to only just fail to win her race, beaten by a fast diminishing head and the scene was set for the Arc. Here I took my place around the paddock to see the cream of European racehorses, including Dylan Thomas, who had only come third in last year’s Derby (behind Dragon Dancer) before winning a string of Group One races, Zambezi Sun, the most favoured French horse, Saddex, the champion German horse, Soldier of Fortune, the Irish Derby winner and, of course, Authorized. The (free) programme (in England they would cost over € 5) gives details of the breeding of all the horses and I noticed that Youmzain has Troy as his maternal great-grandsire, through Cocotte who was the mother of the great Pilsudski who came second in the Arc twice in 1996 and 1997. We would see Pilsudski win the Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Thomas’ second birthday (when it was also a boiling hot day – 25 degrees!). So… worth a financial interest, I thought, especially at the odds of 80-1 in a field of 12 horses. So I made a small bet, to go with the slightly bigger bet I had on Dragon Dancer.
The race eventually started an with Dragon Danecr up towards the lead, I was at least getting a run for my money, enough to be shouting him on for glory as they entered the straight for as long as it took to notice that he was actually going backwards in the field. My eyes switched to the other blue colours in the race, those of Youmzain, and sure enough, these were making up ground, again on the outside. One horse had taken a couple of lengths lead, but my horse was eating up the ground as the field passed in front of the stands, with the finishing post still 100 metres to go… would he get up in time? Alas, just like Light Shift in the previous race, he had left his run slightly too late and he passed the post still a head behind the winner, which turned out to be Dylan Thomas. A 35 minute stewards enquiry gave me hope that I might collect some nice winnings, as Dylan Thomas had cut in in front of a couple of other horses, notably Zambezi Sun and there was talk of him losing the race. It was not to be, and it was Kieran Fallon who emerged from the stewards room with a big smile on his face.
Oh well, I still picked up my winnings (12-1) for my place bet and I had the satisfaction of seeing an exciting race, but as so often with these big priced outsiders, I have to see them make do with second place, rather than winning. One day, one day…
Fred had gone early, to give himself (more than) enough time to catch his train back to Amsterdam (the 18.55). At least they had moved the Arc to an earlier time this year and I would like to think that this is partly to allow foreign visitors more time to get home. And so ended a wonderful weekend, one in which our enthusiasm for Paris was re-kindled. England and France had both won their Rugby World Cup quarter-finals against Australia and New Zealand, neither Frankie nor Youmzain had won the Arc, but with the sun shining all day on both Saturday and Sunday, we had seen Paris at its best.

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