One of Europe’s most prestigious and heavily staked races is the annual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It is an international Group 1 flat course event for 3-year-olds and up, run each October over a 2,400-metre course (about 1.5 miles) at the Hippodrome de Longchamp just outside Paris, France. With a total purse of €4 million, the “Arc,” as the race is informally known, rates as the second richest horse race in the world on turf, trailing only the .Japan Cup worth ¥528 million (about €5.1 million).
Thoroughbred horseracing has been popular in France since the early 19th century, but it was not until 1863 that entrants beyond the country’s borders were allowed to compete. That’s when the inaugural Grand Prix de Paris was designed to gather the best 3-year-olds from any country. It was followed in 1893 by the Prix du Conseil Municipal for the leading horses of different age groups to run against one another in an “overweights and underweights” handicap event over 2,400 metres.
Then, in 1920, the first Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was convened by the then-governing body of French racing, the Société d’Encouragement, using a weight for age system. That meant, unlike the Conseil Municipal, horse could compete on equal terms, unpenalised for previous victories. Renowned horses that have won the event in the 90 years since include Great Britain’s two-time champion Ribot (1956~57), France’s own Sea Bird II (1965), U.S.-bred Dancing Brave (1983), and the Irish filly Zarkava (2008), to name a few.
A Full Weekend of Races
Today the annual running of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the highlight of a weekend full of Group 1 racing. In fact, there are seven Group 1 races on the card known as “Arc Day,” which makes it one of the most highly anticipated dates on the flat-racing calendar. Promoters of the event have adopted a catchphrase to signify the day’s importance—“Ce n’est pas une course, c’est un monument” (“Not so much a race as a monument”).
A full weekend of festivities surrounds the Arc, attracting crowds as large as 48,000. Sponsorship has been assumed by the nation of Qatar, and its embassy in Paris on the Place de l’Etoile is the hub of activities beyond the racecourse, hosting parties, promotions, fashion galas, and press conferences. At the Hippodrome itself, there are exhibits and pony rides, shops offering trademarked race merchandise, and more than 330 betting counters to accept wagers.
On Saturday, four Group 2 races are conducted as preliminaries to Arc Day’s main events. Since 2005, these fixtures have included the Qatar Prix Chaudenay, the NYSE Euronext Prix de Royallieu, the Qatar Prix Daniel Wildenstein, and the Qatar Prix Dollar. Betting on these races is light compared to Sunday’s action, but any punter in attendance will find opportunities aplenty, with Irish horses being particularly well favoured, having won all but the last race of the day in 2010.
Spotlight on Arc Day
On Arc Day, all seven Group 1 races take place, beginning at midday with the 2-mile 4-furlong Prix De Cadran for 4-year-olds. It is followed by a Sprint covering 5 furlongs—the Prix De L’Abbaye—and then the mile-long Prix Marcel Boussac for 2-year-old fillies, which always includes a strong field of domestic entrants.
Sunday’s fourth and fifth races both cover 7 furlongs. The Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere is exclusively for 2-year-olds, while the Prix De La Foret entertains runners aged three years and over. Entrants from Great Britain and Ireland have dominated this length in recent years, claiming the winner’s prize in nine of the most recent twelve runnings.
The penultimate race of the day is the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe itself, most recently won in 2010 by Great Britain’s Workforce in a duel to the finish with Japanese challenger Nakayama Festa, who was edged out by a head. The day wraps up with a 1-mile 2-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up, the Prix de l’Opera.
The entire weekend of the Arc meeting is worth €6.7 million. Betting interest is massive, with some €4.9 million bet on the Paris-Mutuel alone. Wagers are accepted from more than 44 foreign countries through the French version of the tote. Of course, British bookmakers take Arc bets, too, including ante post betting markets. Because the races are broadcast live on the BBC, a huge audience tunes in to support the U.K. and Irish entrants, and tips are plentiful prior to the running.