By Dave Johnson

American Dave Johnson, a long-time attendee of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, checked in with the TDN to relate his experience from the 2018 edition this past weekend.

Steps. Lots of Steps.

Could it be that when they tore down the two old Longchamp buildings, and rebuilt the new ParisLongchamp, the architects went “step crazy?”

The oldest of the demolished buildings, remodeled in 1904, sat empty, except on Arc day when they crowded hoards of American tourists into the ruins. They made it exclusive and expensive. Finally and gratefully, they tore it down.

In 1966, a much larger and functional grandstand was opened. It worked for massive crowds, but it was lifeless and bland.

Few steps. More elevators.

It was all demolished two years ago. In 2016 and 2017, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was staged at Chantilly.

A huge windmill was built in 1312 at an abbey only a furlong from the starting point of Europe’s richest turf event. Looking to the left of the finish line, the windmill now is gone.

Upon arriving this weekend at the new ParisLongchamp, I was startled by a huge–almost ceremonial–Egyptian-like entry.

But even though there is another massive staircase from the park to a viewing balcony, this management team knows how put on a show. A great show. And supply space for the masses to watch a magnificent horse race. Just walk up those stairs!

The new building is modern and sleek. From a distance it reads light brown. Up close it seems a cross between brass and gold.

The walking ring, with those stately trees, is almost exactly the same. The expansive manicured racing surfaces, with so many lanes, doglegs, bends and straightaways is thankfully the same.

Saturday was the prelude, almost a dress rehearsal for the big day. Sunday the buzz began early. And in only one hour the Thoroughbred story of the year played out.

At 3:45 p.m. local time, Enable (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}), now a 4-year-old filly, was led into a private stall, quietly. Only trainer John Gosden and a valet saddled the favorite. One cameraman videoed the action from outside.

19 riders left the Jockey’s Room at 3:47. Unlike anything I have ever seen, each athlete lined up behind a beautiful girl wearing a maroon jockey outfit, and carrying a sign with the program number, horse and jockey name. This was all happening on stage right, as 19 trainers entered the walking ring from stage left. The 19 Thoroughbreds emerged center stage. Heads turned from side to side, watching two parades at once.

At 3:50, champion Irish trainer, Aidan O’Brien, was surrounded by the four jockeys for the four horses he trained. O’Brien was barking orders to his riders.

Gosden said that at about 3:53 O’Brien said to him, “I am going to send my best sprinters against you early, and as for stamina, my winner of the St. Ledger will be running at you late. If you beat this field today, you will have earned it.”

This walking ring was very relaxed. Lots of smiles and joking. Much more civil than the circus of Derby Day at Churchill Downs.

At 3:56, the groups converged. Jockeys mounted. Recorded music accompanied the large field, as most entries were double shanked by two handlers through a tunnel, out to the track and into a well staged post parade.

The warm-up completed, the field loaded, the bell rang, the mile-and-a-half was magic, awesome, gripping and exhaustive. At 4:11, you must know what happened. Enable did it to become only the sixth horse to win back-to-back editions of The Arc. Frankie Dettori won his sixth Arc in a staggering 30 tries.

A long victory lap in front of the new packed grandstand for Frankie and Enable. Lots of waves, kisses and pointing.

At 4:21, a team of 4 draft horses pulled a portable stage on the track directly in front of the new grandstand. Owner Khalid Abdullah and John Gosden in a horse drawn carriage waved to the crowd on the way to the stage.

Dettori was escorted to the weighing room, then he bolted to the jockeys room, where he first hugged rider Olivier Peslier, four-time Arc winner. Some champagne on his head from his valet, a quick towel off, then he got lost at 4:28. Out of the jocks room, through tunnels with bad signage, out on the racetrack, then running the wrong way.

Dettori turned around, toward his horse drawn carriage, jumped aboard and headed to the presentation stage.

Heavy trophies handed out. Much waving and fist bumping.

Frankie, wearing the green, white and pink Juddmonte colors brushed back a slight hint of gray hair, clearing tears from his eyes. At 4:33, he kissed his trophy. By 4:34, Gosden’s hat arrived from where he left it in the carriage.

At 4:35 the entourage moved to a media press conference.

Gosden gave all credit to the breeder. Frankie gave all credit to the trainer. The love-fest continued. No word about the Breeders’ Cup. The trainer said he needed at least 10 days before he would think about what is next.

But, it was at 4:45, exactly one hour after she was saddled, that Enable stuck her head in a blue plastic bucket and had a drink of water. After that, the single hotwalker, in suit and tie, all alone, walked the Arc winner back to her stall. The two, all alone. Hotwalker and Arc winner.

It was the most humbling sight in horse racing…ever.


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