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  Les Anglais in France: Introduction

Degas studies of jockeys 
Les Anglais in France

By David Wilkinson for Thoroughbred Heritage. ©David Wilkinson, 2007. David Wilkinson is author of Early Horse Racing in Yorkshire and the Origins of the Thoroughbred (Old Bald Peg Publications, Old Byland, York; 2003) and a contributor to Thoroughbred Heritage.

Edgar Degas: Four studies of jockeys, 1866

"If I was asked to resume briefly the history of French racing I would have to say it is the history of the English trainers and English jockeys, just as much as that of the English thoroughbreds."
--Robert Black, 1886, from La Mainmise Britanique

Some 25 years after the institution of the English Classic races, Napoleon issued an Imperial Decree on 13 Fructidor XII, (by his republican calendar, or 31st August 1805) commanding the establishment of races at the seven horse breeding centres throughout the French Empire. This however, did little to raise the standards of French racing, as the French preferred heavy saddle horses and central French bureaucratic control appears to have delayed the development of the sport in France.

Henry Seymour
Lord Henry Seymour (1805-1859), the second son of the Marquis of Hertford, was born in Paris and never lived in England.
Duc d'Orleans
Ferdinand d'Orléans, Duc d'Orléans (1810-1842), the Prince Royal of France, played a major role in the early development of French racing. He died in a coach accident at Sablonville at the age of 32.
It was not until the 1820s when, under the leadership of an eccentric English milord, Lord Henry Seymour (1805-1859), the basis of modern horse racing was established on the English model. He was to be aided by the migration of several important English training families, such as the Carters, Cunningtons, Jennings and Watsons, who were to dominate French racing for over 100 years.

In about 1825, at the Rue Blanche in Paris, the Englishman Thomas Bryon, established an English Jockey Club (and Pigeon Shooting Club). It had 18 members, of whom four were English, including Seymour. In 1833 they founded two associations; The Jockey Club and (less succinctly) the Société d'Encouragement pour l'Amélioration des Races de Chevaux en France. The next year, 1834, over 50 years later than in England, French racing regulation was established when Thomas Bryon published a French Racing Calendar (Calendrier de Courses de Chevaux). In 1840 the Société introduced the Rules of Racing as the Code de Courses and the following year the Calendrier became the Bulletin Officiel.

Seymour was the first President of the Jockey Club and Société and the group included two royal dukes (Duc d’Orléans and Duc de Nemours). Ferdinand d’Orléans, Duc d’Orléans, (1810-1842) was the eldest son of King Louis Philippe.

The Jockey Club ran matches against each other in the Parisian Bois de Boulogne, which, by 1833, became established races of the Société d’Encouragement, using imported thoroughbreds. A Grand Prix was run on the Champ de Mars (future site of the Eiffel Tower) in 1834 and won by Félix (by imported Rainbow) but horses in Paris at that time were trained on the roads of the Bois, which were either baked hard in the sun or awash with mud. From then on virtually all thoroughbred training activity moved to Chantilly in the Oise department 25 miles north of Paris, where the Prix du Jockey Club (the French Derby) was instituted in 1836.


Prix d'Orleans 1836
The Prix d'Orléans held at Chantilly in 1836; Les Grandes Écuries (stable block) in the background

Prince Labanoff is reputed to have stayed at the magnificent Château de Chantilly during 1833 and observed the quality and depth of the turf in the surrounding forest parkland. This was the start of an industry, which persists to the present, with most modern French trainers situated around the town, using the immensely beautiful forest rides as gallops, now administered by France-Galop.

Chantilly was originally an aristocratic pleasure ground with its oak forests and meadows making it an ideal hunting area. After the Revolution, the Château de Chantilly was dismantled (and was later renovated) but the great and magnificent stable block, as grand as a palace, remained. It was built, with money as no object, for the Duc de Bourbon and Prince de Condé (1652-1740,cousin of the King of France) between 1719 and 1735. The Prince de Condé believed he would be reincarnated as a horse and needed a palace fit for a four-legged Duc. It was designed to house 240 horses and 500 hounds. In the 20th century the block was restored by the efforts of Yves Bienaimé and turned into a successful Museum of the Horse, providing a visual backdrop to modern racing at Chantilly.

Chantilly c. 1800
Chantilly and environs in the late 18th century

The training areas around Chantilly are largely within a triangle formed by Chantilly itself and the villages of Lamorlaye and Gouvieux. The area is said to be the most beautiful (and largest) training ground in the world, with, in total over 400 miles of prime gallops with another 400 lesser areas. There are over 555 acres of old hunting forest between Chantilly and Gouvieux with carefully maintained tracks cared for by France-Galop. There are another 250 acres at Lamorlaye-Coye and a more modern area at Avilly Saint-Leonard. A further training area exists at Royallieu, near Compiègne, 20 kilometres north east of Chantilly.

Félix, bred at Haras de Viroflay, won the Prix du Grand Prix Royal -- the most important race of the time -- in 1833 for his owner-breeder J. Rieussec, on the hard ground of Champ-de-Mars. He was retired as a stallion at Haras de Viroflay; in 1844 he was purchased by the French government.
Franck (1833, by Rainbow-Verona) won the first Prix du Jockey Club for Henry Seymour. He was sold to the French government for a huge sum in the late 1830s.
The park and forest became the property of the Société d’Encouragment and the first races at Chantilly were held in May 1834 with members of the Jockey Club suitably attired in the English fashion with olive green coats and gold buttons. All the rules were borrowed from England. The residents of Chantilly were delighted with the trade brought to their town and built small grandstands for the 1835 meeting and with the King and the Sociètè they contributed prizes for the winners. For unknown reasons Seymour did not participate and the racing raised little interest in France outside the Anglomane circle and the tradesmen of Chantilly. One aristocrat is reputed to have said, "the French know nothing about racing and are too conceited to learn."

In 1836 Seymour came to Chantilly and entered three of the 10 horses for the first running of the Prix du Jockey Club, the French Derby, and won with Franck (by Rainbow). The race followed more or less the English Classic pattern, with entries by 3 year olds over 2500 metres (now 2100 metres). The 1836 meeting was a great success among the dandified upper class crowd despite the inclement weather, which soaked the pretty ladies. The following year, in 1837, the first handicap was run at Chantilly on the Prix du Jockey Club day, again won by Seymour with Lydia (also by Rainbow).

In 1838 the banker Charles Laffitte, treasurer of the Jockey Club, became director at Chantilly and greatly improved the course and facilities, despite some disputes with the local trainers, who were using the Société’s racecourse as gallops. The meeting became "fête-champêtre," a rather smart country fair and feast, which was the obligatory end to the Paris season.

In 1840 there was a major scandal affecting the Prix du Jockey Club, not dissimilar to the complex Epsom Derby fraud involving Running Rein and Maccabeus four years later. Jenny owned by Seymour was considered a certainty for the race, but was placed second to Eugène Aumont’s Tontine (probably by Tectotum out of Odette). Seymour, however, suspected a substitution and insisted that Tontine was an English bred filly named Herodia. The charge was unproven.
Fete-Champetre at Chantilly
Fête-champêtre at Chantilly, probably in the late 1830s or early 1840s (the château in the background)...courtly romance amidst an outdoor feast and racing entertainment for aristocrats wasn't enough to sustain the sport
In 1842 Seymour suddenly gave up the sport and the Duc d’Orléans had a fatal coaching accident. The racing at Chantilly was for a long time no longer "fête-champêtre." French racing would need the establishment of Longchamp to energise it and turn it from a marginal aristocratic sport to a vigorous popular recreation. It needed income from mass support and the establishment of organised gambling.
During the 1830s racing had remained limited in scope and even in 1840 there were only meetings at the Champ de Mars, the Chantilly May and Autumn meetings, and a further event at Versailles. Less than 60 horses were in training during the early 1840s, but this trebled by 1845 and someone had to train and ride them. There was little domestic French expertise.

Les Anglais in France
Introduction Cross-Channel Exchanges The Families Reminiscence:
The Webbs

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