By Sue Finley
Last week, advance ticketing opened for the France Galop managed-racecourses, including the new ParisLongchamp. In the works for two years now, the flagship racecourse now opens in just 48 days. The new racecourse will host 34 race meetings in 2018, but it’s clear that the designers are hoping ParisLongchamp will appeal to more than just traditional racing fans, and that it will use its appeal to expose racing to a new generation. France Galop says they set out to create a venue where, “Parisians, always looking for new places to discover, can go with friends or family to eat and party during the day and long into the night, in a festive and summery ambiance, surrounded by greenery.” The TDN’s Sue Finley caught up with France Galop’s Director General Olivier Delloye over the weekend to talk with him about the new track.
SF: This week, tickets went on sale for the new ParisLongchamp racecourse. How was the response?
OD: It opened on Wednesday only and it is way too early to say anything since we haven’t really promoted the events yet. Our main concern was to make sure we were ready when the promotion of the Grand opening and of the Qatar Arc weekend begins.
SF: It has been two years in the making, and you’re now 48 days away. How are you sleeping these days?
OD: Although I am a very good sleeper, I must say I can wake up at night thinking of some big or minor details about ParisLongchamp! I was used to these deadlines every year before the August sales when I was with Arqana. This is obviously much bigger in scope than anything I have experienced in my professional life before. But Rome wasn’t made in one day, nor was Paris or Ascot for that matter. The first meetings at ParisLongchamp, especially the Grand Opening on Apr. 29, are of the utmost importance because you hardly have a second chance to make a good first impression, but eventually, the racecourse will be judged on the long run. We will probably welcome more racegoers on 2018 Arc day than on Apr. 29. And a good return in April doesn’t mean a success in October. It’s not a one-night stand: we are moving into our new home, here!
SF: Tell me why it is important to French racing to have this special track in the country’s capital city?
OD: As you probably know, France is a very centralized country, even by European standards. It was only natural that in the Second Empire, when racing took off in France, the top racecourses were built in or around Paris. The biggest race back then was the Grand Prix de Paris, run at Longchamp. Then the Arc and so on. Only the French Derby and Oaks were traditionally run at Chantilly, just like Epsom or Ascot. Besides, Paris is known all over the world and most foreign travellers land here. This is the motive behind the rebranding of the racecourse into ParisLongchamp. You and I know where Longchamp is. But most people don’t. We wanted to correct this and link our flagship to the City of Lights.
SF: There will be 34 days of racing, but the track will be open year-round. Why is it important to make it accessible to people more than just on racedays?
OD: It is very important for an urban racecourse to reach out for alternative audiences. We cannot just sit there and wait for our regular, ageing racing folks to turn up. We need more people to get involved, we need more people to bet on our product, we need more people to invest in our horses, we need more people to cheer and celebrate with us. ParisLongchamp was designed to accommodate different kinds of events besides racing and a few music festivals in the infield. The main restaurant will be open every day and in summer time, ParisLongchamp will remain open most evenings. Our partners for catering and events promotion have a long and successful experience in dragging new crowds in unexpected places and we hope that this new partnership will allow us to reach out to new audiences. Ideally, we’d like ParisLongchamp to become a landmark in Paris, a moniker for good fun with horseracing in the mix.
SF: What is the biggest difference between the old Longchamp and the new ParisLongchamp?
OD: I don’t know where to start. You need to go there to experience the difference. The grandstand is a whole new concept. It literally bends over the track and the new experience is quite amazing. Our lounges and catering facilities have been designed and furnished to meet the needs of the most demanding customers. Our rooftop restaurant with a renowned chef making the calls will probably make a killing with international visitors. The open terrace is quite something, and a unique view between the Eiffel Tower and the Bois de Boulogne on one side, the Seine and the La Defense skyline on the other. It is also smaller than before because Arc day is once a year and we can work on that, but we didn’t want a white elephant that’s empty, even on good business days. It is modern, but on a human scale.
SF: When I was a child, children were banned from racetracks in America. You are letting them in for free and creating unique experiences for them? What can kids expect at ParisLongchamp?
OD: Actually, we have not waited for ParisLongchamp to work on that since our Dimanches au Galop (“racing Sundays”) meetings, with free access to horseracing-themed kids’ entertainment, go back to 2008. What’s new with ParisLongchamp is that we will try to extend the experience to the non-racing days, so that to them, a racing day brings more spice to the birthday party. We are also working on kids-orientated activities on racing days linked on the great image horses have. They are really appealing to kids, like gentle giants, and our best ambassadors.
SF: You have no doubt spent a lot of time at the construction site. What is your favorite part of the new track?
OD: The snow! All kidding aside, seeing that new racecourse under a white mantle last month was quite something. There is an old cedar tree that we’ve kept near the paddock and there’s a terrace around it. I think it could become some landmark within the landmark. But the favorite bit of the racetrack for me will always be the post. Federico Tesio said that the Epsom post was what designed the Thoroughbred. The winning post on Longchamp had designed my passion for racing, just as surely as the morning gallops at Chantilly and the sales buzz minutes before the Deauville sales begin.
SF: When you close your eyes and picture Apr. 29, what do you see?
OD: A smile. A very big, relaxed yet awed smile on many people’s faces.
Watch a virtual visit of the new Longchamp from France Galop and Dominique Perrault Architecture below.