Ascot Chase

Ascot Chase  As the name suggests, the Ascot Chase is a Grade 1 steeplechase run over 2 miles, 5 furlongs and 8 yards at Ascot in February. Inaugurated, as the Comet Chase, in 1995, the race was orginally run over a distance of 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 110 yards, but has been lengthened, shortened and lengthened again at various points in its history. The 2005 and 2006 renewals – staged at Lingfield Park during the multi-million pound redevelopment of Ascot – were contested over 2 miles, 4 furlongs and 110 yards. Back at Ascot, on the partially reconstructed National Hunt course, in 2007, the distance was shortened to 2 miles 2 furlongs and 175 yards before being lengthened to the current yardage the following year.

Worth £150,000 in guaranteed in prize money, the Ascot Chase has the distinction of being the most valuable steeplechase run at Ascot. It is also the third, and final, National Hunt race of the season at the Berkshire course and, more importantly, the final Grade 1 race, of any description, before the Cheltenham Festival. The intermediate distance is ideally suited to top-level horses who lack the speed for two miles and the stamina for three. That said, the indomitable Kauto Star – a Grade 1 winner at two miles, three miles and three-and-a-quarter miles – demonstrated his versatility with an easy 8-length victory in 2008.

A total of four horses – Tiutchev (2001, 2003), Monet’s Garden (2007, 2010), Riverside Theatre (2011, 2012) and Cue Card (2013, 2017) – have won the Ascot Chase. Paul Nicholls, trainer of Kauto Star, also saddled Rockforce (2000) Silviniaco Conti (2016) and Cyrname (2019) to victory and, alongside Martin Pipe, is jointly the most successful trainer in the history of the race.

The 2023 renewal of the Ascot Chase is scheduled for Saturday, February 18. Ante-post prices are not yet available, but favourites have an excellent recent record, winning six of the last 10 renewals.

David Probert

David Probert  Bargoed-born David Probert, a graduate of the British Racing School in Newmarket, had his first ride in public on Tiny Tim, trained by Andrew Balding, in a lowly banded stakes race at Lingfield on December 13, 2006. He rode his first winner, Mountain Pass, trained by Bernard Llewellyn, in an equally woeful selling stakes race at Wolverhampton nearly a year later. However, from such humble beginnings, under the mentorship of former champion trainer Ian Balding, he made rapid progress, such that in 2008 he shared the apprentice jockeys’ championship with fellow Kingsclere apprentice William Buick.

Thereafter, it would be fair to say that Probert has enjoyed a successful career without hitting the heights that, at one point, seemed likely. In recent seasons, Andrew Balding has tended to entrust his ‘big guns’ to three-time champion jockey Oisin Murphy, such that, more often than not, Probert has found himself playing second fiddle to his younger rival. Of course, Murphy is currently banned until February, 2023, so that dynamic may well change but, for now, Probert is still without a Group 1 winner to his name.

Nevertheless, Probert celebrated 1,000 winners on British soil when riding Tronada, trained by Alan King, to victory at Lingfield on June 8, 2020. In 2021, he enjoyed far and away the most successful season of his career so far, with 169 winners, including a 257/1 five-timer at his home course, Ffos Las, on August 11, and over £2 million in prize money for the first time. Between May 1 and October 16, he rode 93 winners, thereby finishing fourth in the Flat Jockeys’ Championship. Probert continued in excellent form over the winter and was crowned champion all-weather jockey at Newcastle on Good Friday, 2022.

Brian Hughes

Brian Hughes  At the time of writing, Brian Hughes has just won the British Jump Jockeys’ Championship for the second time. Between May 1, 2021 and April 23, 2022, Hughes rode 204 winners, 99 more than his nearest rival, Sam Twiston-Davies. In so doing, he became just the fourth National Hunt jockey in history, after Peter Scudamore, Sir Anthony McCoy and Richard Johnson, to ride 200 winners in a season. Reflecting on his second jockeys’ title, Hughes said, ‘Having lost the championship [to Harry Skelton] last year, to win it back, by a considerable margin and with 200 winners, it will mean the most.’

Of course, Hughes won his first jockeys’ title in 2019/20, with 141 winners, thereby becoming the first jockey based in the North of England to do so since Jonjo O’Neill in 1980. Indeed, O’Neill also held the record for the most winners in a season by a northern jump jockey, 149, which he set in 1978. However, Hughes broke that record as early as February 7, 2022, courtesy of an 83/1 four-timer at Carlisle, which took his seasonal tally to 150. Fittingly, three of his winners that day were saddled by Cholmondeley trainer Donald McCain, to whom Hughes was appointed first-choice jockey at the start of the 2018/19 season.

Born in County Armagh in Northern Ireland, Hughes, 36, became conditional jockey to Howard Johnston in 2005/06 but, by his own admission, became ‘a bit disillusioned’ and sought opportunities elsewhere. Nevertheless, he remained in the North of England and formed successful partnerships, first with County Durham trainer John Wade and subsequently with Donald McCain, Nicky Richards, Brian Ellison, James Ewart and others, that would ultimately take him to the top of his profession.

The History of Paris Longchamp

The History of Paris Longchamp  Emperor Napoleon III sailed down the Seine on his private yacht to watch the action unfold on the first day of racing at Longchamp. He joined a huge crowd on April 27, 1857, along with his wife Eugénie and many other members of the royal family and the broader aristocracy.

They watched on as Eclaireur got the better of a famous mare called Miss Gladiator in the inaugural race at Longchamp. There were four more races held that day, and the event proved to be a roaring success.

Since then, it has emerged as one of the world’s most famous racecourses, responsible for hosting more than half of France’s Group 1 races. When you check out today’s French horse racing tips, you will notice that the biggest events take place at Longchamp, including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The Duke’s Dream Becomes a Reality

Racing had been held at the Champ de Mars in Paris since 1833, but the French aristocrats sought a higher level of grandeur. The Duc de Morny approached the authorities with a proposal to build a racecourse within the vast Bois de Boulogne in Paris, which is more than double the size of New York’s Central Park.

The authorities gave their consent, and the Longchamp opened the following year. It boasts a glorious setting, nestled amid manicured lawns and straddling the banks of the Seine, making it the perfect venue for elite racing.

In 1863, the Société d’Encouragement established the Grand Prix de Paris, which instantly became the world’s richest horse race. It took place at Longchamp. A British colt called The Ranger outstripped his rivals that year, seizing a prize of 100,000 francs, which the Duc de Morny raised from the Paris Municipal Court and the railway companies.

It turned Paris into the centre of the global racing scene. However, that all fell by the wayside when Longchamp was bombed during the 1870 Siege of Paris. Racing had to be abandoned throughout the Franco-Prussian War, but it would emerge stronger than ever in the 20th century.

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Debuts

Racing was also cancelled during the First World War, but the government was keen to mark the end of the fighting with a celebratory event. By that point, there were two very famous races at Longchamp – the Grand Prix de Paris and the Prix du Conseil Municipal, a handicap established in 1893.

The French racing committee decided to launch an event that was similar to the Prix du Conseil Municipal, but without any weight penalties. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was conceived – named after the Paris landmark that became a symbol of the Allied victory during the post-War celebrations – and it first took place in 1920.

Count Evremond de Saint-Alary’s three-year-old colt, Comrade, won the race, which carried prize money of 150,000 francs. Comrade also won the Grand Prix de Paris that year.

The War Years

Longchamp continued to grow in stature during the 1920s and 1930s, but racing stopped during the outbreak of World War II. It resumed during the German occupation in 1941, with a host of German officers in the stands to watch the likes of Le Pacha and Djebel triumph.

In 1943, Longchamp was hit by a bomb during a race, killing seven people. The bodies were cleared from the track, and racing resumed an hour and a half later. French essayist Jean Guéhenno decried it as a sign of just how far standards of decency had fallen, as people continued betting on races at the crumbling course that day.

A Major Renovation

Longchamp was fully restored after the war, and racing continued unabated until 2016, when it closed for two years, allowing the authorities to conduct a €150 million makeover.

More famous races were added during the second half of the 20th century, and the Hippodrome de Longchamp – to use its full name – also began hosting concerts. For example, the Rolling Stones played there as part of their Voodoo Lounge Tour in 1995 and they returned in 2022 for another gig.

The racecourse had received minor upgrades and expansions over the years, but it needed a major overhaul. France Galop, the governing body of French racing and the owner of Longchamp, commissioned renowned architect Dominique Perrault to overhaul the historic venue.

It reopened in 2018, just in time to host the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which had been held in Chantilly while the renovations were taking place. Guests mingled at a chic new open-air café, took in stunning views at the sprawling rooftop lounge and gathered in the ultra-modern grandstand to watch Enable seal a second Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe win.

The Modern Era

Longchamp now has a capacity of 50,000. The complex is 56 hectares. It is essentially four racecourses intertwined into one larger course. That allows it to host a diverse mix of races, ranging from 1,000 metres to 4,000 metres in length.

The longest course is 2,750m, another is 2,500m, a third is 2,150m and there is also a 1,000m straight course that runs across the other three. It gives France Galop a great deal of flexibility, so there are 46 different starting points for races at Longchamp.

The main event each year is the Arc – Europe’s richest horse race, with a €5 million prize purse – but the Grand Prix de Paris, the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches are also extremely prestigious.

It is a flat racing venue, so the season hits its stride in May with the Prix Gany and winds down with the Prix de Royallieu, Prix du Cadran, Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp, Prix Marcel Boussac, Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère, Prix de la Forêt, Prix de ‘l’Arc de Triomphe, Prix de l’Opéra and Prix Royal-Oak in October.

You can visit for a variety of meetings throughout the summer, and you can also take in famous artworks from the likes of Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas, who have depicted racedays at Longchamp.