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.