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The French Horse Racing Scene

About 6 months before I started Focus Ratings I also started a small blog which detailed my learning curve with all things Horse Racing.

Once Focus Ratings was under way though, I found that I didn't have time to do both and so I stopped updating the blog.

I am now shutting down the blog and have decided to move some of the content over here - purely for your amusement only.

Living in France I often notice that it's the little things that are different here.

And it's not just that we call a Big Mac Cheeseburger a "Royale with Cheese."

We do our betting on horse racing differently here.

It's a lot more social and, of course, does tend to involve a fair amount of beer or wine.

Now, I have to warn you that, if you're looking for a sensible, structured and well-informed introduction to Horse Racing in France then you've probably come to the wrong place?

What I intend to attempt to do is to explain it as it really is.

It starts at 8am.

In France (and not a lot of people know this...) it is the law that you have to go visit a bar first thing in the morning to drink a coffee (or something a little stronger), to show your neighbours that you haven't died during the night and to buy a scratchcard, lottery ticket or, for the sophisticated, waste 2 euros on a Quinté.

This is a result of an earlier law (the Napolean Bread Law) which insists that every French family must visit the baker (la Boulangerie) at least once a day to purchase a baguette. It's been a while since it last happened but it wasn't really so long ago that people were guillotined for failing to observe this law.

Thus, the village can be a busy place at 8am as people toddle out to buy their bread (in order to avoid being beheaded) and then pop into the café or bar for a warming coffee or a thereputic glass of wine (yes, we froggies, even us expat ones, do occasionally enjoy a glass of wine at 8am but, it is only for medicinal purposes! At least, that's our excuse!)

Now, in many villages the bar will also be a PMU.

What is a PMU?

A PMU is a French bookies shop but....

It's slightly different.

For example, in a PMU you can drink - they are also bars!

In a PMU you can often grab something to eat - often they are also cafés!

In a PMU, families are welcome!

In a PMU, it is considered polite to wear a beret (a sort of French flat cap) - women are often excused this custom although it does depend on the region!

So... you are down at the PMU sipping a glass of wine, having just bought your baguette and you fancy having a flutter...

Why not?

It's only polite.

Now, you could just pick a horse at random and bet on it to win or be placed but...

That would be far too easy!

Of course, you are allowed to place simple bets but the average red-blooded, hairy chested, moustache wearing Frenchmen (and most red-blooded, hairy chested, moustache wearing French Women, come to think of it?) prefer to complicate the matter somewhat by betting on more exotic bets such as the Quinté - which basically means betting on five horses in one selected race to come home in order. The pay out for this is pretty large, often over £100,000 to a 2 euro stake but...

The chances of selecting 5 horses to come home in the right order is about a trillion to one!

Some boring facts and figures...

There are 252 racecourses in 75 French departments with 17,000 races per year, 29,000 horses in training,
43,530 horse breeders and 10,597 horse owners.

The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (held at Longchamp Racecourse), has a prize of 4 million Euro which makes it the richest race in Europe and the second richest turf race in the world after the Japan Cup!

Half of all Europe's racecourses are in France!

Another baguette?

Of course, if you are serious about not getting your head chopped off you might want to pop out again in the afternoon to buy another nice fresh stick of bread.

And, if you are in the village it would be rude not to pop into the PMU to have a nice little glass of wine and check on the racing.

All PMUs have large screen TVs so that you can watch the races in the company of all those hairy chested, moustache wearing French men & women.

You'll probably notice that most of them have suitcases full of scratch cards (I exaggerate only very slightly here) as scratch cards and the Lotto (like our lottery but different enough so as to confuse the mad English expats who've chosen to live in the land of the garlic snail) are very popular here.

Betting on Horses in France

The simplest bet is to back your horse to win (gagnant) or to be placed (placé).

Or you can do both at the same time.

Your horse has to come first for a win bet.

It must finish in the first three for a place bet, unless there are between 4 and 7 runners when it must finish first or second.

You can, also, do both at the same time, and this is known as à cheval and then your stake will be doubled.

There are 2 types of Forecast Bet, a win forecast (couplé gagnant) and a place forecast (couplé placé).

A win forecast requires you to nominate the first and second horses.

When there are 8 or more runners they can be in either order, but for races with 4 to 7 runners you must nominate them in the correct finishing order, which is designated as couplé ordre.

For a place forecast, on races with 8 or more participants, you need to choose 2 horses to finish in the first three.

The trio requires you to pick the first 3 horses home. For races with 8 or more runners they can finish in any order, but for races with 4 to 7 runners you must nominate the correct finishing order (trio ordre).

In France horses from the same stable or owner are coupled for betting purposes.

In a race, if horses 3 and 6 are in the same owner they are considered to be ‘écurie’.

This is shown on the card by both horses having E1 in the column detailing their names.

Should there be another pair of horses in the race both owned by a single, different owner they will be designated as E2.

For win bets only, if you back one of those écurie horses you are backing them both. So if in the example above you have 10 euros to win on horse 3, which comes in last, should horse number 6 win, then you will still collect.

Unsurprisingly, this ‘écurie’ or coupling process will be reflected by you receiving a shorter price than if the horses were not coupled.

However, if this isn't confusing enough, here are some more weird French bets....

The Quinté+ means you pick the first 5 horses in the correct order - this is only available on one race a day but the PMU chuck in a million euros to the pot.

The Quarté+ is the same but with only 4 horses and no million euros chucked into the pot.

The Tiercé is similar but you only need to pick the first three horses in the correct order.

There's also a Pick 5 where you just pick 5 horses to come in the first five places in any order.

There are all sorts of other bets but, frankly....

You'd need to be a garlic breathed, wine swilling, moustache wearing Frenchman (or a garlic breathed, wine swilling, moustache wearing French Woman) to have the slightest hope of understanding them!

If you want to find out more (for example, if you are planning to grow a moustache and visit France for a nice little holiday) you can take a look here for a guide to bets in French.

keith-eckstein  the horse racing scholar

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