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The World According To Dean: A rollicking good time in Paris


Published: January 29, 2009 9:03 pm ET

Last Comment: January 31, 2009 6:46 am ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

I certainly wasn’t in Paris when Allied troops liberated the city in August, 1944, but I’ve seen photos of the joyous celebrations and I know how exuberant and joyous the French can be.

I was reminded of that last Sunday when I was in Paris with a group of 16 North American trotting fans as we witnessed the overwhelming enthusiasm on Prix d’Amerique day.

Tom Hicks of Florida, breeder of Hambo runner-up Crazed, said, “It’s the greatest atmosphere of any sporting event I’ve ever seen, even better than the World Series.”

Veteran Maine horseman Don Richards, 75, a man not given to hyperbole, said simply, “Greatest thing I’ve ever seen.”

You’d probably agree if you heard how the track announcers whip the French trotting fans into a frenzy before the Prix d’Amerique. Of course, when the major contenders in the race have their own fan clubs, you realize it doesn’t take much to stir up the crowd. The French love their trotters.

To be honest, the 2009 Prix d’Amerique was a race without a great deal of drama. Several people touted Meaulnes du Corta to me as the winner before the race and he lived up to expectations. Driver Franck Nivard got him away carefully and eased him to the front of the 18-horse pack as the trotters passed the grandstand after the first half-mile. That’s when they begin to trot downhill and around the track’s first turn which is actually two turns connected by a straight section.

The canny Nivard controlled the race and stacked up the trailers, including his stablemate Offshore Dream, winner of the last two Prix d’Ameriques. Stalking Meaulnes du Corta on the outside was the legendary Jean-Pierre Dubois, driving his mare Qualita Bourbon.

In the homestretch, Qualita Bourbon bobbled for a few strides, but Meaulnes du Corta was already gone. He simply drew off and won for fun despite drifting out in the stretch. Nouba du Saptel nipped Qualita Bourbon for second place but neither were a threat to the winner.

Meaulnes du Corta is trained by Pierre Levesque, giving him three consecutive Prix d’A winners because he trained and drove Offshore Dream, too.

In last year’s Prix d’A, Meaulnes du Corta was forwardly-placed through much of the race, but skipped offstride in the homestretch. I was told that he’s a high-strung horse and was affected by the five recalls in the 2008 Prix d’A.

I noticed that Offshore Dream and Meaulnes du Corta went through their pre-race warm-up routine as a team. Trainer Levesque jogged Offshore Dream and Meaulnes du Corta had his nose right on Levesque’s back. They never varied from that order as they looped the big Vincennes oval. It was an obvious attempt to get Meaulnes du Corta to relax before the big test. It worked.

Blair Burgess, who has trained two Hambletonian winners, was very impressed with the atmosphere at Vincennes (and also impressed by the impressionist masterpieces at the Musee d’Orsay). He and wife Karin were among the trotting tourists who came to France to explore the wonders of the city and see the world’s greatest trotting spectacle.

I know that Blair and the other horsemen on the tour were impressed with the Grobois training facility where so many horses racing at Vincennes are stabled. After all, how many training centers do you know that have their own royal chateau?

We had a great time on our tour to Paris and I know that many of the guests said that they already plan to take the same tour next year. They’re hooked by the wonders of French trotting.

Dean Hoffman, one of North America's most prolific harness racing journalists and member of the U.S. Harness Racing Hall of Fame, offers SC website readers his weekly look at international standardbred racing through his eyes.

January 31, 2009 - 6:46 amThere was an interesting

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

There was an interesting article on the Prix website with an interview of the breeder of Qualita Bourbon prior to her finishing third. He was extolling the virtues of mares by Florestan, a "French" stallion by Stars Pride whose dam was the great French mare Roquepine. There were three entries in this year's Prix that had Florestan dams, they finished 1-2-3.

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