Racing with Longines in Chantilly, France

Horsemanship and timekeeping blend with fashion and festivities at the 170th Prix de Diane Longines. Joezer Mandagi reports from Chantilly, France.

Throughout its long history, Swiss watch brand Longines has not only created breakthrough in fine timepieces but also innovations in timekeeping for various sports. Unsurprisingly, this includes equestrian events, and since 2011, Longines has become the title partner and official timekeeper of the Prix de Diane Longines, one of the most celebrated races in Europe.

And this year, DA MAN was invited to attend the 170th edition of the race at the Hippodrome de Chantilly, about 50 kilometers north of Paris.

Fun Under the Sun

Named after Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, moon and nature, the Prix de Diane dates all the way back to 1843. In its modern incarnation, the event includes nine races, with the main highlight being the fourth race, which is the actual Prix de Diane Longines. Furthermore, it is considered a Group 1 race, which represents the highest level of Flat racing in the international horseracing calendar. As such, the Prix de Diane Longines features 16 of the very finest thoroughbred fillies—young female horses that are not yet considered mares, in this case three years old—ridden by the best jockeys from all over the world, competing for a total prize of one million euros.

Arriving at the venue, however, you quickly realize that the Prix de Diane is as much a festival as it is a race. To that end, the Hippodrome de Chantilly takes on the atmosphere of an elegant garden party. All across the grounds you will find families spreading checkered tablecloths on top of the neatly trimmed grass and open picnic baskets full of food. Those looking to get the full Prix de Diane experience might order a pre-packed picnic presented in an elegant hatbox or enjoy a meal at the shaded table d’hôte set right alongside the track. Food trucks and stalls offering everything from coffee and ice cream to sandwiches and cold cuts are also plentiful.

Another aspect of the Prix de Diane that you will definitely won’t miss would be the extravagant hats worn by many of the ladies attending the race. From simple floral headpieces to elaborate creations featuring bouquets of flowers, huge feathers and even wire sculpture, the parade of hats all over the racecourse has become an inseparable part of the storied event. Quite a few of these ladies would then compete in the Mademoiselle Diane par Longines, with the winner receiving a Longines watch presented by Longines Ambassador of Elegance Simon Baker.

All of this—from the picnicking families to the various stages and the ladies with their hats—is then presented against the imposing Musée Vivant du Cheval or the Living Museum of the Horse just along the northern edge of the racetrack, along with the Château de Chantilly and its iconic Great Stables in the background.

A Day at the Races

Of course, the focal point of a race day like the Prix de Diane Longines are the races, and even for the uninitiated attendee—such as yours truly—the experience can be quite thrilling.

While moving around the venue, you might catch a glimpse or two of horses being led around by their grooms in the pre-parade ring as they warm up. Seasoned racegoers would also take the chance to judge each horse’s fitness before they are saddled. About 15 minutes before a race, the horses, in all their livery, are shown off in the parade ring. And then it’s time to see the actual race.

When the horses start to assemble near the starting gate, everybody flocks to the course. As the excitement reaches a fever pitch the gates slam open and the horses thunder across the track to the cheering of hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators. When you’re actually in the middle of the crowds along the tracks, you can actually feel the thrum of the crowd, and as the horses make their final dash for the finish line, the roar of “Allez! Allez! Allez!” becomes deafening. Obviously, the loudest shouts came from those who literally have money riding on the races. Betting has been part of horse races since time immemorial and it was no different that day at Chantilly, with some betting for fun—the minimum bet is just 2 euros—while others wager more substantial amounts. Those attending the Prix de Diane with more than just having fun in mind would definitely be most appreciative of accurate timekeeping.

“When you’re actually in the middle of the crowds along the tracks, you can actually feel the thrum of the crowd”

Then, as the clock struck four, it was time for the highlight of the day, the actual Prix de Diane Longines. Take all the clamor and commotion of the previous races and double it—that’s how it felt alongside the track before the 2,100 meter race was about to start and the 16 horses were pushed into the starting gate. In the end, it was Channel ridden by Pierre Charles-Boudot that won the day. Besides the substantial cash prize, the winning team also received elegant timepieces presented by representatives from Longines together with Simon Baker.

The 170th Prix de Diane Longines then went on well into the evening with another five races and the seemingly endless festivities spread across the grounds. It was, as a whole, an unforgettable day—one that combined precision and performance, merriment and elegance, the human spirit and technical excellence. All of which, in hindsight, are qualities also shared by Longines, both as a patron of equestrian events along with many other sports and as a maker of elegantly fine timepieces.