Auteuil strike action forces cancellation of first fixture this year
The first meeting of the year in Paris was cancelled at Auteuil on Tuesday after officials failed to reach agreement with union representatives and racecourse employees who had occupied the parade ring.
Marcel Rolland, one of France's most experienced trainers, described the action as a "hostage situation", one which officials estimate will have cost racing's rulers in the region of €1.5 million in lost receipts.
"This action, which is timed to coincide with the reopening of Auteuil, places us in a situation where we have been taken hostage along with our horses," said Rolland.
"We have been working in sub-zero temperatures during the winter to prepare for the new season and now we are being prevented from running."
The protest was organised to highlight a number of grievances, notably plans to fuse the individual racecourse teams which work at Saint-Cloud, Maisons-Laffitte and Auteuil.
France Galop director-general Olivier Delloye, who led negotiations with union leaders for almost two hours, said he felt the protesters had showed little interest in giving the meeting any chance of going ahead.
"We have embarked on discussion around the proposed changes and I find today’s action totally disproportionate," said Delloye. "The cancellation of the whole meeting will cost in the region of €1.5 million in earnings for racing. It also means that the horses and stable staff have endured tiring journeys for nothing."
Delloye added: "I must underline that discussions are ongoing around this project. If the people we sit down with are set on refusing any suggestions initiated by France Galop then this will prove a difficult situation to resolve."
The parade ring provided a febrile atmosphere where many individual voices on both sides appeared to be striving to gain a hearing.
One of the chief negotiators for the strikers, the SUD union's Philippe Navarre, said he believed his members had been forced to take action.
"For several months the alarm bells have been ringing and today is an expression of how exasperated the employees have become with the situation," said Navarre, who was careful not to be drawn on any future industrial action. "We will see what comes of any future discussions and ultimately it is the employees who will decide. But the fact that people have come here in large numbers today is a demonstration of their exasperation."
Initial discussions between stewards and trainers' representatives revolved around a plan to add four of Tuesday's races to Sunday's meeting at the track.