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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

The first real day of spring and French racing is back in its rightful home

Air Pilot and Christophe Soumillon win the Prix d'Harcourt for Ralph Beckett on the opening day at ParisLongchamp
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ParisLongchamp, as the rebranders have called it – it will still be Longchamp to many people – is the bearer of a myriad different hopes. 

It must be the engine that drives the pari-mutuel, while simultaneously offering the upper echelons of French bloodstock the chance to separate themselves from the herd. 

It must host a sprawling Arc weekend, yet not feel like it dwarfs the kind of midweek meeting that is by and large ignored by all but the most hardened turfiste. 

And at a cost of €140 million, it is charged with attracting a new and different clientele, a moneyed leisure class that spends its weekdays working in the skyscraper district of La Defense that forms the backdrop to this historic layout. 

First days can be deceiving and there are always a thousand tiny things behind the scenes that go off the rails. From that point of view, the opening afternoon was more blemish-free than most.

The jockeys seemed unanimous in their tactics on the track, even if there was a wide difference of opinion as to what constituted the winner's circle in the refurbished paddock. 

If the price of innovation is to have a few racecourse photographers running around trying to get the winning connections, it seems a fair one. 

Runners in the Grand Handicap d'Ouverture, watched by turfistes on the paddock-side steppings
A personal concern in advance of Sunday was that the decision to banish the public to the first floor walkways and above might make paddock-side access difficult for the dedicated racegoer who doesn't have a leg in one of the runners.

That fear evaporated and, if anything, there might be more capacity than before, once you allow for the terrace above the yet-to-open brasserie. 

In fact, for the racegoer the journey from trackside to paddock is far more straightforward than before. 

The other thing that strikes is that, in a country whose reputation for customer service is summed up by the Parisian waiter of popular imagination, Longchamp was chock full of hosts and hostesses, all eager to direct people to their destination, as well as politely sorting out any demarcation issues with where your ticket could and couldn't get you, in English if necessary. 

Now that is a change for the better.


Members can read the latest exclusive interviews, news analysis and comment available from 6pm daily on racingpost.com


 

First days can be deceiving and there are always a thousand tiny things behind the scenes that go off the rails

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