Prix de Diane 2012 - Hats and Horses (Part II)

Racehorses run at 37-40 miles (60-65 km) per hour.

In theory, I should know a lot more about horse racing than I do because my eldest sister, who is the executive director of a therapeutic equestrian center, is also an ex-jockey and ex-trainer. In reality, I've been scared of horses ever since one kicked open my shin while I was riding in a simulated fox hunt when I was about 10 years old. That experience combined with another where I ended up flat on my back gazing at the belly of my horse after being thrown convinced me that these powerful animals are best enjoyed from a distance.

Yet when I heard that the Tourist Office of Chantilly was offering a special behind-the-scenes tour of the hippodrome prior to the Prix de Diane on Sunday, I decided that it would be a good opportunity to learn more about the Sport of Kings.

The thoroughbreds and their head traveling lad or lass arrive at Chantilly on the morning of the race. International horse transport companies move racehorses from one country to another. The twelve fillies running in the Prix de Diane traveled from Great Britain, the United States, Ireland, Germany and France.

As thoroughbreds are highly strung animals, they receive a shower shortly after their arrival to cool them down and help them relax.

To ensure that one horse has not been switched for another, each horse has a barcode embedded in its neck that is scanned before each race.

Johnny Murtagh, the winning jockey of the 2012 Prix de Diane.
The jockey is weighed in his race clothing complete with saddle before and after the race. If there is a discrepancy, the jockey may be disqualified. In Europe, jockeys should weigh no more than 115 pounds (52 kg).

The Future Racing Stars at the Prix de Diane ranged in age from 16 to 21 and came from England, France, Germany, Italy and Ireland. The winner was Angelo Citti, a 20 year old jockey from Italy.

In France, jockeys start their official training at the age of 14 at the Ecole des Courses Hippiques. While horse racing used to be a predominantly male sport, 70% of the current students are females.

Johnny Murtagh astride Valyra, the winner of the Prix de Diane.
Immediately before the race, the jockey receives his orders from the owner and mounts the horse, frequently for the first time. The horses are presented to the Owners' Tribune, while experienced bettors examine the animals for any signs of nervousness or fatigue.

For some of the jockeys, it will also be their first time racing at Chantilly. According to our guide, all of them know to start pushing their horses as soon as they reach the chapel near the Château de Chantilly.

While the rules of modern horse racing were created by the English, it was an American jockey who introduced the short-stirrup riding style that lifts the rider over the horse's withers called the "monkey crouch" or the "American seat".

At the end of the tour, our guide recommended that we watch Lads and Jockeys, a documentary that follows three 14-year-old boys training to become jockeys in Chantilly. It makes wearing a hat and cheering from the sidelines seem like the best way to enjoy the Prix de Diane! 


  1. What a fascinating post. Amazing look behind the scenes. I am sure Michael will be interested too. always think the life of a jockey is hard and disciplined. Getting up at the crack of dawn and all that deprivation.

    Watching Royal Ascot today on TV. I only watch for the hats!.. I noticed that most of the hats were much bugger than before and the conspicuous absence of fascinators, even when ladies were obviously not in the Royal enclosure. Better bring my big hat!

    Love from Bolton

    1. Even though I saw quite a few fascinators at the Prix de Diane, the hats that I noticed were the larger ones. The bigger the better! I'll have to see if I can find some coverage of Ascot on tv. I guess that BBC World would be a good place to start. ;)

      Watching the 14 year olds in the trailer for "Lads and Jockeys" made me think that someone would have to be passionate about horses to be a jockey. As you say, it's not an easy life. My sister has been banged up and broken by horses over the years but she still loves them.

  2. great photos! as glorious as Churchill Downs is, this track may beat it in the Spectacular Venue category--just beautiful. And how serendipity that you have a portrait of the winning jockey--was that taken before the race?

    1. According to our tour guide, who is slightly biased, Chantilly is the most beautiful racetrack in the world. With the castle in the background, I've got to admit that it's hard to beat.

      I felt lucky to get the pre-race photos of Johnny Murtagh. I snapped a couple of pictures of some of the jockeys while they were being weighed and some of them on their horses before I rushed back to my place to watch the race. It was just a coincidence combined with a bit of good luck that I happened to get photos of the winner. It helped that he was number 2 in line as well!

  3. What a fascinating glimpse into the world of horse racing. It's hard to believe that grown men can weigh 115 lbs. That's about what a supermodel weighs!

    1. Like supermodels, jockeys don't eat very much! While the height of jockeys isn't regulated, they're usually between 4'10" to 5'6".


Post a Comment