Prix de Diane
The weekend forecast promised good weather, so I decided to head out of town.
Eventually, my road trip led me to Chantilly for the Prix de Diane, a horse race for three-year old fillies. It is France's counterpart to the English Oaks at Epsom Downs and the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. On this day, it's all about the ladies - both on and off the track. As such, the Prix de Diane has become known for elegant women and "over-the-top" attire.
I've been to many racing events over the years. This was the most understated, yet overstated event I've ever attended. In fact, it's impossible for me to describe how opposing qualities combined harmoniously to create a glorious day.
The theme was Voyage Extraordinaire dans les Jardins des 5 Sens and it was just that...an Extraordinary Voyage into the Garden of the 5 Senses. I was captivated by my surroundings at every turn. That said, the organizers should be proud of how well-planned and well-executed everything seemed to be.
In keeping with the theme, the infield was arranged like a formal French garden with five parterre, each one dedicated to one of the five senses. Under white tents, one could satisfy their sense of touch, smell, hearing, tasting, or seeing in any numbers of ways. Tents featured massages, distinct floral fragrances, small orchestral concerts, savories to taste, and fashion shows to see. Adults and children alike participated in each of these endeavors between races.
But, there was also a children's area that featured a carrousel, pony rides, face painting, etc. A food court offered a variety of tasty items. There were also beverage bars, ice cream bars, Champagne bars, dessert bars, etc. Tables and chairs with market umbrellas were provided for those who didn't want to sit on the grass. Throughout the day, well-dressed staff serviced tables, picked-up litter and kept the entire area impeccably clean. Everything was color coordinated in bright pink and lime green - even the Champagne was rosé.
The paddock was located to the west of the grandstand and easily accessible. Visiting the paddock, however, was not at all necessary because just prior to each race, the horses and jockeys were paraded on a small ring just behind the grandstand - much like Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. Several stations of betting windows were strategically scattered indoors and outdoors to prevent crowd congestion and ensure that everyone could place bets up to the last minute.
The 18th century stables, Les Grandes Ecuries, provide a breath-taking backdrop to the race.
A terraced hillside provided additional space for picnicing guests. Here, friends gathered, socialized and enjoyed a great view of the track.
Nosegays were made and given to any woman willing to stand in line for one. The fashion shows featured avant-garde dresses and hats designed by students.
A picnic lunch, consisting of two mini-sandwiches, fruit cocktail, chips, dessert and a bottle of water, was available for 25 euro. The lunch was packaged in a hat box and a portion of the proceeds was donated to charity.