So says Photographer Mark Kauffman. "It's like a beautiful woman," he reflects, and adds, "Lovely women and finely formed Thoroughbreds are an unbeatable combination."
Kauffman, now working in Europe for LIFE, is a devoted racegoer. With his pictures of three Paris tracks on the following pages he has submitted some personal observations which confirm the sensitivity that has made him one of the world's best sports photographers:
"At all the tracks the greenest turf you will ever see forms a backdrop for jockeys' silks, the shimmering horses, the delicate, aristocratic women. At Longchamp on a spring Sunday the marvelously articulate French faces intermingle lightly with the smell of perfume. At Le Tremblay there is the tiny paddock with a thatched-roof pavilion where jockeys and owners confer.... At St. Cloud, the horses pull up after the finish under giant chestnut trees.... Everywhere, people are close to the animals—which makes the sport. At American tracks the racegoer's intimacy is limited to the cold face behind the $2 window. In Paris he virtually sits on the horse as it parades under trees and weaves through the crowd on to the track. Yes—Paris racing is the best."
Of the three tracks shown here, Le Tremblay (opposite) is the smallest. Its stands accommodate only about 7,000. During the war, however, when Longchamp was closed, important races like the Grand Prix de Paris were held there. Auteuil (on the pages following) is within the city limits and is France's leading jumping track. It was nearly demolished during the war and wholly rebuilt afterward. Largest of the three, its grandstand holds up to 65,000. Longchamp, the oldest and most glamorous, is in the heart of the beautiful Paris park, the Bois de Boulogne. On its site 700 years ago Isabelle of France, sister of Louis IX, founded the Abbaye de l'Humilit�, a retreat which lasted for five centuries. All of the abbey buildings are now gone, except for the famous Longchamp landmark—a windmill which stands just a few feet from the starting point of France's biggest race, the Prix de l' Arc de Triomphe.
Long the scene of informal racing among the nobility (one blueblood bet—and lost—his mistress), Longchamp was officially inaugurated by Emperor Napoleon III on an April Sunday in 1857. He and Empress Eug�nie arrived during the third race, by yacht up the Seine from the Tuileries. For the Grand Prix or the Arc de Triomphe more than 50,000 crowd Longchamp's course—among them the butchers and bakers of Paris, as well as its smartest women.