Longchamp has graced Paris since 1857. And Parisians—lovers of racing, elegant ladies, blue bloods and bourgeois—have graced Longchamp for as long. Enhanced by the surrounding Bois de Boulogne with its magnificent lime and acacia trees, its lakes, bridle paths and flower gardens, Longchamp also attracts the finest of Europe's horseflesh and presents a number of the world's most significant races, among them the Prix de I' Arc de Triomphe. It was, therefore, a matter of import to racegoers everywhere when Longchamp recently launched a multimillion-dollar program of renovation, the first changes worth remarking on in 60 years. Would Longchamp become just another cold-looking complex of concrete, steel and glass? Was it possible to retain the charm that made racegoing so pleasurable an experience? Faced with this challenge, Architect Jacques Regnault said, "This is a track for horse admirers, not just for people who 'play the horses.' Here, the horse is king." How well Regnault has fulfilled his difficult assignment may be seen on the opposite and following pages. In providing shelter, comfort and conveniences for additional thousands of spectators, Regnault admittedly sacrificed a few trees and some of the intimacy with the racing activities that Longchamp formerly afforded its patrons. But the blend of old and new must be judged a success and an achievement to be studied by those who—at our own Belmont Park, for example—are even now busy with similar plans.
THE WIZARD OF LONGCHAMP
For the past decade European racing has been dominated by four extraordinarily successful trainers. They are Ireland's Paddy Prendergast and Vincent O'Brien, and France's Etienne Pollet (who developed last year's champion, Sea Bird) and Fran�ois Mathet.
Of these, Mathet is the most successful—and the most controversial. A 58-year-old ex-cavalry officer and former champion gentleman rider on hurdle and steeplechase courses, Mathet has been a loner all his life. Some of his rivals on the Continental circuit would like to see him chained to a rock on Devil's Island. "I don't speak to him," says one of his fellow Chantilly-based trainers. "I think he's totally ruthless and entirely selfish. Ah, but even though I do not respect him as a person I respect him as a trainer." If there is a hint of jealousy in this statement, which is fairly representative of his colleagues' attitude, Mathet explains it when he says, "Twenty-one years ago, when I came into racing, training methods were outdated. I came as a nonconformist into the most conventional world. Now the others are copying me."
It is hardly surprising. Some of his accomplishments include having 200 horses in training for clients like Hotel Owner Fran�ois Dupr� and Karim Aga Khan; taking on Yves Saint-Martin as a stable lad at the age of 14 and making him one of the half dozen best jockeys in the world; and being in the enviable position of rejecting the applications of well-heeled clients with well-bred stock. Mathet even left one established client, the chic Mme. Leon (Suzy) Volterra, when—according to him—she became confused about just who was in charge. Today he is the leading trainer at Long-champ, with 13 wins in 11 days of racing this season. A less enviable goal for a trainer seeking to emulate Mathet would be to get involved in disputes with the racing authorities. One such controversy, involving Mathet and allegations of doping, has yet to come up for final disposition.
Well before Mathet goes to court to help settle that case, which originated in 1962, he will have added some new chapters to the French record books. Back in 1957 Mathet broke the alltime record by topping the trainers' list with 97 winners. In purse money he trailed only Alec Head, who at that time was directing a racing empire for the late Aga and Aly Khan. Every year since then Mathet has headed the list in number of winners, never falling below 95 and six times going over the 100 mark. Only once during that span, when Pollet beat him in 1959, did he fail to win the purse championship as well. In 1964, with 124 winners and 162 second-place finishes, Mathet rewrote all his own records as his horses won $1,030,800. It was the first time that a trainer had gone over the million-dollar mark in France. The year 1965 was even more dazzling: 135 winners and $1,250,000 won. With 492 starters—"I have three or four runners every day of the season"—Mathet had achieved a fantastic winning average of .274.
In Mathet's 21-year career, his horses have accounted for 1,561 victories, including 94 over National Hunt courses. His first outstanding horse, Dupr�'s Tanti�me, who won the Prix de I' Arc de Triomphe in 1950 and 1951, is his own choice as the best he has ever trained or seen. "He was, after all," says Mathet, "champion of his age at 2, 3 and 4 and won 12 of 15 races." But there have been many others. He won the Epsom Derby with Phil Drake and also with Relko, the Epsom Oaks with Sicarelle and Bella Paola, the Coronation Cup with Tanti�me and Dicta Drake. In addition to these, Mathet trained Northern Light, Midnight Sun and, more recently, Reliance, whose only defeat in his career was to Sea Bird in the 1965 Arc.
In 1962, after winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes with Dupr�'s Match, Mathet shipped him to Laurel where, in the Washington, D.C., International, Saint-Martin turned in the ride of his life on this son of Tanti�me to win over Kelso and Carry Back as the third U.S. horse, favorite Beau Purple, finished 11th. What did Mathet remember about that great day? "I didn't go over for the race," he says. "I was too busy."
Today Mathet is a solid 165 pounds and a shade under 5 feet 8 inches tall. His dark hair is gradually thinning, but his quick eyes are every bit as alert as they must have been in the early 1930s, when he was galloping over Europe's steeplechase courses as a dashing cavalry lieutenant. Impeccably dressed (usually in dark pinstripes) when he goes to the races, Mathet seems a bit more relaxed at the distinguished manoir he has built on his 62 acres on the outskirts of Chantilly. There, walking through the symmetrically laid-out gardens that he designed himself, he is apt to appear in gray flannels and a conservative sports coat. There, too, he shrugs off his air of perpetual conflict with the world around him. His attractive wife Marguerite and their sons, Melchior Fran�ois, 4, and Hubert, 3, gather around him in his oak-paneled library, and Mathet plays the role of host so well that he might easily be taken for an embassy chief of protocol. That is, until the talk turns to racing, which it inevitably does.
Recently Mathet was showing a visitor through this majestic house on an afternoon when his presence was not required at the track. He slowly paced the Louis XIV parquet floors and then paused, looking like a latter-day Napoleon, facing a broad picture window overlooking the thick forests of the peaceful Oise Valley. He raised a hand to point in the direction of Paris. "As the crow flies," he said deliberately, "it is exactly 38 kilometers from my hill to the Arc de Triomphe."