Ascot vs L'Arc: The glitz and glamor of France's great monument

Story highlights

  • Think "French chic" and the words elegance, style and grace spring to mind
  • That glamor will be on display at this weekend's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
  • Stark contrast to UK's Royal Ascot, which has a more flamboyant style
  • Prestigious race regularly attracts the "creme de la creme" of European society

With names like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent under its belt, it's little wonder Paris has earned a reputation as one of the fashion capitals of the world.

If "French chic" has become synonymous with the elegance, grace and style of its country's powerhouse fashion labels and catwalk shows, this weekend that glamor will be out in force on a very different type of track -- the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Your average horse race this is not.

While Britain's Royal Ascot often displays images of Tango-colored ladies kicking off their heels, their French counterparts take a distinctly more demure approach to a day at the races.

"French dressing is less spectacular than Ascot, it's less extroverted," Arc spokesman Julien Pescatore said.

"The French style is very classic. It's about elegance, beauty and glamor."

Such was the clampdown on decorum at this year's Royal Ascot, organizers went to the extent of publishing style guides for race-goers.

Ladies were advised that all dresses were to be of "modest" length -- defined as "falling just above the knee or longer." Shorts and shoulderless dresses were also deemed a non-no.

While Parisian race-goers adhere to a more classic style, one fashion accessory appears universal -- the obligatory outrageous hat.

"The hat is an essential element of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe," says Pescatore.

"It started in the 1920s as a way to convey some eccentricity, to do some showing-off. Today that might mean a hat with the Eiffel Tower on top."

Read: Royal Regulations for Ascot's fashionistas

Set on the picturesque Longchamp racecourse in Paris, "the Arc," as it is known, prides itself on being Europe's most prestigious -- and richest -- horse race.

With almost €8 million ($10.4 million) in prize money on offer over the weekend, the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club-sponsored event attracts an elite clientele of royalty, world leaders and business heavyweights.

Each year the grandstands fill with the "crème de la crème" of European society, with Monaco's Princess Charlotte Casiraghi, the daughter of Princess Caroline, and Spanish model Irene Salvador some of the glamorous guests in 2011.

For the super rich wanting to beat the crowds, a helicopter flying from London to Issy-les-Moulineaux in Paris will take around one hour and 45 minutes -- and set you back a whopping £5,480 ($8,874).

That's not to mention the 15-minute car hire from Issy-les-Moulineaux to Longchamp costing another £200 ($323).

Read: How to pick a winner - horse racing's 'speed gene'

The Arc's slogan: "Ce n'est pas une course, c'est un monument" -- "Not so much a race as a monument," points to the grand imagery surrounding this uniquely French event.

Founded in 1920, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe was named after the very monument built in honor of French allied forces during World War One.

This year will mark the 91st Arc, which has only been canceled twice in its illustrious history -- in 1939 and 1940 during World War Two.

Yet despite this emphasis on prestige, the Arc also remains one of Europe's most accessible races for the average punter, with general admission to Sunday's headline event costing just €8 ($10.4).

A ticket to Royal Ascot's grandstand, meanwhile, will cost you £75 ($121).

Read: Jockey who refused to stay in the kitchen

Arc organizers are preparing for a huge Japanese contingent this year, as horse Orfevre aims to deliver the country's first win at Longchamp.

The Japanese triple crown winner had been a co-favorite to win the race alongside Epsom Derby winner Camelot.

But its chances now look unlikely after drawing the far outside stall 18, where just one horse has won in the 92-year history of the race.

Nonetheless there will still be Japanese-speaking stewards at betting desks to assist the large numbers of Asian punters expected.

Read: Outbreak thwarts Danedream's Arc defence

It may be known as "The Sport of Kings," but come Sunday the Arc may also be referred to as the "Sport of Bakers" if French Derby winner Saonois takes the crown.

Bought by a prosperous baker for just €10,000 ($13,056) as a yearling, Saonois is now the other favorite to win the race after drawing the plumb stall of two.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure, the French crowd will be celebrating in style.

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