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Prix de Diane Longines

Chantilly plays host to the annual Prix de Diane Longines, the world's most prestigious racing event for fillies and the ultimate celebration of elegance. Anna Vu goes trackside.

Once upon a time a prince built the grandest stables he could imagine. It wasn't just that Louis-Henri, Duc de Bourbon and seventh prince of Condé, liked horses. He was convinced he would be reincarnated as one, and so spared no expense in this life. His Grandes Écuries, The Great Stables of the Princes of Condé, were 186 metres long, housing 240 horses and up to 500 hounds, which were dispatched on daily hunts. Built in 1719, the stables were crowned by a monumental dome soaring 28 metres, beneath which the prince would entertain lavishly to the sound of hunting horns. Louis XV, the future tsar Paul I and Frederic II of Prussia all sat down to supper here.

The stables are now open to the public as the Living Museum of the Horse, but tonight I'll dine here royally with Kate Winslet, for the gala dinner of the Longines Ladies Awards as part of the annual flurry of equine celebration staged by the Swiss watch company. More than a whiff of fairytale clings to the stables, even without the presence of Winslet. This is a setting that is perfectly befitting of the prestigious occasion - which honours the achievements of women who have dedicated their lives to the equestrian world.

Though only 30 minutes' drive north of Charles de Gaulle Airport and within the Paris metropolitan area, we're deep in the Chantilly Forest. And within that forest is the Château de Chantilly, a pile so grand that the Grand Stables are dwarfed beside it. The original mansion was destroyed in the French Revolution and rebuilt in the late 19th century; this incarnation is a museum with a collection of pre-1850 paintings eclipsed only by that in the Louvre.

For the moment, though, all eyes are on horses and hats at a racecourse built by Louis-Henri beside his Great Stables. One of the highlights of Chantilly's summer racing season is the Prix de Diane Longines, the world's top race for fillies, when the parterres and gardens of Château de Chantilly are transformed by racegoers bearing les pique-niques and hats, bien sur. As Longines' Ambassador of Elegance, "Princess Kate" is here to help judge the Mademoiselle Diane par Longines award for elegance on the field. (Some of the startling, though unsuccessful, candidates wore a tree-like hat of branches and leaves, and an American-Indian headdress of feathers.)

In little more than two minutes of racing the 165th Prix de Diane Longines was won by Grégory Benoist on Avenir Certain, taking a share of the one million euros in prize money. The sun shone, Winslet sparkled, the Champagne flowed. The Prince of Condé, perhaps in his heavenly stable, would be pleased.

Tiara Château Hôtel Mont Royal Chantilly
Located only 15 kilometres from Charles de Gaulle Airport, this is a contemporary château experience in the lush, tranquil Chantilly Forest. Rooms from $357 per night. Route de Plailly, 60520 La Chapelle en Serval.

Domaine de Chantilly is open daily except Tuesdays, and comprises The Condé Museum in the château, The Horse Museum and The Gardens & the Park; a combined adult entry ticket costs $30 or $43 with a horse show. The château is 40 kilometres from Paris; trains from Paris's Gare du Nord take 24 minutes. 


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