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On the road in France with John Manzi
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - by John Manzi

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Ever been to Paris? Ya’ know, Paris -- like in France?

I always wanted to visit the city of lights, and just recently I had an opportunity to do so. And whatever you’ve heard about Paris probably doesn’t do it justice. With magnificent attractions like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Musee du Louvre, Notre Dame, the new giant Ferris Wheel sticking out high above the river Seine, and all the other glorious attributes the city has to offer, I was mystified, and you’d be, too.

Rebekah Mae Lankisch photo
Preparing for a luncheon at Vincennes Racetrack were Ray Schnittker, Peter Gerry, John Manzi, Joe Faraldo, Mike Kimelman and Janet Terhune.

I was lucky to go with a contingent of horse people who were invited guests of France’s Harness Racing Association (Le Trot) and its Chairman of Cheval Francois, the very gracious Dominque de Bellaigue. The dozen, or so, who made the trip were from the U.S. Trotting Association, the Standardbred Owners Association of NY, Yonkers Raceway, and the New York State Breeders Association, along with other dignitaries.

The major purpose of that French trip was to work with Le Trot to set up simulcasting from the US to France and eventually the co-mingling of wagering pools so the French would be able to bet directly into American pools. And with Yonkers president Tim Rooney and SOANY president Joe Faraldo among us, they also are working to reinstate the International Trot, won twice by both Roquepine and Une de Mai, which the French were quick to remind us of. The International Trot was very popular decades ago and it may return to Yonkers Raceway before you know it.

And it appears that both objectives will come to fruition.

Perhaps the best part of that journey was that we went as VIPs, and as guests of Le Trot we were chauffeured all around, wined and dined, but for airfare and money spent out of pocket.

On the evening of our arrival our contingent were guests at a gala Le Trot banquet and the next two days were spent at the races at Vincennes -- their magnificent racetrack -- where France’s premier trotting event, the Prix d’ Amerique, a 1.2 million Euro spectacle -- is raced. And both days we were treated to outstanding luncheons at the track and the Moet champagne flowed like water.

Prior to the races on Prix d’ Amerique Day the afternoon began with a grand spectacle on the racetrack of different breeds of horses, men on big-high stilts and a Corvette automobile parade with the Prix D’ Amerique drivers waving to the huge crowd. That race is the French way of paying homage to the Americans who helped free France during World War I.

Even though I’m not a betting man, on the day of the big race I wanted a souvenir so I wagered five Euros on a pick that I made from the 18 starters, figuring I’d have a ticket to remember my trip by. But, lo and behold, the horse I picked, Maharajah, won the race and I won nearly 50 U.S. bucks, which was a heck of a lot better than a souvenir losing ticket.

Rebekah Mae Lankisch photo
John Manzi petting Maharajah at Gros Bois the day after his Prix d’Amerique win.

We spent three nights in Paris and on the fourth day we were taken by bus to Gros Bois, the unbelievably magnificent training center on the outskirts of Paris, where more than 2,500 horses are stabled and trained on five or six different size tracks. I even got to meet and take a photo with Maharajah, who was stabled there.

After a wonderful luncheon at Gros Bois -- with Moet flowing again -- we had a three hour trip north to Normandy and for the next two days we visited many training facilities in that part of France.

On our last night in Normandy we stayed in Caen, a city rebuilt after it was devastated in World War II, and our group dined at a fine restaurant with the officials of Le Trot who joined us to solidify a co-mingling betting agreement. And guess what? The Moet flowed there, too.

On our way back to the airport on our final day of the trip we went by the racetrack in Caen as our hosts explained that there are more than 234 different hippodromes in France, which surprised everyone in the group.

It took more than three hours for us to get to the airport in Paris for our return to the USA. While traveling through the city I was amazed at the amount of graffiti that seemed to be everywhere, similar to what you might see in our subways in New York City.

We made it to the plane on time and then we prepared for the nine-hour trip back home to JFK.

I had been to Europe in the late 1980s two different times as publicist for the North American Amateur Drivers Association, visiting various cities in Holland and Belgium, as well as Berlin, then in West Germany and before the Wall was taken down. As wonderful as those cities were -- there is only one Paris!

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