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Monté Races

17 January 2021

France is the leading racing jurisdiction for conducting trotting races. More than 11,000 events are held each year across more than 200 racetracks. The Trotteur-Français breed has been steadily developed for almost two hundred years (first recorded in 1836) with monté races offered from the commencement of the sport.    

There are two types of races offered – harness [also known as driven or attele] using both walk-up and auto or mobile starts and mounted trotting races (monté) where the horse remains in its natural trotting gait, however, instead of a sulky the horse is ridden under saddle by its jockey.     

Unlike thoroughbreds where minimising weight is key, trotting requires a minimum weight of 67kg (apprentice riders 55kg) be carried by the rider. A higher jockey weight assists the horse in keeping his gait and not breaking stride. The real skill in a mounted race is the rider’s ability to place their body as close forward toward the neck of the horse and in line with the front legs. The rider tends to sit in a more upright position.     

There is a different skill set required compared to riding a thoroughbred.  Leading rider Eric Raffin once confided when he first started riding in monté’s it was so difficult physically he almost gave up the discipline. He was aching – back, thighs, abs... then, his body became accustomed and he progressed to be one of France’s leading riders of monté races.  

The saddle is similar to those used by thoroughbreds, however for a monté race additional race-gear includes both a breast collar and crupper to ensure the saddle is firmly attached along with a head check.  

Approximately 20% of trotting races in France are monté’s with Paris-Vincennes conducting around one-third of all its races under mounted saddle.   

Multiple Group One monté races are conducted in France and all are run at Paris-Vincennes. The biggest race of the year is run during the Winter Meeting, the Prix de Cornulier (2700m). It is for four-to-eleven-year-olds and held one week before the feature driven race of the season – the Grand Prix d’Amerique (2700m).  

The summer feature mounted race is run in June, the Prix du Président de la République for four-year-olds and run over 2850m. This race dates back to 1924 and is considered to be the event where future winners of the Prix de Cornulier are identified.    

Champion mounted winners include Fandango, winner of thirty-eight successive races between the ages of four to six. Victories included the Prix du Président de la République followed by two Prix de Cornulier events. Upon retirement from racing, he become a prolific sire. Other horses to complete the Prix du Président de la République and Prix de Cornulier include Bellino II [he also won the Grand Prix d’Amerique], Kaiser TrotOligoPodosisRêve d’UdonQueila Gédé and One du Rib.  

The Prix du Président de la République has also been influential on producing sires of the future including Scipion du Goutier and Migraine, winner of the race in 2004. He was ridden by Nathalie Henry making her the first woman to be victorious in the race.   

As the sport continued two significant developments enhanced monté races in France. Firstly the 1980’s saw the introduction of more bloodlines from North Amercia.  The other occurred in the early part of this century when Belgian born rider Philippe Masschaele remodelled the racing style in mounted events. He introduced greater speed into the races by radically placing his knees and squeezing them into the shoulders of the horse. In addition, he lowered the placement of his hands to be 20-30cm from the head of the horse. This in turn resulted in the horses going much quicker and the results spoke for themselves when he dominated the mounted ranks from 2002-2005. His actions saw many riders adopt similar riding tactics and his style has now become the norm in today’s monté races.  

 

Picture: © APHR

 

 

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