THOROUGHBREDS AND HATS JOIN THE RACE
The horse racing season was opened with expensive horses and crazy hats – but the real star of the Prix Diane at Chantilly was the “The Mentalist”.
(article by lifestyle journalist Siems Luckwaltdt)
“As a child I was terrified of horses” he confesses to me in the morning interview. A certain respect is still there, but in the meantime the Australian actor Simon Baker feels secure in the saddle.
After all, he was trained 4 hours a day for a film by the legendary Rudy Ugland a couple of years ago. And Ugland has taught the likes of Marlon Brando, Mel Gibson or Jack Nicholson to gallop through western settings.
“These incredible powerful animals are full of energy and are constantly under current. They are incredibly sexy” gushes Baker.
It is a pity that the star of the hit series “The Mentalist” is spared an appearance on horseback today. Instead, professional jockeys (category below 60 kilos) risk their necks in nine races. With up to 70km/h these “little big men” in their brightly coloured jerseys dash around the course of the traditional Hippodrome of Chantilly for the “Prix de Diane Longines”.
The grass that’s shining in the sunlight absorbs the thundering hoofbeats.
But if you come close to the rails of the barrier you can hear the thoroughbreds wheezing.
Only for a second, and then the aerodynamic man-horse hybrids race on towards the finish line of the two-kilometre course.
During such moments, even the guests in the VIP tent of the sponsor Longines forget to sip from their champagne flutes.
The owners of the horses and those placing bets on them stare motionless through their binoculars. Fathers hold on firmly to their kids, who are watching from their shoulders.
Even Simon Baker, appointed “ambassador of elegance” by the Swiss watch brand Longines, loses sight of his fans for a moment.
The beau with the surfer complexion, who has lent his face to the current campaign of Givenchy’s perfume “Gentlemen only”, is here for the second consecutive year, as the star guest in France’s horse capital, however, he remains calm.
The son of a teacher and a caretaker has long been accustomed to this VIP treatment.
Afterwards, when jockey Thierry Jarnet on his horse “Treve” has won the prix de Diane Longines with a new track record and about 570.000 Euros prize money, the dream of all the elegantly clothed teenage girls comes true.
“The Mentalist” casually walks a couple of hundred metres around the track, which was opened in 1834, and waves in the direction of the grandstand and the picnic blankets (crusty baguettes, chilled champagne and sometimes a noodle salad). Then, the “Baker Mania” begins. Everyone is running towards him, keeping their smartphones ready, digicams in position, programmes and felt tip pens within reach. No one is even looking at the breathless winner of the highly paid fourth race, who – on a giant screen – can be seen so euphoric, he is lost for words. Instead, the only thing you hear all around is “Siiiiimon”.
It is this mixture of stylish folk-festival for everyone, a test of strength for the people in the horse circuit and a well-tempered thrill together with equally tempered gourmet dishes, which make this afternoon in Chantilly a short trip to another world. Especially for someone like me who has never read “Wendy” or “Billie and Zottel” (children’s comics/row of books about horses, aimed mainly at girls). There is no stiff small talk here, no sign saying “Rich people only”. It is simply wonderful here!
“Elegance is a balance between the effort that you yourself put into your appearance and the appreciation of others for your effort”. – that is how Simon Baker explains his rule of style. This fits the fashion highlight of the day: the hats. Whether there are plastic horses on them or QR codes on the wide brims, silk flower potpourris or brightly coloured fascinators, daring static designs like a protruding Eiffel Tower or creations of conservative fashion designers in pale pink.
From time to time I react to a new gigantic headdress “monster” seen from the corner of my eye, some brightly yellow buildings made from woven straw, wrapped fabric or papier maché Some men caught my attention by wearing Panama models, a boater, a burgundy top hat and a brightly coloured fedora, which was bought on location. Connoisseurs come naturally prepared. In the Longines sponsors tent, a rose model worn by a lady dressed in Chanel, was awarded with a watch. Whether it was the latest model of the “Conquest Classic” – series? Oh, never mind, I’ll just take another pistachio macaroon.
Now back to the ladies´ favourite, Simon Baker. Asked if he has ever seen an episode of his successful TV series? – in a mixture of French, English and Swiss-German, the wonderfully eccentric President of Longines, Walter von Känel, answered: “ I had to. My co-workers have been out of their minds because of this man for weeks!” And how did he like the crime show about an ex-medium? “It is like making a good mayonnaise. It takes time”.
With plain language and the military virtues of his army days (which he ended as a brigadier), von Känel has turned Longines into the leading brand of top-priced watches, with prices between 600 and 3500 Euros. There are also some more expensive versions in the repertoire. “Keep it stupid simple” – is an important motto for his story of success. Combined with his understanding of human nature, concentration on a core business and his vision of his brand. La mission est atteinte! (The mission is achieved).
The racing course of the Hippodrome is particularly appealing: in the background you can always see the castle, which was built by the Montmorency family in 1560. And above the stately park with its water canals, fountains, symmetrical flowerbeds, a gigantic fireworks lit up the sky the night before. As a crowning finale of the dinner at the fine painting room of the museum Conté, which is located in the castle. It contains the second largest collection of paintings after the Louvre. During the gala dinner, you feel as if cherubs, equestrian companies and scarcely clad ladies look down on the guests’ plates from their golden frames.
After lobster, there is veal filets, followed by red fruits for dessert, which are decorated with a (sugar) hat. Simon Baker had two of the winning ladies of the first Longines Award at his table: the enchanting Sophie Thalmann – a presenter, Miss France 1996, and married to a jockey- as well as the very modest Princess Aga Khan. That evening, Baker, who last year left the event with a winning sum of 5 Euros (!), asked both ladies for inside tips for the race of the following day.
The third prize winner, show jumping champion Athina Onassis de Miranda. was only present via video message, because she was away on a tournament.
Checking out at the reception desk of his hotel, Simon Baker is wearing his self-tinting glasses, a checkered shirt, worn outside of his jeans, and a worn leather briefcase over his shoulder. “How´ya going, mate?. The Australian is shining through now. And before my inner eye I can see Longines´ ambassador of elegance, running along the beach with his kids or throwing basket balls in front of his garage. “G’day”.