French Derby Distance Could Be Shortened

France Galop said Sept. 20 it's considering a proposal from its new president, Baron Edouard de Rothschild, who has suggested shortening the distance of the Prix du Jockey Club (Fr-I), the French Derby, from 2,400 meters (12 furlongs) to 2,100 meters (10.5 furlongs).

The Prix du Jockey Club is a historic classic first run in 1836 at Chantilly at 2,500 meters (12.5 furlongs) before it switched to 2,400 meters, the same distance as the Epsom Derby (Eng-I). Edouard de Rothschild, together with France Galop director-general Louis Romanet, came up with the plan in order to boost French racing.

They believe the prestige of the Prix du Jockey Club has dropped while the Prix de Diane Hermes (Fr-I), the French Oaks, which has always been run at 2,100 meters (10.5 furlongs) since its inception in 1843, is better. That is arguable, with Sulamani and Dalakhani having won the Prix du Jockey Club in 2002 and 2003. Even if France-Galop approves the cut in distance, the proposal has to pass the European Pattern Committee, where there is sure to be strong opposition later this year.

Neither Great Britain nor Ireland has any thought of changing the distance of their Derbys, though Peter Savill, who recently stepped down as chairman of the British Horseracing Board, reportedly favors cutting all Derbys to 1 1/4 miles to be more in line with modern breeding preferences.

The change to the French Derby is part of a wider proposed reform of French group I races. The Prix Lupin would be dropped, and the Grand Prix de Paris and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud replaced by two new group 1 races at 12 furlongs in June and July. The Prix Jean Prat would become a mile race, shorter by a furlong, and take place in July at Saint-Cloud rather than Chantilly.