Proverbially both hard headed and conscious of the pleasures of elegance, the French are at their finest in this 1,100-acre harness horse Training establishment at Grosbois, east of Paris. Several tracks—covered and uncovered—are but a jog away from compounds like the one opposite, where the country's top horsemen have comfortable living quarters adjoining their stables, all for a mere $8,000 a year or so. The decor, the splendor, the glorious facilities, the price add up to the sport's most winning locale. The problem, as ever, is to make the horses winners, too.
The commingling of grace and utility at Grosbois is evident in its centerpiece, a ch√¢teau built in the 17th century as a royal hunting lodge, and in such training niceties as a covered track (above) and dual paved/unpaved roads all around. At on time the ch√¢teau was the residence of Napoleon's chief of staff, Louis Alexandre Berthier. With its Empire furnishings, it is a tourist attraction.
Between glassy pond and woods where deer and boar abound jogs one of Grosbois' trotters. And as they do the world around, trainers work rain or shine. Here on a soggy day Jean-René Gougeon (far right), handler of the world champion Une de Mai, chats with his peers. The wonder mare, an 8-year-old who has won $1.5 million, returns this Saturday to New York's Roosevelt Raceway to try for victory No. 3 in her fourth appearance in the rich International.