EPT10 Deauville: Pick a horse any horse - an excursion to another side of Deauville

It is not without precedent for horse to appear in a restaurant in France, but for diners in a particular bistro in Deauville this afternoon, the chevaux came thick and fast--and particularly rare.

The first mixed sale of racehorses for 2014 took place today at Clairefontaine racecourse, 2km from Deauville, and it was a fittingly grand affair. Some of the finest young colts and fillies were led into an auction room adjoining a swanky restaurant inside the grandstand clubhouse. Beneath gold chandeliers hanging from a vaulted roof, diners swilled red wine and ate moules frites, while hoping an accidental beckoning to the waiter didn't buy them more then they bargained for.

clubhouse_ept10_deauville_horse_auction.jpg

The clubhouse at Clairefontaine racecourse

As the scattergun patter of the auctioneer described prices sometimes spiralling beyond €30,000, the lots themselves walked careful circuits of a makeshift parade ring, a white disk bearing their catalogue number adhered to their rumps. Only occasionally they jittered, whinnied and performed un-choreographed dressage dances towards the tables, but a sharp tug on the rope attached to the bridle usually brought them back into order--and added another few grand to the price.

(To this untrained eye, the more skittish the beast the more dizzying the sum it commanded. Bidding started slowly for a feisty grey, for example, but hit €20,000 after it sidestepped alarmingly towards the bowls of moules.)

ept10_deauville_feisty_grey.jpg

€20,000 for this feisty grey

On the surface, Deauville is a sleepy locale, particularly from November to March, when the summer sun-seekers head elsewhere. But there is a lot more to this place than meets the eye, including an international film festival and two racecourses. The town lies at the centre of France's prime horse-breeding country and potential buyers from around the world had descended for this sale of nearly 130 of the best.

Horse-racing, like high stakes poker, attracts only the biggest bankrolls, but in place of the hoodies and sunglasses of the poker tables, the potential buyers here were kitted out in wax jackets and tweed caps. Instead of a stack of chips for a four or five figure outlay, they got themselves some prime livestock and a multi-year commitment, but a potentially enormous ROI.

paddock_horse_auction_ept10_deauville.jpg

Potential buyers view the horses in the outside parade ring

Much like our own EPT Live, the action was being reported and live-streamed on France-Sire.com, allowing absent bidders from across the world to join the party. A small army of auctioneers' agents was scattered among the crowd, receiving text messages and phone calls detailing bids. They whooped when they received a bid to alert the main auctioneer and the figures on several banks of TV monitors crept upward.

auctioneer_paddock_ept10_deauville.jpg

The auctioneer, centre, drums up more interest

Meanwhile back on the floor of the restaurant-cum-auction-house-cum-paddock, one hopes the biggest tips went to those carrying the little brooms and shovels. It's a thankless task, but someone has to do it.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in High Roller