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If you’re planning a European vacation this summer, consider visiting the race track at Chantilly (pronounced Shaun-tee) and the marvelous Musee Vivant du Cheval. The latter is a magnificent castle-like edifice that was a royal stable and has become a horse museum.

Valley resident Gail Frazar visited the fabled Chantilly race track recently and shared with us this ethereal experience that had been recommended by a dear friend who had passed away. “Since many areas of the Chantilly race track are not open to the public, I contacted Nicole Nordqvist and her VIP tours,” Gail told us. “She can get into stud farms and other places that no one is allowed unless you have horses in training. This famous place where they train race horses in France is surrounded by 1,000 acres of forest. I found it especially beautiful in the spring time with the trees leafing out.

“Our tour guide, Nicole, took us right out onto one of the tracks and said that if a horse throws a rider and runs into the 8,000-acre forest, sometimes they can’t find it for days, even with a helicopter. In most places there are no fences, but the forest is so dense that it almost acts like a fence. Occasionally, deer come out onto the track too, but the real problem is wild pigs that are very aggressive.

“Centuries ago, the French royals would invite the English to come over for grand hunts through the forest” Gail continued. “That is when they discovered that the French soil there was a soft loam that was wonderful for the horse’s feet. So they brought their English race horses and personnel over to Chantilly to be trained there.”

Today there are three training areas, and another belonging to the Aga Khan. There is also a training area for jumpers, which has about 100 jumps. Presently, there are about 3,000 horses in training there. For the race horses there are 120 hectares of grass track and 120 hectares of sand track, also a track of mixed of sand and fiber, as well as a dirt track. They are each maintained several times each day.

One of the most magical moments for Gail seemed to arise out of the mists of the past. “I was standing near the track at dawn on a very foggy morning. The mist is right on you, and you can see almost nothing. Then suddenly you just feel the horse’s hooves pounding. Then you hear them, and suddenly they burst through the fog and you see this glorious sight! Somehow, I had the strange feeling that my friend was there with me.”

An interesting point is that Alain de Royer-Dupre’ is a trainer there. He trains for the Aga Kahn and was also the trainer for the stallion Lit de Justice, who was purchased by her friend and is now owned by Magali Farms, here in the Santa Ynez Valley.

When we reached Tom Hudson, the manager of Magali Farms, he told us, “We bought Lit de Justice in 2002. He had won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 1996 and set a track record at Santa Anita, at 51/2 furlongs. He has been a great stallion for us and we got many fine offspring from him. In the years from 2001 to 2009, his progeny consistently earned in excess of $1million. His lifetime progeny earnings are over 20.5 million.

“He is now 21 years old and a great character. He absolutely knows what time it is and if breakfast is even 10 minutes late, he knocks on his stall door. In France, they called him ‘the nester’ because he has two bails of fresh straw in his big box stall every night. He fluffs them up and works them around with his feet into a big nest then lies down on it!”

To reach Nicole about a tour, email nicole.brasm@wanadoo.fr or g.nordqvist@orange.fr.

Part II: Next week we will visit the fabulous Musee Vivant du Cheval in Chantilly, France. We’ll also answer the question, “If you were convinced that when you die, you would be reincarnated as a horse, what would you do?”