By Andy Stephens
Racing at Saint-Cloud was abandoned amid chaotic scenes on Sunday after a group representing trainers, owners and breeders barred the entrance to the parade ring.
The card was supposed to feature two Group One races - the Criterium de Saint-Cloud and the Criterium International - and would have included five runners from the record-breaking Aidan O’Brien plus a strong British contingent.
However, the protesters, calling themselves Save Our Racing, gathered after the first race and efforts at mediation between them and senior officials from France Galop swiftly came to nothing.
Less than half an hour after the protest began, racing was called off. Save Our Racing were demonstrating against a planned cut in premiums that will affect in particular French-bred horses who currently receive bonuses for races they run in. The reforms were due to be voted on by France-Galop on Monday.
O'Brien, Charlie Appleby, James Tate, Harry Dunlop, Karl Burke, William Haggas and Ed Walker were all due to run horses on the card.
Dunlop has been a regular visitor to France mainly because of the attractive premiums and was ready to saddle Fighting Irish in the Criterium International. He said: "Obviously, we're unsure about when they are going to reschedule racing or whether they will reschedule the Group races. To us that's the priority.
"It seems to be a certain number of smaller trainers who are dissatisfied. A lot of trainers, though, who I know quite well, are very annoyed at the situation. We'll have to wait and see. I'm always there for an opportunity and we mustn't rush home in case they restage it in two days' time or something. We just don't know."
Gay Kelleway was not due to be represented but is also a frequent visitor to French shores. She tweeted: “Viva la france well done trainers owners in France shame we can't do the same!! Balls!”
Later, in conversation with Dunlop and Eve Johnson Houghton, she added: “If we did it in uk maybe they might push prize money up "racing for buttons".” Walker adopted a very British approach and offered a two-word verdict: “Mildly irritating!!”
In the immediate aftermath, it was unclear whether the Group One races would be rescheduled. The Paris-Turf newspaper suggested they would not.
Georges Rimaud, who is on the board of directors at France-Galop, told At The Races: "I don't think the blockage as such was pre-planned, but it was planned to have a meeting with the leaders of the organisations involved.
"They have met with them and discussed with them. The blocking was due to reforms, and the finances, being announced by France-Galop. It is difficult to get everybody to agree to any reform of such size. Hopefully they will find something.
"The people are the owners' and trainers' association and also a group of professionals which have decided that the reforms being put forward by France-Galop are not to their liking. They are opposed to it and want to renegotiate."