Jean Jacques and Edouard Bénazet, the lively French entrepreneurs, never ran out of ideas when it came to amusing the elegant Baden-Baden public. The father, Jean Jacques, first came to Baden-Baden in 1838 as leaseholder of the casino – cholera had forced the closure of all casinos in Paris. Within a few years, he had turned the town into a magnet for tsars, kaisers, kings, cocottes and poets. His son, Edouard, continued where his father left off and attracted King Wilhelm I to the town; a very popular guest who became the protector of one very special amusement that the French entrepreneur set up. Based on the lines of Longchamp in Paris, he laid out a racecourse in the nearby village of Iffezheim on the flat plains of the Rhine Valley. He gave the spectacle the catchy name of “International Horse Races”, purely because of the lack of German thoroughbreds at the time. A good choice of name, one may say, as his initiative has, over the years, turned the sleepy village of Iffezheim into a Mecca for German and international racing.
Race week in Iffezheim is a mixture of racing and glamour, thoroughbreds and society girls, fun and suspense and a great deal more. The Spring Meeting (end of May/start of June), the Grand Week (end of August to the start of September) and the Sales & Racing Festival in October are the three social highlights of the year. The fun factor of the race meetings is all inclusive; it eludes nobody. Businessmen, in pin-striped suits, spring to their feet in exactly the same frenzy of excitement as the neighbouring down-to-earth horse lover. Everybody is fixated when the four-legged stars come pounding down the home straight.
The world’s most expensive thoroughbreds along with the international jockey elite ride it out for prizes worth millions. The main race of the year is the “Große Preis von Baden”. You don’t have to be an oil sheik to get into the big money. The record winnings in German racing history were paid out in Baden-Baden: a triple bet produced a return of DM 126,639.00 from a DM 2.50 stake!
The international stars of film and television are also reluctant to let this social outing pass them. Crazy hats, trendy outfits and the latest make-up styles can often be seen parading before the paparazzi.
Parallel to the racing on the track, the centre of Baden-Baden is alive with the traditional “Kurpark Meeting”: a culinary festival with live musical acts where you can celebrate your day’s winnings. And those who are natural early risers shouldn’t miss the traditional racecourse breakfast. Witnessing the horses on their early morning run, galloping through the morning haze, is simply poetry in motion.