Lagardere dies in Paris aged 75

by Desmond Stoneham

JEAN-LUC LAGARDERE, one of the dominant figures in European racing both as an owner and industry leader, has died in Paris as a result of complications following a hip operation.

Lagardere, holder of the highest office in French racing politics since 1995 and successful in the majority of his country's principal Flat races, passed away in the capital's Hopital Lariboisiere at 11.30pm on Friday evening. He was 75.

The death of Lagardere, owner of 200 home-bred horses and also one of France's pre-eminent businessmen, comes eight days after he contracted a virus following an apparently successful hip replacement.

Among many tributes paid on Saturday, both France-Galop managing director Louis Romanet and Olivier Peslier, who rode Lagardere's Sagamixto win the 1998 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, described his death as like losing a 'second father'.

Peslier, who along with trainer Andre Fabre, was closely linked to Lagardere for the past ten years, said: 'He was a great man and we shared many great moments together. I have to add that he was a second father to me. I will miss him a lot.'

The BHB's secretary-general Tristram Ricketts said: 'His sudden death is a great shock and a sad loss for both French and international racing.

'As president ofFrance-Galop, he was a reformer and innovator and as an owner and breeder he bred and raced some top-class horses. He will be much missed by all his international friends.'

Lagardere, who in 1999 was elected to take on another four-year term as president of French racing's ruling body France-Galop, bought his first horse over thirty years ago and bred from her after buying the Haras du Val Henry in 1967. The Normandy farm is now home to many of his 80-plus broodmares as well his world-class stallion Linamix.

Lagardere's first taste of Classic success came with the assistance of friend Francois Boutin, who produced Restless Kara to win the Prix de Diane Hermes in 1988.
Two years later, the same team picked up the Poule d'Essai des Poulains with Linamix, while the same race went Lagardere's way in 2001 when the Fabre-trained Vahorimix was promoted to first following the disqualification of Godolphin's Noverre.

The same horse gave Lagardere his final Group 1 victory when benefiting from the disqualification of Proudwings in the same season's Prix Jacques le Marois.

Despite those successes, it was the Arc victory of the home-bred Sagamix which gave Lagardere his most enjoyable victory. Trained by Fabre, whom Lagardere once described as 'a genius', Sagamix's Longchamp triumph helped Lagardere become France's leading owner in 1998. He was top breeder on no less than nine occasions in 14 years.

Explaining his love of the sport, Lagardere, whose wife Betty often accompanied him at the races, once said: 'Racing is a show which must entertain. It must be shown to be beautiful, exciting, and a passionate sport and above all an honest one.

'Racing needs its stars and they are the horses. I have loved horses since I was four. I have ancestors who were in the cavalry and horses were all around me. The love for them must be in my genes.'

Describing Lagardere as 'a man with a heart', Romanet added: 'We had a great affection for each other which was shown when he decorated me with my Legion d'Honneur. In fact, he was a second father, my patron and a great friend which is a very rare thing to find in life.'

Lagardere's racing manager Roland de Longevialle said: 'We were very dear friends and relationship goes back some 60 years. We shared a passion for football and racing.'

Despite his turf success, Lagardere was best known in France as a businessman, the company carrying his name being the employer of 50,000 people. Owner of France's largest publishing empire, Lagardere was also prominent in the aviation industry.

No date has been fixed for the funeral but it is likely to be a private service in Normandy as Lagardere has expressed a wish to be buried close to his parents in a church near one of the family studs.