The mayor came to me and said, ‘Would you join us in financing the saving of Chantilly’s race course?’ And I said, ‘But I’m not interested in only saving the race course. I’d like to widen the spectrum to the whole of Chantilly.’ …

It’s an exciting project and I think it will be one of the few museums totally dedicated to the horse in all its aspects in life.

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Interviewer: Francesca Cumani


The famously picturesque race course in Chantilly, France. The horses gallop past what was originally an enormous stable. Now it’s become the Museum of The Horse, inside exhibits remembering great thoroughbreds. But it’s not just about racing, there’s something here for everyone.

His Highness the Aga Khan: One of the things I’ve always enjoyed in horse racing is very often there’s a lot of humour so I bought these things as jokes.

Francesca Cumani: Yes the [inaudible] pictures. They’re great. I had the books when I was younger.

AK: Did you?

Today’s tour guide is a rather special one, the man behind this project and a major player in the racing industry for the last 50 years, the Aga Khan.

AK: It’s an exciting project and I think it will be one of the few museums totally dedicated to the horse in all its aspects in life.

Naturally there are plenty of mementos of His Highness’ success.

FC: I recognise this one.

AK: Yes indeed.

This one I remember well. Kahyasi, trained by my father and winner of the Epsom Derby.

FC: And what’s this one next door?

AK: Well that would be a head of Shergar, I would think, because Shergar always galloped with his tongue out.

Shergar is sadly is as famous for his fate as his career. He was kidnapped in Ireland 30 years ago and never found.

AK: There are two horses that have remained in my mind. One obviously is Shergar. Not because of what happened to him but because of the way he won the Derby and he still has the winning distance.

FC: Ten lengths, was it?

AK: Ten lengths and being pulled up.

And there are some living exhibits, although none to likely to line up at this weekends Prix de Diane, a race which the Aga Khan has dominated.

FC: You have an incredible record in the race. How many wins is it?

AK: Seven (smiling and happy). The Prix de Diane is a remarkable race in the sense that the distance is perfect for fillies at this time of the year. It’s run on the course where there’s no hiding, so either you get the trip or you don’t get the trip, and that’s important to know. And I think, generally speaking, the fillies that have one the Prix de Diane have gone on to be very successful.

With no runner in this year’s race, he won’t be adding to his impressive tally but the inauguration of the museum this weekend counts as another victory in his adopted hometown of Chantilly.

FC: It looks good fun. Is it a game?

AK: It’s a toy. Yeah it’s a game.

So just you spin it and then it picks a horse?

AK: I think, I think they probably gambled on it!


Additional coverage on CNN.COM

If you thought you were going to be reincarnated as a horse — you’d probably want to be born here. That was the madcap idea which prompted an 18th-century French prince, Louis-Henri de Bourbon, to build the most spectacular horse stables in the world. Legend has it that the wealthy royal commissioned the luxurious Grand Stables in northern France because he believed he would be born again as a horse — and not just any old royal box would do. At more than 180 meters long — roughly the same size as two soccer fields — the stables at Chantilly are not only a spectacular feat of architecture, they’re also home to a famous collection of equine artworks and the rarest ponies on the planet.

This weekend the Grand Stables — and its adjoining Museum of the Horse — will again be unveiled to the world as part of a $3.3 million makeover led by the fourth Aga Khan, both a business magnate and the spiritual leader of 20 million Nizari Ismaili Muslims.

It will be one of the few museums in the world totally dedicated to the horse, in all aspects of life, (His Highness Prince Karim told CNN of his grand project)

“It was the most stunning building built for horses in the world,” Benoit Junod, director for museums and exhibitions at the Aga Khan Development Network, told CNN. “The prince was a cousin of the king and I think he wanted to create something which would rival the Palaces of Versaille. “But in recent years it was falling into disrepair — there were problems with water seepage from the lake, the roof needed to be repaired.”

That was until Prince Karim — a renowned horse owner and breeder, perhaps most notably of Shergar — invested his fortune in an ambitious project to transform the sad old relic into a world-leading equine exhibition.

The mayor came to me and said, ‘Would you join us in financing the saving of Chantilly’s race course?’ (said the Aga Khan, who has had an office in the area for “many many” years). And I said, ‘But I’m not interested in only saving the race course. I’d like to widen the spectrum to the whole of Chantilly.’

It is a special day for the Aga Khan, who has had seven winning thoroughbreds in the competition — the most of any horse racing owner.

This year we don’t have a runner — I was hoping we would have but the filly’s last race was not what we wanted, (he said).

Every time I’ve won it has been with a home-bred filly. The goal of my farm is to breed winners. I don’t buy racing stock, the results are dependent on my breeding.

As Junod says, part of the appeal of the museum isn’t just its multi-million-dollar setting — it’s also man’s enduring fascination with these four-legged beasts. “The horse has always been a strong, independent animal — a friend of man, not a slave of man. And I think that’s part of the reason why it still captures our imaginations today.”

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