It’s Ascension Day in France in Thursday and that means a bumper day of 7 meetings to enjoy. The Premium Flat racing comes from Toulouse and Paris Longchamp, where the Group 2 Prix Hocquart takes centre stage. Interesting stuff, but the most entertaining race of the day will almost certainly come at Le Lion D’Angers, with the Listed Prix Anjou-Loire Challenge, a Cross-Country race over a marathon trip of 7300 metres, which is 4 miles 4 furlongs and 150-yards in old money. A proper test of stamina and jumping over the most iconic Cross-Country course in France. You need a sound jumper, a solid stayer, a most importantly a balanced horse who can handle the various ups and downs of this course, in particular the 30 foot triple bank that makes this course so unique. This is one of two Cross-Country races on the card tomorrow, but the €100,000 feature race looks the better of the 2 on paper.
5:36 Lion D’Angers - Otchoa Rouge - 1pt WIN
8-runners go to post this year, including 3 who ran in the same contest 12-months ago and all of the runners have significant experience over Cross-Country fences. In fact, all 8 horses have run here before so there isn’t too much concern about any of them handling the track. Butterfly du Mou finished 2nd in this race 12-months ago and looks to have been carefully laid out for another tilt this time around. He returned from a 9-month absence to finish 2nd over this course last month, beaten by Debut de Printemps who reopposes here too. Although he is an 11-year-old, he is relatively lightly raced for his age and has won 9 of his 31 career starts and I expect him to run his race again, but I can’t help but feel his chance was last year and he may prove vulnerable to a younger horse.
Another 11-year-old, Bomari, is the early favourite and probably deserves to be seen as such after he was an impressive winner of a Cross-Country race here 5-weeks ago. He was a Listed Chase winner back in his pomp and has plenty of form over these fences. Probably a worthy favourite, but he is far from bomb proof and the fact that he was a soundly beaten 6th in this race 12-months ago is enough to make me take him on.
You should always bet with your head and not your heart, but on this occasion I’m going to do both. 12-months ago I backed OTCHOA ROUGE to win this race. At the time he was progressive 6-year-old and looked likely to outclass his rivals, even at this extreme trip. Having settled well, he travelled very strongly under Adrien Foucher, but having given the leaders a 20-length head start, he was left with too much ground to make up from the top of the bank. Although he finished this marathon trip like Dancing Brave, he couldn’t catch the first 2 and was beaten 4-lengths, galloping through the line I might add.
I’m not bitter, but 12-months on I am delighted to see that Otchoa Rouge is back for another go and a chance to right the wrong. Felix De Giles takes over this time and there was a lot of promise in his 2nd placed finish in the Listed Grand Steeple-Chase Cross-Country de Fontainebleau last time. Certain to stay the trip and handle the track, he should get a more prominent ride this year, especially in a smaller field. As a 7-year-old he is still the youngest horse in the field and is open to more improvement than any of his rivals. The Quinton yard have had 3 winners in the last 14-days and their horses look to be running to form. Any improvement from Otchoa Rouge, who looks to have been saved for this race, should be enough to see him get his head in front.