Czech trainer Josef Vana Jnr was on hand on Thursday to see Ever Forget Me win the Anjou-Loire Challenge in front of a record crowd at Lion d’Angers, and deny his nearest rival, Patrice Quinton, the chance to snatch the Crystal Cup. This first Czech victory in the 12 years of the Crystal Cup pan-European challenge marked out the very real possibility of horses outside France succeeding in this unique challenge.

A cheque for €25,000 was awarded, shared between Vana and his owner, Scuderia Aichner, owners of Gap Pierji, the leading horse in the Series, who has competed in 3 Cup races, without actually getting his head in front.

From left to right: Bram Vanderwalde (Waregem), Henri Pouret, Frédéric Landon, (France Galop), Mario Pirone (Merano), Josef vana, outgoing Président Alain Peltier, Unknown, Hugues Crosnier (Craon), Jean de Cheffontaines, Andre Martin (Lion d’Angers)

“This has been our first time competing across Europe,” he told the crowd. “I’m delighted to be here to pick up this prize. It’s been a very nice challenge. We do a job we love.”

The Vanas had travelled 14 hours to reach Lion d’Angers to pick up their prize, a feat almost as sporting as the endeavours of Gap Pierji, and are already assessing the programme for 2024-25.

The success of Gap Pierji has stimulated plenty of interest from other stables in Britain, Ireland and in one instance from the USA, illustrating just how realizable it can be to win this extraordinary challenge comprising 11 races. What was once an exclusive domain of France has now opened the way to more intense competition from further afield.