The 20th year of the France Sire Anjou-Loire Challenge, the world’s longest steeplechase, produced a fairytale result for 89 year old owner Victor Blot and his wife when Alexandre Orain rode a textbook race to win the €100,000 chase on Ever Forget Me.

The 7,300m (4m4f) race over 50 obstacles criss-crosses back and forth across the picturesque Isle Briand course adjacent to the Oudon river, and it would be a brave rider not to have walked the course beforehand if unfamiliar with this racecourse.

Ever Forget Me came into this race on the back of a successful winter, with victories at Saumur, Durtal and at Lion d’Angers over a shorter 5,300m last month. Sent off favourite, Orain’s instructions from trainer Eric Leray might have replicated Tim Forster to all his riders in the Grand National: hunt round the first circuit. That’s exactly what he did, hacking round at the rear of the filed until the 44th obstacle, when Orain sent him up to join the lead. From the fifth last, Ever Forget Me never saw a another rival, winning by 1 1/2l from ther Patrice Quinton – trained Hello de Sivola.

As always, this marathon steeplechase provided the enormous crowd, estimated at 20,000, with a great spectacle. Iquem d’Erable, Hawax, Hermine d’Allen and  Forza Conti set off in front to a cheer almost as loud as that that receives the flagfall for Cheltenham’s Supreme Novices Hurdle, and made the running until the 22nd. Espoir was a faller at the water (24th), whilst Chez Pedro unseated Stephane Paillard at the next, the Contre-Haut.

Runners set off to a massive crowd
Photo: Jean-Charles Briens

The field bunched up after the 40th obstacle, and Orain chased Ever Forget Me up to the lead at the fifth last, tracked by the other favourite, Miss Laura. Up the Piano – three steep steps unique to Lion d’Angers – Ever Forget Me and Miss Laura looked to have the race between them, a length apart. Over the last, Miss laura’s effort died out, and Olivier Jouin conjured up a tremendous run from Hello de Sivola, but Orain had left enough in the tank to hold the advantage to the line. Forza Conti was a further 8l back in third.

Owner Victor Blot enjoyed great success with Archy Bald, a five time winner of Craon’s Grand Cross from 1996 on. The one-time chicken farmer and local politician was thrilled to find himself another top flight cross country performer. Trainer Eric Leray focused on supervising his horse, leaving his wife to oversee presentations. Describing Ever Forget Me’s effort as a “long travail”, she was fulsome in her praise of the team effort that is required to get a winner of this standard.