Pau’s winter season is halfway through, and there were definitive clues for the Grand Cross de Pau in 3 weeks’ time last week for the first Cross Country chase of the campaign on Friday last – the Prix John Henry Wright.

A select 4 runners went to post for the €52,000 prize over 5,000m, headed by the winner of Pau’s big cross country in 2023, bidding for a second consecutive winner over Pau’s impressive fences. Hip Hop Conti, under the tutelage of Emmanuel Clayeux, is no stranger to success at Pau, having won here over 5,600m earlier this month.

Chief among his rivals was Saint Godefroy in receipt of 4kg from the winner, trained by Patrice Quinton, and the two dominated proceedings from the off. Hip Hop Conti made the running until the final 1000m when Felix de Giles pushed Saint Godefroy on to take up the running. By the “passage de route”, these two and Harmonie Roque had put distance between them and I’m Walking, working to keep pace as the race quickened.

The three jumped the last in unison but Clement Lefebvre had left enough in reserve to fight back and regain the lead with 1 1/4l to spare.

The French calendar of Cross Country races is well developed, including its own championship in the Trophée National de Cross, a 14 race series covering the entire country from January – December each year. However, unlike the Crystal Cup races, these smaller contests are generally less well endowed. The winner’s purse of €23,920 falls some way short of the Grand Cross de Pau at €39,100.

Clayeux, however, is no stranger to foreign adventures, having enjoyed fourth place in the Cheltenham festival cross country behind the David Cottin – trained Easysland in 2020 with Diesel d’Allier, a horse that needs little introduction to British Cross Country fans, having won over the Cheltenham course. he was third and second in the previous years behind Tiger Roll, no small achievement in its own right.

Hip Hop Conti swerved Cheltenham last March following a hard race at Pau, but a more authoritative victory in 3 weeks could put him back into consideration for a tilt at the Festival.

Neither Saint Godefroy nor Harmonie Roque should be ruled out however. Although Hip Hop Conti has his measure at Pau, both have a good cross country in them, whether in France or further afield.