A candidate for forthcoming Crystal Cup races emerged over the weekend when Hemevoici triumphed in the €52,000 Grand Cross de Lignières for trainer-rider partnership François Nicolle and Thomas Beaurain.

It was coffee and croissants rather than champagne for owners Jacques and Patrice Détré. The success of French racing relies upon its visibility to punters worldwide, forcing the race to take place at the ungodly racing hour of 9.40 in the morning.

But Beaurain was well awake for this important second leg of the  Trophée National de Cross over an extended 6,000m. Handy throughout behind leader Gatsby des Planches, he joined the leader at the 18th to up the pace. Gatsby des Planches dropped his hind legs in the water, the 24th, offering a chance to Hemevoici to assert. The testing conditions forced his own error at the penultimate obstacle, letting Gatsby des Planches’ rider, Quentin Defontaine, back in on the inner. Neck and neck until 100m from the line, the two made a gripping finish before Beaurain squeezed an extra effort to win by 1 1/2l.

As home to over 200 cross country races, France is the spiritual home of this genre of the sport. It’s no surprise that so many of the entries for Cheltenham’s cross country in 2 weeks’ time are French-breds. The Trophée National de Cross is a perfect foundation for the country’s cross country stars to embellish their reputations, run across 14 legs of France’s provincial racecourses.

Hemevoici only reinforces the quality of Pau’s Grand Cross victor, Hip Hop Conti. A distant second to him in the 5,600m Prix Mortimer de Lassence at Pau in January, he was again no match in the Grand Cross, where he tipped up.

The next leg of this complementary series to the Crystal Cup will be back at Pau on March 10. Although the winter season is at an end, Pau has agreed to stage the 3rd leg in lieu of Mont de Marsan, where the turf has been damaged by fungus and is undergoing remedial work.