Twice crowned in the Anjou Loire challenge, in 2018 and 2021, the Angevin trainer Gabriel Leenders talks about this flagship horse racing event in Maine-et-Loire and beyond.
What does the Anjou Loire challenge represent when you’re from the area?
It’s a goal for us, because we know that there are a lot of people and it’s a recognized race. I am a cross country enthusiast, so when you have a horse for this event, you have been preparing it for a long time.
It is a particular cross-country, because it is 7,300 m long and requires an effort of more than ten minutes for the horses and the jockeys…
Paradoxically, it may be the longest race in the world, but it’s not the hardest, because they don’t start very quickly. It turns a lot, there are many jumps, so the pace is less sustained. You need very tonic horses with a little speed, but not necessarily the class of those of Craon (1), where it requires superior intrinsic qualities, technically and physically. But this Anjou Loire challenge will be a great party.
What are the main difficulties of this course?
You have to make as little effort as possible. The slightest mistake over a distance like that, we pay cash. You have to ride to the economy and keep a pear for the thirst for the last thousand meters.
“We’re having a lot of fun”
You have had two successes in this trial. What emotion do we feel?
Already it is a relief. Both times, I was favorite so we are first happy to fulfill the contract. Afterwards, it’s joy, we are with our family, all our friends. We won the last Anjou Loire challenge with friends, the Prigents, who were my first customers. All of that combined makes for a lot of fun. When these are races that we are aiming for over the year, it is always important to win, especially at home.
In 2021, it was behind closed doors that Gabriel Leenders had his second success as a coach on the Anjou Loire challenge with “Émeraude de Kerza” ridden by Clément Lefebvre. © DR
With Blazon d’Orwhat are you aiming for?
In my opinion, he does not have the class of the other two with whom I won (Bucefal in 2018, Kerza Emerald in 2021). We may be crossed by one or two horses, but he is very serious, he has so much experience in cross country that it can make the difference.
You mentioned the popular party aspect of this Anjou Loire challenge. It will be the great return of the public after two years in special conditions…
It’s going to be awesome ! We are waiting for this impatiently. The West is a land of racing enthusiasts. People do not come to see a number, but give the name of the horses. They love the horses, the jockeys, the spectacle, the whole racing atmosphere. We are always very excited at the dawn of an Anjou Loire Challenge.
(1) Disputed in September, the great cross-country of Craon is 6,000 m.