16 February 2024

Focus solely on big day at Ascot for L’Homme Presse team

16 February 2024

Connections of L’Homme Presse are putting thoughts of the Cheltenham Gold Cup to one side as he heads to the Betfair Ascot Chase for a race that has been likened to the FA Cup Final.

Venetia Williams’ nine-year-old has already tasted success at the Cheltenham Festival as a novice, but he missed out on a shot at the blue riband in 2023 as an injury following his run in the King George VI Chase curtailed his season.

After a long and arduous 391-day absence L’Homme Presse returned in style to claim the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield last month and having suffered the heartbreak of missing out on Grade One opportunities during his time on the sidelines, connections are excited to head to Ascot on Saturday for a race won by some of the sport’s greats over the years.

“We’re very calm and relaxed and looking forward to it,” said Andy Edwards, who co-owns L’Homme Presse with Peter and Patricia Pink.

“The horse is well and it’s exciting to be in a Grade One chase at Ascot.”

He went on: “When I was young and thought about owning a racehorse, days like Saturday are what dreams are made of. Footballers want to play in the FA Cup Final at Wembley and for me to be in a Grade One chase at Ascot is a privilege. Although everyone wants to talk about the Gold Cup, this is its own race in its own right and deserves proper merit.

“Cheltenham is obviously his end goal, but it is not the be all and end all. It may be the Olympics of our sport and where we want to get to, but there are lots of fantastic opportunities on the way and as we found out last year, you have to take your opportunities, because your dreams could be cut short very quickly – you can’t put your eggs in one basket.”

A select field of four will head to post, and Edwards has enormous respect for both Pic D’Orhy and Ahoy Senor, believing spectators at the Berkshire track could be in for a thrilling contest – similar to when L’Homme Presse went toe-to-toe with Protektorat in his Lingfield comeback.

“It might be a small field, but there are some very good horses in there – they have speed and like to run from the front” he continued.

“When we beat Pic D’Orhy in the Scilly Isles, that horse wasn’t himself and didn’t suit the heavy ground and track maybe. Ascot will suit him much better and he’s already won there earlier on this season.

“Ahoy Senor is a Grade One winner who beat us at Aintree and he came second to us in the Brown Advisory. He clearly goes better after Christmas and it is his time of year to start coming to himself.

“I think it will end up a proper race, just like Lingfield. There might only have been two horses in contention from eight fences out, but the race between L’Homme Presse and Protektorat was full on – it wasn’t an easy sprint finish like Galopin Des Champs had at Leopardstown recently. I’m sure Saturday will be the same.”

One who knows his way round every inch of Ascot is Pic D’Orhy, who had the misfortune of bumping into an on-song Shishkin in this race 12 months ago, but took advantage of that rival’s refusal to start when picking up Grade Two honours at the track in the autumn.

A top-table winner at Aintree last spring, a return to Merseyside is on the cards after this assignment, with champion trainer Paul Nicholls confident his consistent nine-year-old can take a hand in the finish here.

He said: “Consistency is his big thing and he runs in some good races, he won his Grade One at Aintree last year, and I’m sure he will run another solid race again on Saturday. He’s just a high-class horse who always runs to a high level.

“He’s not slow and he’s never been further than two and a half or two-mile-five – it suits him very well.

I imagine stamina will come into it a little bit. But this is the ideal trip for us

“Ultimately L’Homme Presse is en route to the Gold Cup and stays very nicely and Ascot is a stiff two-mile-five and the ground is not going to be quick at the moment, so I imagine stamina will come into it a little bit. But this is the ideal trip for us.

“Shishkin beat him in the race last year and funnily, even though he has won at Ascot a few times, he seems happier on a flatter track – he seems to keep his best form for a flatter track. But he’s good at Ascot and touch wood he jumps nicely and hopefully he has a nice chance.

“He will probably go to Aintree after this. I wouldn’t have thought he would go to Cheltenham and we’re quite keen to do what we did last year. If he has a hard race, which undoubtedly it will be a tough race, then it’s soon enough to Cheltenham and he will better off going to Aintree.”

Lucinda Russell drops Ahoy Senor back in distance as connections contemplate a tilt at the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Little has gone right for the dual Grade One winner this term, but Peter Scudamore, Russell’s partner and assistant, feels he is beginning to show his best at home on the gallops.

He said: “We feel we have probably got it wrong and things haven’t come quite right this season, his form figures will tell you that.

“I thought he ran well last time at Cheltenham and feels right now. It’s obviously a very competitive race and if he can run a big race we can see where we go at Cheltenham with him.

“I’m very happy with him like I was last time when he went to Cheltenham and hopefully this will just put him spot on for Cheltenham this time.”

Dan Skelton’s Sail Away completes the line-up.

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