15 February 2024

Nicholls and Pic D’Orhy up for Ascot clash with L’Homme Presse

15 February 2024

Paul Nicholls is relishing the prospect of taking on Cheltenham Gold Cup fancy L’Homme Presse with course regular Pic D’Orhy in the Betfair Ascot Chase.

The nine-year-old Grade One winner won the Noel Novices’ Chase at the Berkshire track in 2021 and was also the beneficiary of Shishkin refusing to start when claiming the 1965 Chase earlier in the season.

Second to a resurgent Shishkin in this Grade One event 12 months ago, Pic D’Orhy will now attempt to deal a blow to the Cheltenham Festival ambitions of not only L’Homme Presse, but also Ahoy Senor, who along with Dan Skelton’s Sail Away makes up the select quartet heading to post.

The champion trainer is full of respect for Venetia Williams’ Gold Cup hopeful and the way he has returned him from a long setback. But Nicholls believes there is still enough in Pic D’Orhy’s favour to be confident of a bold bid.

“It’s a good race with L’Homme Presse in the race and it will be interesting,” said Nicholls.

“He is a good horse and ran very well the other day at Lingfield off the back of a setback and they will be hoping he will carry on forward again. He’s a smart horse.

“However, he did only beat Protektorat and Protektorat couldn’t beat Hitman the other day in the Denman Chase so you could look at the form and think maybe he was flattered a bit at Lingfield.”

He went on: “It was an impressive performance from Venetia to get him back fit and well first time out and he did look very good, so we just have to hope we can find the chink in his armour.

“L’Homme Presse is obviously a smart horse and they are on the way to the Gold Cup. We’re doing a different route, but hopefully Pic D’Orhy will run a good race and hopefully he will run very well.”

Helping fuel Nicholls’ positivity is Pic D’Orhy’s performances this term, in particular his narrow second in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton, where he bumped into on-song Irish raider Banbridge.

The Ditcheat handler regards that Kempton display as one of his charge’s best-ever performances and he will now head to Ascot bidding to give Nicholls a record fifth win in a race he has won with the likes of Kauto Star and Cyrname in the past.

“It’s a good race and good horses win it and Pic D’Orhy is right up with those,” said Nicholls when comparing Pic D’Orhy to his previous champions.

“It would be nice to win it again, of course it would, and it would set him on his way to Aintree.

“He ran at Kempton sort of 35/36 days ago which is the same as last year and since then everything has gone good and he worked this morning and I was very happy with him.

“He’s produced two good runs (this season), he won at Ascot first time when he probably wasn’t at his best then and I would say it was nearly a career best last time giving nearly 3lb to Banbridge – that was a good run. He’s in good form and always runs to a really consistent level.”

Pic D’Orhy runs in the colours of one of Nicholls’ biggest backers, owner Johnny de la Hay, who as well as enjoying a plethora of proven stars, saw one of his brightest new recruits Teeshan excel on rules debut at Exeter recently.

The wide-margin point winner soared seven-lengths clear of the opposition, with that taking performance enough to see him cut to single-figure odds for the Champion Bumper with most firms, currently as low as 5-1 with Boylesports.

However, Nicholls is yet to commit to the Cheltenham Festival, and although Teeshan is poised to be given an entry for Prestbury Park, his trainer would have no issue with waiting an extra month for Aintree.

He said: “He won nicely, what sort of race it was I don’t know, but he cantered round and won nicely.

“I’ve won two other bumpers there this year season with Quebecois and Joyau Allen and I would argue they were just as impressive as he was.

“He had quite a reputation because he won his Irish point-to-point very well, but he couldn’t have made a better start than what he did the other day and I was very happy with him.”

Nicholls went on: “He will have an entry (for Cheltenham) and we ran Captain Teague in it last year. We will just see how he is.

“He took time to acclimatise and come right from when he came over from Ireland in the autumn and I just want to make sure he’s all right. If he doesn’t go to Cheltenham he will undoubtedly go to Aintree.”

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