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May 22, 2024
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L’Homme Presse cut for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory after making winning return in Fleur de Lys from more than a year off the course

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and there was already a lot of love for L’Homme Presse as a leading British Cheltenham Gold Cup contender even before his winning return in the Fleur de Lys Chase.

Those who have backed the 2022 Brown Advisory winner for the Cheltenham Festival will no doubt be heartened by the way he overcame a near 13-month absence to bravely hold off Protektorat, a veteran of two Gold Cups who ensured he would be given no soft reintroduction.

There was a palpable sense of relief in the winner’s enclosure from those closest to the nine-year-old, who started slowly on his first start since unseating Charlie Deutsch when second in the 2022 King George VI Chase, and nobody felt that more acutely than his joint-owner Andy Edwards.

“I just burst into tears,” said Edwards. “I’m so attached to my horses. I’m very emotional. It’s like owning any horse, if you get close to them and bond with them it’s the most amazing feeling, and then to be so fortunate and privileged to have a gentleman and star like him is something else.

“We call him Gent. The minute I saw him I said I was going to call him Gent because that’s what he is and the last horse I rode in my late 20s was my dad’s horse. He was a hunter and he was also called Gent. L’Homme Presse looks like him. It’s like he’s been reborn. I can’t speak.”

Believe it or not, Edwards was actually relatively calm before the race but then the nerves began. He added: “After two fences I thought he wasn’t in a rhythm. I didn’t think he was travelling well for the first three-quarters of the race but when they went quicker he started flying his fences. Down the back you could see him making up ground. He’ll come on a bundle for it.”

L'Homme Presse: was returning from over a year off

L’Homme Presse: was returning from over a year offCredit: Mark Cranham

While other Gold Cup candidates blotted their copybooks at the start of the season, L’Homme Presse, who missed last year’s race after an issue came to light following his Kempton mishap, was a constant in the ante-post market. He had not had the chance to reveal any weaknesses.

He showed some in the early stages of this race, as you would expect from a horse who has spent so long on the sidelines, but when the time came to put the race to bed, he did so with the utmost professionalism, denying Protektorat after the top two in the betting pulled clear.

“He was slow at the first and kind of headbutted it,” said Deutsch. “He was quite laid-back and just had to find his feet. I squeezed him along trying to keep tabs on Harry [Skelton] and had to ask questions down the back to get him involved. He’s really run to the line but it took time to wind him up. It wasn’t really happening but he’s shown his class and some gears at the end.

L'Homme Presse: was cut for Cheltenham Gold Cup in March

L’Homme Presse: was cut for Cheltenham Gold Cup in MarchCredit: Edward Whitaker

“I didn’t expect him to be quite as rusty today but he’s shown plenty of class. He definitely stays but he’s got speed as well and that’s what you need for a Gold Cup.”

L’Homme Presse was cut to 9-1 (from 14) with Betfair Sportsbook for the Gold Cup, in which he could be joined by stablemate Royal Pagaille, winner of the Betfair Chase under Deutsch at Haydock in November.

“It’s fantastic and this has been a long time in coming,” said trainer Venetia Williams. “The owners have been patient and it was a proper race. There were stayers that were going to expose any weakness. 

“He’s a stayer, of course, but you can’t expect to see them plumb the depths of their stamina after a long time off. I’m sure he’ll improve a bit but don’t expect masses of improvement.”

Read these next:

How strong are L’Homme Presse’s Gold Cup credentials? Our experts give their view 

‘Today was the best we’ve seen him’ – JPR One lands Lightning after chaotic first-fence collision wipes out leading contender 

Ryanair Chase favourite Allaho strengthens festival claims with comfortable Grade 2 success 

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