Fleur De Lys Chase
| Lingfield 15:00
2m 6f 10y, Class 2
1 L'Homme Presse 8/11F
2 Protektorat 2/1
3 Iwilldoit 11/1
6 ran Distances: 2¼l, 19l, 3l
Time: 5m 35.32s (fast by 2.18s)
L'Homme Presse is set on a path towards the Cheltenham Gold Cup after a successful comeback here. The nine-year-old had previously secured victory in Cheltenham's Brown Advisory two seasons ago and initiated the last season with a notable weight-carrying win in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle.
However, his campaign took an unexpected turn when he unseated Charlie Deutsch in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, missing the remainder of the season due to injury. Despite a 391-day absence from competition, L'Homme Presse, listed as the 8-11 favorite, made a triumphant return in Lingfield's £165,000 Winter Million feature. He demonstrated his enduring ability with a two-and-a-quarter-length victory over the race-fit dual Grade One winner Protektorat.
Winning trainer Venetia Williams said: “It’s been a long time coming and I’m thrilled for Andy, Pat and Peter (owners) to have been as patient as they have been.
“There were proper stayers in there today who were going to eke out any weakness and he’s a stayer of course, but you can’t expect them to plumb the depths of their stamina first time out after a long time off.
“It (injury) was enough to keep him off for a good few months and then the season was coming to an end and we wanted to give him a long, steady preparation this autumn. It’s taken a while.
“In fairness, he hasn’t had much schooling and I was going to school him this week, but wasn’t able to because of the weather. He’s an intelligent horse, though.
“We brought him here and he could possibly have run a bit earlier but the races weren’t there. We wanted him to run somewhere where it was an appropriate race and we also had enough time to get him fit. I’m sure he will improve a bit, but don’t expect masses of improvement.”
The two-and-three-quarter-mile contest was an intriguing watch, with Harry Skelton seemingly keen to make the most of Protektorat’s fitness edge with an aggressive front-running ride.
The nine-year-old looked to have L’Homme Presse in trouble at one stage, but the latter’s jumping kept him in the fight as the pace increased and he was the one travelling the better as the big two straightened up for home.
Protektorat did not go down without a fight and it was still all to play for between the final two fences, but L’Homme Presse stamped his class on the run-in to take top honours with something to spare.
Williams did, however, raise the prospect of L’Homme Presse running again between now and March, with next month’s Ascot Chase on her radar.
“That’s been on our mind and we want to see how he comes out of this, but there is a possibility of that. Maybe it will be (Ascot), that is one of the races on the shortlist,” she added.
The trainer houses another potential Gold Cup contender in Royale Pagaille, who having been denied a run in Saturday’s Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock after the meeting was abandoned, will be rerouted to next weekend’s Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
Which horse Deutsch will be on board come the big day remains to be seen, with Williams saying: “It’s far too early for questions like that. Hopefully we will run Royale Pagaille in the Cotswold Chase next Saturday and Ruby (Walsh) never used to make his mind up until final declarations did he?”
L’Homme Presse’s success was a welcome change of luck on the day for Williams and Deutsch after the well fancied Djelo fell at the first fence after being badly hampered and Frero Banbou was pulled up following a bad mistake, leading to Deutsch losing his irons.
“It wasn’t going to plan and I was lucky not to get hurt (after Djelo’s fall),” said the jockey.
“We were slow at the first, he (L’Homme Presse) kind of headbutted it and I thought ‘oh no’. He was just laid-back all the way and just had to find his feet.
“I was squeezing along just trying to keep tabs on Harry and I had to start asking some questions down the back to try and get him upsides and involved.
“I wanted him involved coming up the hill, so when we kicked downhill, the best horse wins. He’s only really woken up when I’ve really got upsides at the first in the straight and he’s really run to the line then. It took some time to really wind him up.
“It wasn’t all happening, but he’s shown his class and he’s had a few gears at the end. That’s what you need for the Gold Cup, you need to stay and have speed.”
Fleur De Lys Chase
£165,000 guaranteed, 5yo plus, 2m 6f 10y, Class 2
Going: Soft, Good to Soft in places
POS. DIST HORSE AGE WGT TRAINER JOCKEY SP
1 L'Homme Presse 9 11-6 Venetia Williams Charlie Deutsch 8/11F
2 2¼ Protektorat 9 11-10 Dan Skelton Harry Skelton 2/1
3 19 Iwilldoit 11 11-6 Sam Thomas Sam Twiston-Davies 11/1
4 3 Does He Know 9 11-6 Kim Bailey David Bass 18/1
5 12 Highland Hunter 11 11-2 Fergal O'Brien Paddy Brennan 22/1
FELL Full Back 9 11-2 Gary Moore Niall Houlihan 100/1