IT proved worth the wait for Wye Valley trainer Venetia Williams as stable star L’Homme Presse jumped into the Cheltenham Gold Cup reckoning with a winning return to racing at Lingfield following 13 months out.
Injury in the 2022 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park, when the horse unseated Charlie Deutsch at the final fence when running second, ruled L’Homme Presse out of Cheltenham last year.
But victory in Sunday’s £165,000 Fleur de Lys Chase at the Winter Million Festival saw the nine-year-old horse installed at 8-1 with William Hill for March’s blue riband race.
Despite some jumping rustiness early on, the King’s Caple-based mount beat ex-Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s Protektorat by 2 1/4L.
There was a hiccough at the first when L’Homme Presse put in a short stride to the left and brushed through the top of the fence.
But steadily, the 8/11 favourite found its feet and had to much for Protektorat jumping the last.
A delighted 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.”
L’Homme Presse’s winning return marked a change of fortune on the day for trainer and rider, after Djelo fell at the first fence 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.”
While L’Homme Presse could go straight to Cheltenham without another race now, there is also talk of entering next month’s Ascot Chase.
Venetia’s other Gold Cup contender Royalle Pagaille - winner of Haydock’s Betfair Chase last November - was denied a run by the frozen track at Haydock at the weekend, but is now set to run in Saturday’s Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.