Cheltenham Festival winner L’Homme Presse steps into open company for the first time when he reappears in the Betfair Exchange Rehearsal Handicap Chase at Newcastle om Saturday, live on Sky Sports Racing at 3.25pm.
Venetia Williams’ seven-year-old, 10/1 for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March, was due to return at Ascot last Saturday, but drying ground saw him withdrawn on the day and rerouted to Gosforth Park where he will be tasked with carrying top-weight in what is typically a fiercely-competitive handicap.
The forward-going, super-slick jumper was ultra-progressive last season racking up five straight fences victories, which included triumphs in the Dipper at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown, before stepping up to three miles with aplomb to land the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Festival.
Although his season ended with defeat at Aintree, that was his sole false move in an otherwise excellent novice campaign and his handler is looking forward to seeing him back on track.
“He has to give plenty of weight away to some good horses which will be a first for him, but it will be nice to get him back on the course and we look forward to his run,” said Williams. “He ran well all last season and improved hugely during the course of the season. Now he has to compete at a high level and we look forward to seeing how he handles it.”
Popular defending champion Aye Right attempts to do the double off a 6lb higher mark and joint-trainer Harriet Graham is optimistic of another bold showing following a respectable reappearance when second at Kelso.
“We’re excited and hopeful and he seems really well at home,” said Graham. “Obviously it is quite a tough call and there’s a couple on quite a nice, low weight who look a bit progressive and obviously Venetia’s horse is there as well. Actually, we were quite pleased about that as it meant the weights didn’t go up and is helpful to us, but on the flip side it is a top-quality horse to take on.
“Kelso was a really nice prep run. He obviously got done at the wrong end of the race by what was probably a handily-handicapped horse, and it is difficult with him as he only ever runs one way, so it is kind of obvious what he is doing. If he gets a good start and gets into a good rhythm, then he can break the other horses’ hearts, but they are always slightly stalking him.
“But we’re very hopeful and Craig Nicol, who rode him really well at Kelso, rides him again.”
Sandy Thomson won the race in 2020 with Yorkhill and looks to win it for the second time in three years with Dingo Dollar, who was third to Aye Right 12 months ago and tuned up for this with an emphatic eight-and-a-half-length victory at Aintree earlier this month.
He said: “The handicapper hasn’t done him any favours for beating a few older horses and some that didn’t stay (at Aintree). But he’s very well and rather than lumping 12 stone around Haydock next Wednesday, there is nothing else for him. He’ll go and take his chance and he’ll run a nice race certainly, but he’s now 10 and in the veteran stage.”
Mark Walford’s Into Overdrive has proved extremely versatile and looks to extend a four-race winning run having taken his form to the next level at Wetherby most recently.
“He’s been fantastic,” the trainer told Sky Sports Racing. “His seasonal reappearance at Wetherby was his best run yet after a little bit of a break and we’re expecting him to come on for that as well.
“He’ll be encountering softer ground at Newcastle, but that’s something we’ve thought he will handle – it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
“Us trainers are known for moaning at the handicapper, but that was one situation I was actually quite pleased with – I thought he could have gone up a couple of pounds more (after Wetherby). If he’d jumped the last three well, he’d have been an even more convincing winner.
“He got a bit lonely in front and we’ll be mindful of that at Newcastle.”
Kim Bailey’s Happygolucky was a runner-up at the Cheltenham Festival before going one better in a competitive race at Aintree in 2021 but has a long absence of 595 days to defy having missed the whole of the 2021-22 season.
Bailey said: “I’m very happy with him. He was meant to go to Cheltenham two weeks ago. He did a nice piece of work earlier this week and we’re looking forward to it.
“Every trainer is going round the bend (with the ground). I feel so sorry for these clerks of the course. All these racecourses are drinking water like drunks.”