L’Homme Presse stakes Festival claim as Al Boum Photo returns with win

Sport

L’Homme Presse continued his progression with a splendid round of jumping as he dominated his rivals in the Paddy Power Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The Grade Two contest, registered as the Dipper, had attracted a strong field with some promising types taking part in The Glancing Queen, Come On Teddy and Millers Bank. But L’Homme Presse was sent off the 7-4 favourite off the back of wins at Exeter and Ascot – victories which had seen him rise 20lb in the ratings.

Having guessed at a couple of early fences, Charlie Deutsch let him stride on and he appeared to benefit from that, lengthening into his fences and stretching out the field. The Glancing Queen had been smuggled into contention by Tom Cannon and at the second last was only two lengths down, still looking a threat. But Deutsch just got a little lower in the saddle, gave his mount a squeeze and L’Homme Presse scooted clear to win by 10 lengths. Fantastikas was prominent throughout and stayed on for third, just ahead of Oscar Elite.

The Venetia Williams-trained winner was cut to 10-1 from 16s for the Turners Novices’ Chase, formerly the Marsh, at the Festival in March. “I was pleased with the way he quickened up, but he’s had three relatively quick races,” said Williams. “I don’t think we need to be going up in trip just yet given he’s doing what he’s doing, but I really liked the way he quickened to the line. He’s won off 148 and was best in at the weights, but I don’t know where he will go or which race he could come back here for.”

Hillcrest made just about all the running to remain unbeaten this season in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Trained by Henry Daly, the seven-year-old lacks nothing in size and clearly has his fair share of ability as well. Richard Patrick bounced the 3-1 chance out into an early lead and he appeared to be going well within himself for much of the contest.

The Nicky Henderson-trained favourite I Am Maximus, who had sweated up beforehand and raced on and off the bridle, looked a threat entering the straight but Hillcrest towered above him. While the favourite briefly hit the front for a few strides, Patrick had not asked for everything and when he did there was still plenty left in the tank and he pulled two lengths clear. Betfair introduced the winner at 25-1 for the Ballymore in March and 16-1 for the Albert Bartlett.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Vienna Court (10-1) travelled supremely well before staying on strongly to win the Paddy Power New Year’s Day Handicap Chase. With plenty of pace on as Coole Cody once again attempted to make all, Sam Twiston-Davies was able to drop the mare out early on. She appeared ominous coming down the hill but then had to be game to see off the attentions of Simply The Betts, winning by a length and three-quarters.

Meanwhile at Tramore, Al Boum Photo kicked off his Cheltenham Gold Cup preparations with a fourth successive victory in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase. Willie Mullins opted to sidestep a couple of earlier options as the 10-year-old made his reappearance in this Grade Three heat for a fourth year running.

Just four horses started – all trained by Mullins – with Al Boum Photo sent off the 1-6 favourite in the hands of Paul Townend. Acapella Bourgeois, second in this race for the last two years, set out to make the gallop with Al Boum Photo sitting on his heels until he jumped into the lead at the eighth fence. As his stablemate quickly dropped away and was pulled up, Al Boum Photo surged away and, while Townend had to shake the reins a couple of fences from home as Burrows Saint tried to move upsides, the winner ultimately had his stablemate well covered. After clearing the last, Townend just had to keep him up to his work for a four-length verdict.

“He fluffed one fence but did everything else right,” said Mullins. “Paul said he was just a bit idle in front. I’d like to get another run into him but we’ll have to see [how he is].” Coral clipped Al Boum Photo to 12-1 from 14s for the Gold Cup, while he is unchanged at 14-1 with Paddy Power for a third Festival win.