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Jamie Lynch’s Betfair Ascot Chase preview

Senior Form Analyst Jamie Lynch delves into Saturday’s Grade One showdown at Ascot. Will L’Homme Presse return to the winners enclosure or can Pic D’Orhy steal the show?

The race

This is the 30th edition of the Ascot Chase, a race that more often than not stands tall, in connection to the impending Festivals, not in competition nor inferior to them, highlighted by the fact that on no fewer than six occasions the Ascot Chase was won by the best chaser in Britain that season: One Man, Kauto Star, Cue Card, Silviniaco Conti, Cyrname and Shishkin.

It has traditionally been quality over quantity, the fields “small but select” as per the pundits’ handbook, the average number of runners just six, but the mean rating of the top three in the last 10 years is a weighty 164 – and this time it’s 165. It’s light on numbers and tight on timing to the spring showdowns, yet the Ascot Chase perennially packs a Grade One punch.

The stakes

It’s 24 days until the Cheltenham Festival and the big three all have eyes on a Prestbury prize, certainly L’Homme Presse for whom it’s almost a Grade One second and a semi-final first, to not just get to the Gold Cup but be top of the billing for it amongst the British, in response to Shishkin’s statement last week.

The stakes are rather broader and bigger for Ahoy Senor who has to fight for the right for any Cheltenham chat, his priority to belatedly draw a connective line to the Ahoy Senor of old, some sign of it – at last – in the Cotswold Chase amid the tack troubles. The trip recalibration at Ascot lines him up more for the Ryanair, but ability and not compatibility is his point to prove, a pivotal power point.

Ahoy Senor is an Ascot Chase contender for Derek Fox and Luncida Russell
Image: Ahoy Senor is an Ascot Chase contender for Derek Fox and Luncida Russell

If it’s a different game for Ahoy Senor and a qualifying game for L’Homme Presse, it’s more of an end game for Pic D’Orhy who has made a career out of picking his battles, wisely working in the undervalued venues rather than the overcrowded amphitheatre. It’s a cup final for him, but a mere friendly fixture for Sail Away who can’t realistically win this match but will get something out of it, without repercussions for his Grand National aim.

The form

In the week of Valentine’s Day, it’s worth recalling poet Charles Bukowski’s line about love: “I want to be with you, it is as simple and complicated as that.”

The form of the Ascot Chase is as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. The simple version, expressed in the official ratings, is that L’Homme Presse, on 170, is a level above even Ahoy Senor and Pic D’Orhy, with just 1 lb between that pair on 163 and 162 respectively, and a distance back to Sail Away (142). That’s the elementary evaluation, and perhaps the best one, evidently endorsed by the betting.

L'Homme Presse still holds hopes for the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Image: L’Homme Presse is the frontrunner with the bookmakers for Saturday’s feature

But racing is rarely a black and white issue, instead enriched and enlivened by the grey areas, plenty here, even in a tripod race. First and foremost, the 170 badge which L’Homme Presse wears isn’t what he ran to at Lingfield, that number 5 lb less according to the handicapper, and lower still on the timefigure, not a warning siren by any means, after the absence, simply a string attached, nonetheless meaningful given the power of the pair against him.

His standards have slipped this season but Ahoy Senor ran to 169 when scaring the life out of Shishkin in the Bowl last April, and in their prior meetings in the spring of 2022, L’Homme Presse’s jumping was the decisive difference when the pair were first and second in the RSA, three and a half lengths apart, before quicker, slicker Ahoy Senor got his revenge in the Mildmay at Aintree.

While he can’t quite match Presse’s pounds or Senor’s spikes, the resting rate of Pic D’Orhy is his secret strength, performing to north of 160 on four occasions, clinically effective and effectively clinical. A triumph for Pic D’Orhy is normally a triumph of efficiency.

Pick a point in time and there’s little or nothing between the big three. Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.

The tactics

Contrasts make contests, but in this case what’s rare and therefore riveting are the shared similarities and the fact that all of these – Sail Away included – is happy and perhaps happiest when front-running, each a real rhythm merchant.

However, given they’ve done it another way, the stalking way, it’s foreseeable that the other three will cede the lead to Ahoy Senor who simply has to go on the attack over this trip, besides needing a stimulating spark to really relight his fire.

Ascot and Ahoy Senor. The most meticulous matchmaking algorithm on the world’s biggest dating super-computer can’t begin to predict how this will go. On the one hand, it might be a match made in heaven and a sight to behold, pairing a powerhouse front-runner with a front-runners track. On the other hand, in 15 chases, Ahoy Senor has jumped 273 fences, divided as follows, 27 sketchily, five shockingly and three race-endingly, while lugging to his right around a quarter of the time.

It’s his Achilles’ Heel, whereas jumping is an acute asset for both L’Homme Presse and Pic D’Orhy, who’ll literally and figuratively jump all over any mis-steps or mistakes by Ahoy Senor, presuming he makes some (and, as outlined, it’s a fair presumption).

Pic D’Orhy may not be the best horse but he’s most probably the quickest, hence Charlie Deutsch won’t want to be vulnerable to his finishing kick, so I’d bet that L’Homme Presse sets about Ahoy Senor sooner than Pic D’Orhy. But it’s by no means out of the question we have three in line at the second-last. And than we’ve got ourselves a horserace.

Pic D'Orhy was beaten by Banbridge in the Silviniaco Conti Chase last time out
Image: Pic D’Orhy was beaten by Banbridge in the Silviniaco Conti Chase last time out

The verdict

There’s a sellable scenario whereby each of the “big three” comes out on top, spotlighting efficiency for Pic D’Orhy and explosivity for Ahoy Senor, but L’Homme Presse has the game to combat both and class to give Galopin Des Champs something to worry about in a Gold Cup. His combination of talent and temperament has seen him successful in all bar one of his completed chases, and he was deadly the once he came to Ascot as a novice.

Sky News
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