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Paul Nicholls is hoping his Betfair Ascot Chase contender Pic D’Orhy can unearth a chink in the armour of one of Britain’s best Cheltenham Gold Cup chances when taking on L’Homme Presse in Saturday’s big Grade 1.

Nicholls shares the record of saddling four Ascot Chase winners with Martin Pipe and Nicky Henderson and will become the outright most successful trainer in the race if landing the 30th running with the Johnny de la Hey-owned nine-year-old, who won the Marsh Chase at Aintree in April.

Pic D’Orhy finished a 16-length second to Shishkin in last year’s race and faces another Gold Cup fancy in L’Homme Presse, who won the Fitzdares Fleur de Lys Chase at Lingfield last month on his first start since unseating at the last in the 2022 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton.

L’Homme Presse, who is a best-priced 10-1 with Betfair Sportsbook and Coral for the Gold Cup, recorded a Racing Post Rating of 170 in the 2m6f event on his return, a 1lb higher figure than Pic D’Orhy’s runner-up effort when giving 3lb to Ryanair Chase favourite Banbridge in the Coral Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton last time.

Nicholls, who has won the Ascot Chase with Rockforce, Kauto Star, Silviniaco Conti and Cyrname, said: “It’s a nice race and good horses win it. It would be great to win it again and it would set Pic D’Orhy on his way to Aintree. I’m hopeful he has a nice chance.

“He ran a near career-best at Kempton and I’ve been very happy with him since. He’s a high-class horse who runs to a good, consistent level.

“L’Homme Presse is very smart and on his way to the Gold Cup, and we’re going a different route, but it looks like it’s going to be a good race. 

“They will expect L’Homme Presse to come forward from winning well on his return, although he did beat Protektorat, who finished behind Hitman in the Denman Chase.

“You could look at that form and think L’Homme Presse was flattered a bit at Lingfield, but it was an impressive performance from Venetia [Williams] to get him back so fit and well first time, and he did look very good. We just have to hope we can find a chink in his armour.”

Pic D'Orhy (left): finished second to Banbridge at Kempton last time

Pic D’Orhy (left): finished second to Banbridge at Kempton last timeCredit: Mark Cranham

Ahoy Senor is dropping back in trip to 2m5f and Nicholls feels the Lucinda Russell-trained nine-year-old has to prove he has the speed for this test. Outsider Sail Away completes the four-runner field for the £175,000 race.

Nicholls said: “He’s looked like a stayer and been running over those trips, so it could be on the sharp side for him. He’ll need to be jumping at his best.”

Brave Kingdom represents Nicholls in the five-runner Sodexo-sponsored Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase on the undercard and arrives with a 2-2 record over fences.

His rivals include Hampton Novices’ Chase second Apple Away and Kilbeg King, who was declared for this Grade 2 rather than the £100,000 Swinley Handicap Chase on the seven-race card. The going at Ascot was good to soft, soft in places on Thursday and up to 5mm of rain is forecast before racing.

Nicholls said: “Brave Kingdom has come good over fences after missing a lot of time and has won well at Plumpton and Newbury. He has to improve again but he’s had a nice bit of time since his last run and hopefully should run well.”

The death of Keagan Kirkby, a West Country point-to-point rider and member of the trainer’s staff, this month was a huge blow for the stable and Nicholls and his team have taken great comfort from the support within racing.

A JustGiving page, set up to help towards Kirkby’s funeral and a memorial in his honour, has raised more than £54,000 since last Monday.

Nicholls said: “It just shows what high esteem Keagan was held in and racing has really pulled together. People from all walks of life have supported the cause and it’s really nice we’re able to give him a great send-off. It’s fantastic what racing has done and it helps us get through what has been a difficult time.”

Betfair: 8-11 L’Homme Presse, 9-4 Pic D’Orhy, 5 Ahoy Senor, 25 Sail Away.

Read more . . .

Confirmed runners and riders for Saturday’s Ascot Chase and the Grand National Trial at Haydock 

‘He’s started to come back to himself’ – Ahoy Senor primed for L’Homme Presse clash in Ascot Chase 

Five years of profit in a row for Ante-Post Pricewise – subscribe to Members’ Club now with 50% off for Tom Segal’s Cheltenham tips! 

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