Pic Performance in Betfair Ascot Chase for Nicholls’ Ace

February 18, 2024

Pic D’Orhy top-notch under Harry Cobden in the Ascot Chase (JTW Equine Images)

By JTW Equine Images

It was a ride that trainer Paul Nicholls labelled as a “Champion Jockey ride”.

One of masterclass, confidence, and inquisitive judgement that a seasoned professional worthy of the title should be able to produce, keen to make a statement and show the rest of the weighing room why they deserve the title bestowed upon them.

And if he continues to ride like this, then there is not a soul around that would think that Harry Cobden does not deserve the accolade that he is already being shoehorned into.

It was a clever ride that saw him take the Grade 1 £175,000 Betfair Ascot Chase aboard his friend Pic D’Orhy, blunting the hopes of Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders L’Homme Presse and Ahoy Senor in the process, who were both coming back in trip and having to tackle a horse who is a seasoned professional at the trip.

The cleverness began at flag fall, with Harry sending his mount forward to take an easy lead, as his 3 rivals were keen to let him bowl along in front and go clear as the field went around Swinley bottom and head up the side of the course.

Whereas he entered a fine rhythm and simply flowed from fence to fence, it was a different story for L’Homme Presse, who did not seem to be warming up as the race was in its earth throes, jockey Charlie Deutsch looking as if he was nudging along as the field went past the post for the first time.

Where he was slow, the leader was flowing along, fleeting his way from fence to fence as if he was merely thinking his way around the Berkshire course.

Coming up the hill from Swinley Bottom the second time around, the leader came back slightly to the rest of the quartet, with L’Homme Presse attempting to close in on Pic D’Orhy as the field turned for home.

However, his heart must have sank as the leader was good at two out and continued to turn the screw tighter still, putting his rivals to the sword even further as the race came to the business end of two miles and five furlongs.

Another fine leap at the last was all it took to seal the prize for the leader and signal the knell for the chances of their rivals, Harry taking a nonchalant look behind to see his rivals toiling and allowing him to stand up in the stirrups and salute the crowd, who roared him home to a fanfare of applause.

L’Homme Presse had to settle for second almost 6 lengths behind, with Ahoy Senor four lengths further behind in third, with Sail Away bringing up the rear.

Speaking afterward, it was clear the confidence that was exuded from the winning jockey, as he detailed that he was sure of victory from a very early point in the race.

“Jumping the second, I was already a long way clear”.

“Their horses were stuttering….. I winged the first three”.

“The De La Heys have been massive supporters of mine, this horse has been brilliant right the way through”.

“To win another Grade 1 with him means a hell of a lot!”

Harry was asked by Luke Harvey on ITV Racing afterward what his tactics were, and it seemed that in the 8 hours since waking up and getting to the race, Harry had changed his mind on what he was going to do.

“I woke up 7 o’clock this morning thinking I was going to follow Charlie (Deutsch, jockey of L’Homme Presse) and Derek (Fox, jockey of Ahoy Senor) and I just sensed when I got here this morning that there wasn’t a lot of speed, and no one really wanted to go on and make it”.

“I worked out last time that that horse was slow over his jumps, and when we lined up to forward I knew Derek would follow me, so I thought we would get a few lengths out the gate before we start”.

Pic D’Orhy on his way to victory (JTW Equine Images)

Those tactics proved sweet vindication, and it was also thrilling to see for his trainer, who has never shied away from the regard he holds the son of Turgeon, having consulted the prestigious King George VI Chase for him at one point.

“He’s so good at that distance, we don’t need to step him up to three miles at the moment”.

“Ultimately he would get it, so we will have another talk about it next year”.

“That ride from Harry today, fantastic, we were always going to be positive with him”.

He was flowing with compliments for his 9-year-old charge but did say that he has surprised him somewhat this season.

“I don’t know why but he seems to be improving after all these races, today is the best I’ve ever seen him look, and probably the best he’s ever run”.

“He put some very good horses in their place today, it was fantastic”.

“The stiffer track probably suited him ( than Kempton last time out ), he stays strong over that trip, he’s good around here, again fantastic ride, that’s why Harry is vying to be Champion jockey, he’s riding like a Champion Jockey”.

“He was never going to stop, he keeps galloping!”

“We’re pleased, and I suspect now we will now go straight to Aintree ( Melling Chase, in April )”.

Whilst connections have entered the horse for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, it appears that they will bypass this to run at Aintree, a course he has done better on before.

For beaten connections, it was either a case of ruing their luck, or looking at the positives and taking them forward.

For the runner-up, part-owner Andy Edwards was looking forward to the Cheltenham Gold Cup next month, especially as he felt his horse “needed the extra five furlongs”.

“I did think about not running him, but he needed the run before the Gold Cup, so I’m really happy”, which was more than could be said for his odds, in which Boylesports have pushed him out to 16/1 from 8/1 for the Blue Riband event next month.

“He was doing his best work at the end”, he added, “but with no rain last night it was always going to be tough”.

“He has the same chance as he did last night”.

Charlie Deutsch was philosophical with the runner-up’s performance, saying that he has been “flat out all the way”.

“I knew my fate kind of early on, he’s ( Pic D’Orhy ) a two-and-a-half miler, and he’s a very good horse on his day”.

“He just chipped in at a few as I’m pressing him all the time, but I think he will come out of the run better”.

“It might put him just right for the Gold Cup”.

“I was squeezing a bit too early, straight from the start, but there we go”.

Trainer Venetia Williams was left ruing the lack of rainfall that had been noted for earlier in the week, but was still very pleased with her charge’s performance, despite it coming over a trip she stated was “too short on ground that’s half good”.

She added, “credit to the winner, as today was his day. Today was a stepping stone ( for L’Homme Presse ), I’m very pleased”.

Third place Ahoy Senor’s team were thrilled with his run, but still have some questions over which race he will line up in next month at Cheltenham.

Derek Fox said that his mount “ran a good race” and that he was “starting to come to himself” after two below-par runs, and that he was “coming the right way” into the spring.

The Gold Cup would have looked like the ideal target for him, but the Ryanair Chase over 5 furlongs shorter has come into consideration, despite him looking an out-and-out stayer for most of his career.

However, trainer Lucinda Russell was “delighted” with her charge.

“His jumping was brilliant, I’m very pleased”.

“All roads lead to Cheltenham, but for which race, I do not know”.

The Gold Cup may be off the agenda for the winner, but with the lengths this horse may go to, it may well be that even better is forthcoming in the future.

With the wealth of riches and experience at hand, it’s clear to see that Nicholls has another ace in his pack, one that can be relied on, and one that can take the team even higher.

But whether it is referring to the horse or jockey remains to be seen. Is it a partnership made in heaven?


Contributing Authors

JTW Equine Images, Past the Wire

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