Cheltenham Gold Cup contender L’Homme Presse might run in the colours of Andy Edwards, but he doesn’t consider himself to be the horse’s owner. The term he prefers is “guardian”.

The Venetia Williams-trained gelding, who Edwards bought when he had a serious tendon injury, will head to the Festival as one of the few challengers capable of upsetting Willie Mullins-trained favourite Galopin Des Champs in the Blue Riband.

As important as victory on jump racing’s greatest stage would be for Edwards, it is L’Homme Presse’s status as the flagbearer for his belief that investing significantly in a horse’s early education and equally importantly forging an emotional connection with it to prioritise its mental wellbeing trumps everything.

The philosophy, he concedes, has raised a few eyebrows. Racing, after all, is a sport where you don’t need to go digging to unearth scepticism. Yet Edwards says that if he can persuade just a few fellow owners to pay greater heed to supporting their horses, then he will regard that as his greatest success.

“I don’t feel I am an owner, I am a privileged guardian,” says Edwards. “You can’t own another being. You are not supposed to own your wife or husband and you don’t own your kids.

“Just because I am so attached to them and connected to them emotionally, I can’t say I own them, that’s horrible.

“This guardianship is like going through pre-school, primary school, secondary school, college or university. It is guiding them through to a point where they can go on and be the best they can be.

“That’s the thing for me, trying to create something so that the horse can be the best he or she can be.

“It is like a child. When you send it to primary school you don’t say, ‘I want it to be a chemistry major’. You just want a good, basic education and they can build from there.

“That is important because the racing career in terms of a horse’s lifespan is very short, even the ones that go on for a long time.

“When they have finished, if they have had that solid education at the beginning, it is going to be a lot easier to train them to do another job. My whole thing is to guide them through the education process, [allow them to] become the professional athlete and then integrate into something like eventing or showjumping later on.

“They don’t always turn out wonderful racehorses – or even get to the track – but they always turn out magnificent beings.

“They are helping me and I am helping them – it is a two-way process. There might be a horse which was never made for racing, but I will still keep hold of it and guide it through.

“I currently have a horse called Baya Lescribaa. She has had a couple of injuries and is six now. She has started training for endurance racing and is doing well. Believe it or not, that for me is just as important as getting L’Homme Presse to Cheltenham.”

That process is hands-on for Edwards. He estimates he is in one of his trainer’s stables – he currently employs Williams, Roger Teal and Sophie Leech in Britain and Emmanuel Clayeux and Benoit Gourdon in France – four days a week.

He says: “I don’t interfere in anything, but I will be in the box most of the time or go out in the field and walk with them. I am supporting them emotionally. I have always had an affinity with animals and have spent my life around horses.

“I basically empty the mind and listen and communicate through feelings, which we all do.

“The problem is people can’t use words to express or receive from the horses. That’s why you have to learn to communicate – fortunately I have that ability.

“People always ask the big W and H questions – why and how? But with what I do, all those questions don’t apply. It’s belief. It is very easy for me to explain but difficult for it not to sound weird to the general public. It is a soul connection rather than a head one.

“People struggle with something if you can’t touch it or you don’t have it scientifically proven. I have friends who say, ‘I get what you are doing but I can’t step over that line’.

“I tell people, think of it in human terms as love. Prove that exists. You can’t, but we all believe it does. Sometimes you have to have that faith in something deeper.”

The Edwards approach extends to carefully matching a horse with a stable he thinks will suit it. He will never send a horse to a yard that doesn’t turn out their horses.

His love of animals was inherited from his late father David, who acted as a steward at Lingfield and the now defunct Folkestone, and who took up hunting for a bet at the age of 55.

His father had horses in training with Philip Mitchell and David Elsworth – Edwards fondly remembers the trip to watch Desert Orchid win his first King George VI Chase at Kempton in 1986. He also recalls the frisson of excitement that got him hooked on the sport during a visit to Goodwood when the electrifying Sir Michael Stoute-trained Sonic Lady sped past under Walter Swinburn to land the Sussex Stakes in the same year.

Edwards originally had horses in training with Mitchell in Epsom, including a couple who were ridden to victory by Teal when he was the trainer’s assistant and amateur rider.

The death of Edwards’ father from cancer after a bad hunting accident also shaped his beliefs.

“Traumas in your life make you re-evaluate,’ he says. “As you get older some of us at least want to listen more. That is what has happened to me with the horses.”

Alongside a career in the construction industry and property management, Edwards was a fair sportsman as a player and coach in both rugby and cricket.

Now based in Worcestershire, he was a Kent County league player with Ashford and played with and against some of Kent’s greatest ever cricketers, including Brian Luckhurst, Alan Ealham, John Shepherd and Derek Underwood.

There was even an offer to play for the Kent Second XI and join the John Player League competition for the county which, with his working career taking off, he decided to turn down.

With those sporting experiences, Edwards believes a positive mindset in a horse is just as important as it is with human athletes.

“If it was just fitness the results would be the same every time,” he explains. “The raw ability to a greater or lesser extent is built in, but maybe you are not using the rest that is there to get a horse to run a bit more for you.

“It’s very important for me to be there and give them the assurance that everything’s fine. It’s no different to going to watch your son or daughter playing sport at school or turning up to their Christmas concert.”

The support Edwards puts into his ownership is mirrored by how he sources his horses, which is exclusively from France where all his purchases are given a thorough grounding with Vicky Madsen-Abbott or Violaine Trapenard, who both have three-day eventing backgrounds, before they are put into training.

Edwards’ first contact with a yearling or two-year-old at a stud is conducted without any knowledge of pedigree. First, he tries to establish the connection.

He explains: “There is no process. I tell the breeder not to give me any papers or tell me any names –just tell me where the colts and fillies are and let me go out in the fields.

“Then with my three trusted Labradors we jump in the field and walk off. There may be 20 yearlings or two-year-olds all charging around unbroken. They either come to you or they don’t. I tend to be empty of everything, so I am not a threat – I am one of them. Something always happens but not necessarily to make me want to buy one.”

Edwards made the connection when he first encountered L’Homme Presse, who cut a lonely, injured and unwanted figure at a Normandy stud following two runs at Fontainebleau. Edwards bought a gelding others wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

“Everyone thought I was mad,” he recalls. “Are you sure Andy? People laughed. Others tried to find out how much I paid for him. At the time he was bloody expensive, now he looks cheap. I took a chance on a horse that needed saving.

“It was a tendon injury which was bad enough, but we were quite happy to wait.”

In all L’Homme Presse was sidelined for 773 days before he made a winning return over hurdles at Chepstow on Grand National day in April 2021. His comeback had been further delayed by a freak accident when he stood on a screw that January, an incident that fortunately did no long-term damage.

The following season, which started with a novice chase victory at Exeter, delivered wins in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown and the Grade 1 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Hopes L’Homme Presse, who Edwards now owns in partnership with wife Pam and Pat and Peter Pink, would be a major player in the 2023 Gold Cup ended when he was injured in the 2022 King George VI Chase in which he unseated jockey Charlie Deutsch at the final fence when battling with eventual winner Bravemansgame.

It meant another year out of action before a battling comeback win in the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield in January and a second place to Pic D’Orhy in last month’s Ascot Chase over an inadequate two miles and five furlongs, which has teed him up for the biggest test of his career.

The Edwards philosophy means winning isn’t everything, but his excitement is tangible.

“What he did at Lingfield was amazing after 13 months off,” the owner says. “It was a bit short for him at Ascot and the ground had dried out, but he ran through the line and was doing his best work at the end.

“Ratings are only so much; he has something about him. That mental grit and attitude goes a long way in sport.

“I bought him injured and gave him time. He is the epitome of the message I want to promote.”


The Future

L’Homme Presse is flying the flag for owner Andy Edwards in Britain. However, he could be one of the last horses that he brings across the Channel.

The low level of prize-money compared to France, where he sources all his raw material, is the main reason. Edwards has already cut back on the number of horses he has in Britain from ten to four.

He says: “I have reduced my involvement in English racing. It’s expensive to educate the young horses and you have to rationalise the costs.

“It does not make sense to bring them over here to race. The gap is too big. You get a win and a couple of places over here and it might pay two months’ training fees if you are lucky. You can run round the provinces in France and if you get a win and a couple of places it will pay for the whole season.

“It is a big problem over here. My horses in France will be staying in France. The only way they will come over is if someone wants to buy into one.

“I have two horses that have been injured and had problems. I have taken them out of racing and they have suddenly come right. I had a choice – do I put them back into training or give them another life? I have chosen to give them another life.”

Edwards concedes his decisions are based on his own personal methodology.

He adds: “British racing is fantastic and the thrill of having your horse run here is amazing. It’s my passion and I will always champion our sport in whatever country I am in.

“I am not one of those people who bangs on about prize-money being rubbish, it has to come from somewhere. If it is not available, it is not available. However, I won’t bring another one over from France unless it is a very special horse.”