Declan Rix

Declan Rix assesses how Cyrname managed to end the great Altior's 19-run unbeaten streak at Ascot on Saturday, with both horses possibly set to meet again in the King George VI Chase at Kempton next month.

  • Sunday 24 November
  • Blog
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Saturday’s Grade 2 Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot lived up to all the pre-race hype, as the Paul Nicholls-trained and Harry Cobden-ridden Cyrname claimed National Hunt racing’s biggest scalp, by defeating the great Altior.

What a pleasure it was to witness such an epic clash - arguably the biggest jumps racing could offer at the moment - and see race fans, industry figures and the media entrenched in its build-up. The industry really appeared to get behind the race, with plenty of various TV, print and website promotion.

We see it too often where by these grand match ups fail to materialise, especially in National Hunt racing where so much ducking and diving is done to try and remain unbeaten before the coveted Cheltenham Festival, but to have the two highest rated horses in Britain take each other on in November was fantastic, and hopefully sets the tone for the season.

Connections involved with Altior and Cyrname deserve huge credit, especially those of the runner-up, who took their pride and joy out of his comfort zone in the quest of achieving further greatness and putting his unbeaten jumps record on the line.

That greatness may well still come in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase next month, should he run, but Saturday was Cyrname’s day and the seven-year-old (hopefully) opened the eyes of jumps racing fans who doubted him.

Much had been said and written about Cyrname last season, when he dethroned Altior as the highest rated horse in training, officially. Plenty of that hullabaloo came from people who don’t understand how the ratings work; in their eyes a horse who won eight Grade 1s, at three Cheltenham Festivals and hadn’t been beaten in 17 runs couldn’t possibly be inferior to a horse winning his first Grade 1.

But he was, from a ratings perspective, at the time, and the BHA handicappers were correct. Saturday proved that. And everything about the Christy 1965 Chase suggests it is form to trust; that’s certainly how I feel.

With Altior being beaten at odds of 1/3, after punters started a pretty eyewatering gamble, by a never threatening 2¼ lengths, one should be inquisitive about the solidity of the form, but from a visual and time perspective, Altior has run his race and in my opinion run to the highest level done so in two seasons, including this campaign.

Altior looked in good order early, running a little fresh and keen, which is bound to be expected on his first start of the season. Some have questioned whether he travelled with his usual exuberance, looking for excuses in defeat, but with Cyrname setting such solid fractions the keenness some felt they would witness – based on pre-meditated thinking’s of a horse going up in trip – didn’t materialise.

From a visual perspective again, it looked like Altior jumped his usual way; big and bold at some, to his left at others and a bit careful at times. He also hit his customary “flat spot” and also finished his race out with purpose. Nearly everything about Altior’s run suggests he has run his race.

Of course, for a horse whose jumping CV suggested he was invincible, it was disappointing for his connections and fans, but there comes a time when you’ve got to hold your hands up and just say, “we were beaten by a better horse on the day”. Saturday was one of those days for Altior.

With Nicky Henderson’s stable star running to such a good level on his first start of the season, encouragement should still be taken in terms of looking to the future; he is entitled to come on for the race. On this evidence, the nine-year-old can still win at the highest level, especially now he has shown he stays two-and-a-half miles, giving himself more options. It’s far from doom and gloom.

As he is getting older however, he may just need that bit of help from the gods and his connections, especially over staying trips. The gods can assist by providing decent ground for him to run on, although good to soft should never be an excuse, and his connections can help by getting him back on a left-handed track.

On Saturday, we again saw Altior jump to his left, but against horses like Cyrname, who fence with such accurate efficiency on right-handed tracks, he is just not going to get away with it anymore. He is aging, has tough miles on the clock and is slightly regressive, but regressive from an exceptional level, of which his peak came in the 2018 Champion Chase.

Although, to be fair to Altior, there are few horses as good as Cyrname to beat and make no mistake, he is still a match for any horse in training based on Saturday’s run.

I realise this is maybe being picky, with regards his jumping, but it’s hard to argue Altior didn’t lose ground at multiple fences through flying out to his left, as well as spending more time in the air than the eventual winner.

In some ways, this makes his run even more meritorious, but there is a youthful and confident ignorance about Cyrname in how he gallops and jumps and Altior simply couldn’t handle him on the day. Cyrname is ruthlessly efficient and he’s a bloody good horse. Especially at Ascot; that is his home ground.

The French import’s last three victories have all come at the Berkshire track, his best work and highest ratings at that course, and all since connections have taken the hood off. Before that headgear removal, all 11 runs in the UK had come with the pacifier on, but since it has come off, Cyrname has looked an outstanding Grade 1 animal.

Cyrname beats Altior at Ascot
Cyrname (left) outjumped and outgalloped Altior in the Christy 1965 Chase

The question now, is can Cyrname show the same level of ability away from Ascot, and, more importantly on left-handed tracks? I can’t see other right-handed courses possessing any problems for the son of Nickname, but in 14 career starts in the UK, Cyrname has run three times left-handed and been beaten in all, at prices of 9/1, 11/4 and 2/1, respectively.

All of these runs however, came when he was a 133-rated hurdler (Chepstow), a 139-rated novice chaser (Newbury) and a 150-rated novice chaser, again respectively; the latter in a Grade 1 won by Finian’s Oscar at the end of the 2017/18 season.

While he still needs to prove he can be as good going left, we have yet to see the 170+-rated Cyrname without a hood run that way round. We need to be open to the fact he is a different horse now, more grown up, more settled and just a significantly better animal.

Work rider at Paul Nicholls’s Ditcheat stables, Scott Marshall has seemingly played a huge role in Cyrname’s development, because as younger horse, by all accounts, he was quite a dangerous ride and Paul Nicholls and his team couldn't train him how they wished.

Honing Cyrname’s ability to stay three miles in the King George is next, but it would come as a small surprise if the Mrs Johnny de la Hey-owned gelding didn’t prove at least as good over that 3m trip, at a track he is unbeaten at in two goes.

The same cannot be said for Altior, for all the trip didn’t beat him on Saturday. Kempton is a track he has always looked good at however – he is unbeaten in four runs there – and the prospect of better ground is a big plus in helping him stay.

As we all know though, it is right-handed and going that way around now plays in the favour of not only Cyrname but his Paul Nicholls stablemate and defending champion, Clan Des Obeaux. Throw in the progressive and good-jumping Lostintranslation and Altior has his hands full.

It is strange however, I did write about how Altior wasn’t King George material earlier in the year, when connections said they would give the race a go, but having seen him run on Saturday, he has fully justified a crack at the Christmas highlight. 

Declan Rix
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