You do not need lots of runners to provide gripping entertainment. Indeed, it could well be argued that the fewer distractions there are the better, providing what is left is good enough.
The Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday certainly was good enough. There were just three runners, but one was a dual Champion Chase winner, unbeaten over fences, in Altior, and another was a brilliant fast-time winner twice at the course and distance in the spring, in CYRNAME.
Something had to give, and, in the event, that something was Altior, but not until after we had a proper set-to between the two. The margin was two and a quarter lengths at the line. As a spectacle it was enthralling from start to finish.
The problem with small-field races is that there is a higher possibility that one or other of the principals will have underperformed, and that what you saw was not all that it seemed. In larger fields, underperformance tends to be more obvious and result in finishing further down the field.
Which is one of the compelling reasons why time analysis is so potent. You can outrun your rivals despite not actually performing all that well, but you cannot outrun the clock, or so the theory goes.
Analysis of overall times is quite a complicated matter, and involves, among other things, accurate standard times. I wrote on the subject in The Timeform Knowledge a few years ago.
Suffice to say, where this year’s Christy Chase is concerned, that Cyrname appeared to put up a top-notch time again to back up the visual impression.
There were only three chases on the card, and only one over this distance of an extended two miles and five furlongs, but the overall time compares well to established benchmarks once the relevant allowances have been made.
It is likely, but not certain, that Cyrname ran very fast again on Saturday, and that Altior was little, if anything, below his best.
In order to run a good overall time, you need to run efficient sectionals, of course. That is one reason why measuring sectionals is important over jumps, and why Total Performance Data now cover jumps racing in similar detail to the flat, with the figures displayed in the Results Section on this site.
Ascot is not one of the courses covered, but it is possible to perform sectional analysis manually with a bit of effort. That is what some professionals have been doing for a long time now.
By using historical times which were fast compared to what might be expected of the horses concerned, and by measuring the by-obstacle splits which gave rise to them, we can produce sectional pars.
In this instance, I have mapped those pars to an overall time (5m 20.0s) which would have produced a 170 timefigure in Saturday’s race. The official time recorded by Cyrname according to the BHA website was 5m 19.0s, which is confirmed by video analysis.
The fluctuations in that graph are fairly small. The pace between the first and second fences was steady – with Cyrname losing six lengths compared to par – but it was pretty honest thereafter.
Cyrname made up that shortfall and a little more besides by the sixth, eased off the accelerator slightly mid-race, but had his foot to the boards from five out.
From that point, Cyrname forged on relentlessly, running the last three sections two lengths, four lengths and finally two lengths quicker than that 170-rated par given the conditions. His energy had been conserved to deliver the coup de grace at the end, if he still had enough left. He did.
This was copybook stuff from his jockey Harry Cobden.
What is perhaps most interesting is what the figures tell us about Altior. To a significant degree, he danced to Cyrname’s tune, but he got to the closing stages just a couple of lengths down, having gone a pace that should be comfortably sustainable for a horse of his calibre. And he saw his race out well, just not better than Cyrname, as he needed to.
It is possible to argue that Altior is a better horse under different circumstances – personally, I would not – but less plausible to suggest that he was beaten for stamina here. He was travelling slightly less well than his rival from some way out but stuck to his task. The figures underline just what a task that was.
Striding analysis does not count for as much over jumps as it can do on the flat, or at least that is what I have discovered. The correlation between leg speed (aka cadence) and stamina still exists, but the curve flattens as distance increases and things become less black and white.
Nonetheless, Cyrname and Altior stride remarkably similarly and like horses whose best distances should be at beyond two miles (something I observed about Altior on these pages about 12 months ago).
Cyrname’s cadence in the closing stages, derived from sophisticated video analysis, was: 2.04 strides/second, 2.11, and finally 2.08. Altior’s was 2.01, 2.11 and finally 2.02.
If anything, Altior may be the more likely to get the three miles of Kempton’s King George V Chase, though that is likely to be right at the upper end of his stamina.
The only reason, that I can see, for returning Altior to two miles after Saturday is that competition may be less demanding at that trip. Cyrname bestrides the two-and-a-half mile chasing division and Altior will do well to get the better of him judged on Saturday.
But, as we have seen already, Cyrname is neither the most versatile nor the most consistent. Every match deserves a rematch: there is mileage in this equine rivalry yet!