Paul Nicholls is confident Cyrname is at the top of his game for the defence of his crown in the Betfair Ascot Chase.
The eight-year-old was a brilliant winner of the Grade One contest 12 months ago, with the manner of his 17-length victory over Waiting Patiently ultimately meaning he ended the campaign as the highest-rated chaser in the country.
That status faced the toughest of tests on his seasonal reappearance as he engaged in a highly-anticipated clash with Altior, inflicting a first defeat in 20 starts over jumps on Nicky Henderson’s ace and shooting to the head of the betting for the King George VI Chase.
Cyrname was then a shade disappointing in Kempton’s Boxing Day highlight, filling the runner-up spot but finishing some 21 lengths behind his stablemate and defending champion Clan Des Obeaux, but Nicholls expects a much improved performance on Saturday, should the meeting pass a morning inspection.
“In hindsight, Kempton came a little bit quick after Ascot,” said the Ditcheat trainer.
“He takes a little bit of time to come to himself between races, and he is is exactly where we want him to be now.
“If we were going to go to the King George again with a serious chance, I probably wouldn’t use the Ascot race as a stepping stone. He is so good fresh, he could go there first time up.
“He still ran well to finish second, and Clan was on fire that day, but it was obviously a bit too close (to Ascot). Both Cyrname and Altior had a hard race at Ascot – when good horses run against each other, that will happen.”
Nicholls views Cyrname more in the mould of his former superstar Kauto Star than his then stable companion and great rival Denman – and hopes he will prove himself over the King George distance of three miles in due course.
He added: “He is not a big, heavy, strong horse like Denman – he is more a Kauto Star-type horse, so you have to mind him a fraction.
“The intermediate trip (two miles and five furlongs) suits him well on a track like Ascot. He is actually quite one paced and just keeps galloping – he is not a speed horse, but he’s a relentless galloper.
“I do, though, one day think he will get three miles.”
Cyrname is a red-hot favourite to see off three rivals in his bid to become only the second horse to win back-to-back renewals of the Ascot Chase, after Henderson’s Riverside Theatre in 2011 and 2012.
The horse considered his biggest threat is Riders Onthe Storm, formerly trained in Ireland by Tom Taaffe and two from two since joining Nigel Twiston-Davies – following a valuable handicap win at Aintree and then an impressive display in a graduation chase at Ascot in December.
The Naunton trainer is under no illusions about the task facing his seven-year-old, however.
Twiston-Davies said: “We’ve got a mountain to climb. But we know our horse likes the track, and the testing conditions won’t be a problem, so we’ll see what happens.
“We are looking forward to running him. This race has been the plan since his last win at Ascot, and he is in good form.
“It is obviously going to be tough to get the better of Cyrname, but we are going to have a go and are looking forward to the challenge.
“Riders Onthe Storm has been brilliant for us since arriving from Ireland, and hopefully there is more improvement to come.
“If Saturday goes OK, then he’ll head to the Ryanair at the Cheltenham Festival.”
Henderson’s Janika steps back up in distance after finishing fourth behind Defi Du Seuil in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot four weeks ago.
The quartet is completed by Gary Moore’s Grand National contender Traffic Fluide.