Donn's Articles » Altior v Cyrname

Altior v Cyrname

So it looks like the match is on.  It looks like Altior and Cyrname are going to go toe-to-toe in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

It is the clash that followers of National Hunt horse racing have been anticipating for a little while.  It’s not quite Arkle/Mill House or Kauto Star/Denman, but it’s still fascinating.  These are two of the highest rated steeplechasers in training, boasting, as they do, official ratings of 175 and 176 respectively.  To put those ratings into context, last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo was rated 164 going into the race.  The 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River was rated 166.

At present, only Kemboy is rated higher than Cyrname.

It is not really surprising that bookmakers have put Altior in as favourite in front of Cyrname for Saturday’s race.  Altior is a remarkable racehorse.  In 19 runs over obstacles, he has never been beaten.  Nicky Henderson’ horse is five for five over hurdles and he is 14 for 14 over fences.  He won the Sharp Novices’ Hurdle and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as a novice hurdler, and he won the Arkle and the Celebration Chase as a novice chaser.  In the last two seasons, he has won the Tingle Creek Chase, the Game Spirit Chase, the Desert Orchid Chase and the Clarence House Chase.  He has also won the Champion Chase twice and the Celebration Chase two more times. 

But Altior will be stepping into the unknown on Saturday.  The Christy 1965 Chase is over two miles and five furlongs, and he has never gone beyond two and a quarter miles in his life.  There has been talk for a while about stepping him up in trip, with a view to going for the King George and then perhaps on to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and he does race these days over two miles as if he will get further, but we still don’t know that he will.

One other slight concern is that he has raced over fences at Ascot just once, in the Clarence House Chase last February and, while he ultimately ran out an easy winner from good horses in Fox Norton and Diego Du Charmil, he did jump consistently out to his left, which is not ideal at right-handed Ascot.  He won’t want to be doing that over two miles and five furlongs against Cyrname.

Cyrname is a worthy adversary.  Paul Nicholls’ horse doesn’t have the unblemished record that Altior has, and he didn’t have his class over hurdles.  He ran three times over hurdles in Britain, in three handicap hurdles, and he was beaten three times.  But he is a much better chaser now, he is a high-class performer over fences, and he is proven at the track and over the trip.

Two of those three handicap hurdle defeats were at Ascot, and he was beaten over fences there too on the first occasion on which he tackled the Ascot fences, but that was over an extended two miles, when he chased a really fast pace before fading.

The key to Cyrname’s chance lies in his last two runs, and both were at Ascot, both over Saturday’s course and distance.  On his penultimate run, in a handicap chase at the Berkshire track in January, he led from early and took his field apart, jumping with metronomic precision and ultimately coming home 20 lengths clear of his closest pursuer.

The handicapper raised him by over a stone for that performance, to a mark of 165, which effectively meant that he had to step up in grade.  He did so too, quite emphatically, in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase there in February when, again, he led from early and jumped his rivals ragged, winning by 17 lengths.

He had Fox Norton 18 lengths behind him in third place that day.  He had more in hand over Colin TIzzard’s horse than Altior had in January.

The handicapper raised Cyrname again for that performance, by another 11lb to a mark of 176, and that makes him the second highest-rated chaser in training on official ratings.

Cyrname’s Ascot form is important.  We know that good course form is important when you return to any track, but it seems to be more important on Ascot’s chase track than it is at most.  So it is significant that the two best performances of Cyrname’s life, performances that were by some way superior to his next best, have been at Ascot’s chase track, both over Saturday’s course and distance.

Cyrname does not have the public profile that Altior does, nor does he have the aura of invincibility that 19 wins and no defeats engenders.  Perhaps that explains why Altior has been put in at odds-on and Cyrname at odds-against for Saturday’s race.

But Paul Nicholls’ horse is rated 1lb superior, and he is just seven years old, he is two years younger than his rival.  And we know that he excels at the track and that he stays the distance.  We don’t know that about Altior.  Not yet.  You can easily argue that, given the evidence that we have at present, Cyrname should be favourite for Saturday’s race, that he should be odds-on and that Altior should be odds-against.

© The 42, 20th November 2019