|Tuesday 26th November 2019|
The Rising Star and the Fallen Giant: What Next for Cyrname and Altior?
It was billed as a heavyweight battle for the ages.
And the Christy 1965 Chase did not disappoint in pitting Altior, the legendary chaser unbeaten over obstacles, against the younger upstart in Cyrname.
Given his extraordinary record, most expected Altior to put Paul Nicholls’ horse in its place on the soft ground at Ascot, but by stepping up in trip to the three-mile mark, Nicky Henderson was sending his charge out into unchartered territory.
And it proved to be something of a miscalculation, with his nine-year-old unable to find an extra gear in the final few furlongs to rein in Cyrname, who made it a hat-trick of wins at the course in 2019.
As the National Hunt campaign gets into full swing, where will these two fantastic horses with different questions to answer look to position themselves during the rest of the season?
A Date with Royalty
Amazingly for a seven-year-old with plenty of experience under his saddle, Cyrname is yet to grace the turf at Cheltenham.
There is a good reason for that – the Cheltenham track jumps left-handed, while the seven-year-old has enjoyed the bulk of his success on right-handed landscapes.
And so any wild proclamations of Gold Cup, Ryanair Chase or Champion Chase glory could be wide of the mark, and despite being an outstanding chaser it seems one of the most famous racing festivals in the world might be beyond his reach.
There are plenty of alternatives, however, for this horse to cement his legacy.
The King George VI Chase on Boxing Day seems almost a certainty. Some of the greatest names in racing have made their name in this Kempton Park extravaganza, with Desert Orchid, One Man, Kauto Star and Arkle all furthering their status as the best in the business in this renewal.
The fact that Kempton is a right-handed jumper also plays into Cyrname’s hooves, as does the likely soft ground, and it’s no surprise he has been brought into a 5/2 favourite at the time of writing for the King George. You can expect Paul Nicholls’ star to feature rather prominently in the horse racing tips from Betfair for that festive meeting.
And as the highest-rated chaser in the land, it would be remiss if he wasn’t declared for the Ascot Chase in February, a renewal he won in comprehensive fashion earlier in the year.
Back to Basics
As far as Altior is concerned, Henderson and his connections have a simple decision to make: do they take the nine-year-old back to basics and the two-mile mark where he has been so dominant, or continue with the three-mile experiment?
In his first outing of the campaign, Altior ran a decent race in the Christy 1965 Chase, and on slightly firmer footing, who's not to say he wouldn’t have chased Cyrname down?
Altior absolutely fine this morning. A further update will follow very shortly. pic.twitter.com/XFWRDavX64— Nicky Henderson (@sevenbarrows) November 24, 2019
Henderson was positive enough, and afterwards, he gave as close as horse racing gets to trash talk when referencing the duel with Cyrname. "We'll have to meet again, there's no doubt about that, and we're not going to lie down that's for sure", he said.
"Different ground on a different day, you might get a different result. Bring on round two!"
That suggests Altior will continue to campaign at the longer distance, and so a rematch with Cyrname might well be on the cards in the King George.
Depending on how that run goes, connections will presumably decide whether he has a future at the three-mile distance. If he does, a tilt at the Gold Cup at Cheltenham could await this course specialist.