A vintage Saturday for the Jumps connoisseur as Altior (4/6) takes on Cyrname (5/4) in the Christy 1965 Chase (2.05pm) at Ascot, while further North at Haydock Park the always-informative Betfair Chase goes to post 55 minutes’ later (15.00)
The Altior-Cyrname ‘Clash of the Titans’ could be the most eagerly-awaited National Hunt battle since Kauto Star took on Denman in the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup, but unlike then when Imperial Commander spoiled the party, outsider of three, at 66/1 Solomon Grey, has no chance.
There is little between the ‘Big Two’ on ratings so it seems to be a case of whether Altior, unbeaten over obstacles, can take the step up in trip in his stride against a rival who has been so impressive on his last two outings when winning at the ‘Jelly Bean’s’ course.
Seven Barrows sorcerer Nicky Henderson has told how big race pilot Nico de Boinville thinks the former, who is an odds-on poke, will be even better over the longer distance and a win here will cement his place at the front of the King George market even further.
But Cyrname is reportedly in fine fettle at home and the way he drew away from the other protagonists the last two times makes him a hugely tricky opponent.
Even so, preference goes to Altior. He appears to be completely bombproof, while Cyrname’s form can be slightly questioned, winning a handicap chase before in this year’s Ascot Chase beating Waiting Patiently who possibly isn’t as good as he was. Also Cyrname’s record of six wins from 15 starts over Jumps is patchy compared to Altior’s.
If the old adage ‘horses for courses’ ever applied, there couldn’t be a better example than duffel-coat wearing Nigel Twiston-Davies’s Bristol De Mai (6/5) . He’s four from four at Haydock including the last two renewals of the Betfair Chase.
The first time he scooped this prestigious prize he had enjoyed the benefit of a previous outing at Wetherby. But there can’t be any excuses this weekend about lack of match fitness as last term he prevailed on his seasonal bow.
This year he faces an intriguing contender in Milborne Port magician Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation (11/8) who jumped for fun when scoring on his return in the Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle earlier this month.
Now, on paper that performance was nothing special – he only beat Count Meribel by two and a quarter lengths and as Twiston-Davies, who also tutors that rival, quite rightly says, he’d have to be hopeful that Bristol De Mai is much better than his stable companion.
But it was the manner of Lostintranslation’s victory that was visually breath taking. His agility had luminaries of the winter sport like Henrietta Knight literally purring.
She reckons that jumping-wise, he is the best 3m chaser around. And coming from the lady that saddled fragile three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup Best Mate to success, there is no better compliment and he is the one to beat.