Cyrname has edged closer to Altior in the betting for Saturday’s head-to-head in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot, as Nicky Henderson admitted the step up to 21 furlongs is “a big question” for his unbeaten chaser. Altior’s trainer added that “he doesn’t look like a horse that is going to stay [on the gallops] as he has got such a ridiculous amount of speed”.
On Tuesday morning, several major firms were offering 11-8 about Cyrname, who is officially rated 1lb ahead of Altior, but that had dried up to a general 5-4 by midday. Altior remains top-priced at 8-11 with BetVictor, while the odds suggest that Top Notch, who will get 2lb from the market leaders, is their only credible rival among three possible opponents. Altior’s stable companion is a 16-1 shot.
“He has been in great form and his work has been excellent,” Henderson said. “It is going to be a fascinating clash and it will sort out one thing, who is the top-rated horse? His jumping is so quick and slick, so hopefully his jumping will help him relax, which I hope he does. If he goes into attack mode, it will get very aggressive early on.”
Henderson also suggested “media pressure” had helped to persuade Altior’s connections to step him up in trip, with a further move up to three miles for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day still likely if he comes through Saturday’s assignment.
“Everybody says it is boring watching him go round over two miles, so let’s show us what he can do,” the trainer said. “If you saw him [at exercise] last Friday, you would have thought this can’t be the right thing. It’s just crazy, he has got so many gears and you can’t believe he is a genuine stayer. If he is a stayer, he is the most remarkable horse I’ve ever seen.
“It’s lovely you have two horses like this and people are building it up to be something quite exciting. It’s the sort of clash you do want. If he is a true champion, he has got to be able to do it over a variety of distances and this is where we are testing it. There are a lot of questions to be answered and a lot to prove.”
Henderson was speaking at a media event to promote the Ladbrokes Trophy – the Hennessy, in old money – at Newbury on Saturday week, in which he expects to field four runners, including the current ante-post favourite, OK Corral. OK Corral, with the former champion jockey Tony McCoy in the saddle, was among more than a dozen likely runners at the Ladbrokes Trophy meeting to exercise on the track on Tuesday morning.
Thistlecrack, last year’s runner-up in the King George, was one of four horses from Colin Tizzard’s stable taking part in the gallops, ahead of a possible run in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Friday week.
“After that, all roads lead to the King George,” Joe Tizzard, the trainer’s son and assistant, said. “I’m sure he’ll need the run next week, but it’s to get him bang on [for Kempton]. Hopefully there’s a little bit more left in the tank with him. He’s not getting any younger and physically he’s not easy to train but he’s in good form at the moment so we’re looking forward to him. His run in the King George was the best performance of any of our horses last year, and it’s still there, hopefully.”
Tizzard’s Elegant Escape, who finished second in last year’s Ladbrokes Trophy before going on to win the Welsh Grand National in December, is expected to miss the Grade One Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday in favour of a return to Newbury a week later. With Ascot-bound Altior also among the six five-day entries for the Betfair Chase, the British season’s first Grade One event seems likely to have a field of no more than four runners: Bristol De Mai, Ballyoptic, Frodon and the Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation, who ended last season with a victory in the Grade One Mildmay Novice Chase at Aintree.
“He’s in good nick and I’m looking forward to his next step,” Joe Tizzard said. “He did everything we expected him to do at Carlisle [on 3 November] and now he moves up into the highest league. Three miles suits him. It was the right thing to do over two and a half miles last time, and his novice form got a big boost with Defi Du Seuil [who beat him in last season’s JLT Novice Chase] winning at Cheltenham on Sunday. Hopefully he will take that next step as well.”