WILL HOFFMANN cannot hide his enthusiasm for the big clash between Cyrname and Altior on Saturday, as he explains in his regular Friday evening column for BetConnect.
These columns have tended towards the big news stories of the week which, for the last month at least, have been controversies in and around the racing world. This week, the top story is the racing itself.
The Betfair Chase has long been one of the best Grade 1s of the season so, if you were coming in cold, you’d probably be surprised to hear it’s barely going to get a mention. And if you knew your racing history, the 1965 Chase getting top-billed in its place would surprise you even more. The racing world loves a showdown and, in the shape of Altior vs Cyrname, we’ve been richly rewarded.
Altior lacks a turn of foot
Altior has been the biggest name in National Hunt racing for several years now, and understandably so. Unbeaten over obstacles, he’s built up a winning streak of 19, the majority of those victories coming in Grade 1 company. Never particularly flash – the result of lacking tactical speed – part of his appeal has been the fact he looks in trouble at points before overhauling his rivals with a powerful finishing kick.
I’ve long been interested in the different types of pace which horses possess and I’ve written extensively about it. Altior is a good example of a horse who travels pretty well, finishes even better but lacks a turn of foot between the two. His ability is such that, for a while, that fact often didn’t register with people.
Now at the age of nine, whether a regression in ability or a regression of speed, that weakness has become more pronounced. He was workmanlike in the Champion Chase and similarly so at Sandown. I kept my own ratings and, even a generous analysis of Altior’s 2018-2019 runs would struggle to see him breach 170. In previous seasons, I had him running to half-a-stone beyond that.
Tendency to jump left
There are three concerns for Altior backers on Saturday. The trip, the track and Cyrname. Two of those are unknowns, the track is a known unknown. He’s won at Ascot on several occasions but, of late, right-handed tracks have brought on a tendency to jump to his left. This fact was originally explained by connections as having been caused by Special Tiara, but that now looks an unsatisfactory explanation. He made every yard at Sandown, and still jumped out on to one side. His ability has allowed him to overcome that but, up in trip against the best horse he’s ever faced, it won’t this time.
Nonetheless, I think the trip is far from a negative. In fact, I think it could even be a net gain for him. Stride analysis is a good guide toward determining the ideal trip for a horse. One might be forgiven for thinking that, as a Champion Chase winner, Altior strides quickly. That’s not the case. In fact, if you were analysing Altior on spec, you’d probably be worried the intermediate trip wasn’t far enough as he strides like a stayer.
Cyrname simply better
Of course there are exceptions to rules. Some horses stride slowly but don’t stay and some stride quickly and get further than one would expect. Altior could well be one of those. But that evidence can be supplemented by the visual impression he creates, and the clock too.
Where a horse is hitting a flat spot over a distance, it’s a sign that he needs more emphasis placed on stamina and less on speed. This contest will allow that. And a quick look at the clock would tell you that Altior is always doing his best work late. No, I don’t think it’ll be the trip which beats Altior. I think it’ll be the fact that Cyrname is now a superior animal.
What the clock says
The danger with this take is that we’re relying on a single piece of evidence when assessing Cyrname’s win in the Ascot Chase in February. That said, however you approach it, it is an incredibly compelling piece of evidence. If you’re a pure form analyst, he beat 160-something, Grade 1 horses in Waiting Patiently, Fox Norton and Politologue by the thick end of 20-lengths. If you’re interested in clock analysis, it was arguably even more impressive.
I’ve included a simplified version of the spreadsheet I use to calculate my ratings above with Cyrname, and the other chases on the card that day. The first number records the time taken from the first to three out for Cyrname (and for the same period in the other races) and then from three out to the line.
Cyrname was over four seconds quicker than the least of those performances, Mister Malarky, to three out and then four seconds again from there to the line (despite being heavily eased). Compared with Clan Des Obeaux, he was over four seconds swifter early and only marginally slower late. Clan Des Obeaux disappointed at the festival, but this was a career PB for him and saw him with ideal conditions beating a smart horse in Terrefort by 11-lengths.
Best of the season
Now, adjustments have to be made for the fact that Cyrname was running over three furlongs shorter than the others but, even with that in mind, I rated his performance at 180. The best single performance of the entire season. Ten pounds superior to anything Altior achieved last year.
Now, unlike Altior, who has repeatedly proved his worth, Cyrname’s only gone to these highs once. Perhaps he can’t do it again, perhaps his quirks will get the better of him, perhaps Altior will reach new heights up in trip. Perhaps the very pacey Solomon Grey will put Cyrname out of his comfort zone. (The last point is just about the biggest concern I have, for what it’s worth).
All I know is, Cyrname’s performance in the Ascot Chase was one of the best I’ve recorded in close to a decade I’ve been keeping sectional ratings. With everything in his favour again here, including a more generous price than his rival, I think Cyrname is going to lower Altior’s colours. The King is dead. Long live the King.
Advised bet: 2.05 Ascot – Back Cyrname at 11/10 or bigger