Cheltenham Races

Five Key Questions ahead of Altior v Cyrname

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Cyrname is set to lock horns with Altior at Ascot on Saturday.
Cyrname is set to lock horns with Altior at Ascot on Saturday.

Ahead of a stellar weekend of racing at Haydock and Ascot, Alex Stearn looks at the five key talking points surrounding the action...

Will he stay?

Ascot. 14.05. Every set of eyes in the racing world will be on the start of the Christy 1965 Chase, and ready to see the answer of the question that everyone has been asking since it was documented that Altior will be stepping up beyond two and a quarter miles for the first time in his career. Will he stay? 

Remarkably, Altior heads into a contest without the billing of being the best horse in the race on ratings, according to the BHA, which is bordering on unbelievable. Handicappers have to react to performance, and rightly so otherwise the system wouldn’t work - but come on, how can a horse that has won his last 19 starts, including nine Grade 1’s, not be the highest-rated chaser in the country? Don’t get me wrong, Cyrname’s performance in the Ascot Chase over this course and distance was visually impressive and warranted an increase in his rating from 165, but to rate him higher than Altior, who hasn’t had a horse finish within a length and a half of him in four years is something quite extraordinary. 

If Cyrname is to prove his rating right, he won’t get a better opportunity than he has on Saturday, with race conditions strongly in his favour - a C&D that saw him put up his career best, going right handed, a small field which he can dominate knowing he stays the trip strongly and ground that has seen him produce his best performances to date.  Despite this, his record when fresh leaves a lot to be desired. After breaks of over 200 days, he’s never finished closer than third and has to buck that trend off the back of a 280 day lay-off. But, he’s never had to be prepared for a Grade 1 either so his master trainer could have him finely-tuned to show his true colours. 

However, his best is likely to come up short if we see the real Altior on his return. There aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe Altior, and the fact connections want to add another trophy to what must be a rather substantial mantelpiece, shows just how much they believe in his ability. Nicky Henderson has said this week that he worries about the extra distance based on his work at home as he is electric on the gallops, but in a race, Nico de Boinville has often hinted that he’d stay, and that comes after he’s only had to ask for what we’ve seen as his top gear. He must feel that Altior’s reserves haven’t properly been stretched and that serves up a tasty proposition, if he can travel with his usual zest whilst being efficient in his jumping. His last visit to Ascot adds another question to an already intriguing contest given how he jumped markedly left-handed.

Cyrname only has one way of racing and that will put a marker on his back that Altior and Nico De Boinville can take aim at. If they are both travelling within themselves when swinging into the straight, we are in for an immense battle. Like much of the racing world, I can’t wait for this contest and the questions that it will answer, but a win for Altior would pose another of racing’s most common questions, where next?  

Five from five for Bristol De Mai?

There’s something about Haydock that brings out the best in Bristol De Mai, and he searches for his hat-trick in the Betfair Chase on Saturday. Before his success last year, he had looked like he needed Haydock and soft ground to be seen to his best, but he produced a another career-best effort to see off a previous Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in Native River. His trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, has always held him in the highest regard, and although he didn’t live up to his Haydock levels elsewhere, last year saw him repeat the form elsewhere. 

He fell early in the King George and then headed straight to Cheltenham for the showpiece, where he was an excellent third behind Al Boum Photo, when holding every chance two out before not quite staying on strongly enough up the hill. Aintree beckoned, but not in the Grand National after being lumbered with top weight, and he was beaten in the Betway Bowl by Kemboy - but that may have come too soon after Cheltenham. He bids to make it five wins from as many starts at the track tomorrow afternoon, but will need a five-star performance to do so. 

The new challenger to the staying sphere is Colin Tizzard’s exciting Lostintranslation. He looks to have stamina in abundance, and his novice chasing season saw him add a Grade 1 success to his name when comfortably beating the RSA Chase winner Topofthegame at Aintree. His trainer has top 3-mile chasers in abundance, and given the regard that he is held in, it would be no surprise to see him pose a pretty serious challenge to Bristol De Mai. Lostintranslation made his seasonal reappearance at Carlisle just under three weeks ago and put in a remarkable round of jumping, barely touching a twig on his way round before drawing clear whilst hard on the bridle after pinging the last. His jumping is an asset to be desired by many of his competition, but given how he sometimes gives the fences a bit too much daylight, he could lose valuable ground at the fences compared to his more seasoned, slicker rivals. 

Third in is Paul Nicholls’ fabulous Frodon, ridden by his partner in crime, Bryony Frost. The harmony between the pair is second to none, partly due to their fearless nature when attacking fences and the admirable fact they both wear their heart of their sleeve. He was highly fancied to make a winning return to action in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree before the sun took the emphasis off jumping after a number of fences had to be omitted. That rather sealed his fate, but would have put him spot on for this contest and despite lacking the potential of Lostintranslation and the form, to an extent, of Bristol De Mai, he may be the one that is overlooked in the market.

A demolition job, like his performance two years ago when beating Cue Card by 57 lengths, looks highly unlikely but the result looks set to be the same as of 2017 and 2018. Bristol De Mai has the class required for this contest, and with the risk that Lostintranslation may give his fences a bit too much air, he could well take a little bit of distance out of him, a potentially telling factor at the business end of the race. 

Does the Ascot Hurdle fit the Caps plans? 

If The Cap Fits makes his return from his summer break for Harry Fry in the Ascot Hurdle on Saturday, after what was a breakthrough season last year, culminating in his first Grade 1 success in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree. Harry Fry will be hoping that he can continue where he left off, and develop into a contender for the Stayers’ Hurdle come March. He’ll be hoping to kickstart that bid by defending his crown in this race, though it’s worth noting that he arrived here last term with a run under his belt. However, the son of Milan has a good record when fresh, having only failed to make a winning reappearance on one of his three attempts. His career best came in the Liverpool Hurdle when he was attempting three miles for the first time, which is where his future surely lies, but he does have the tactical speed to cope with a stiff two and a half miles at Ascot, giving him strong claims of returning straight to the winners enclosure.

He faces off against an old rival in the form of Roksana, who finished a head back in second at Aintree, and the Skelton team will be looking for revenge. She heads into the contest having just failed to reel in Top Notch at Aintree two weeks ago, but will be a likely sort to have improved for that run and will pose a big threat. Nicky Henderson also throws Call Me Lord into the contest, who currently heads the market on receipt of weight from If The Cap Fits. He looked a typically smart French recruit for connections, who are often so successful with such types, from his first couple of starts on these shores, but hasn’t progressed quite as much since as those performances suggested were possible. He was scarcely seen last season - so must have had a set-back in his work - but would pose a threat if returning at his very best. Overall, Harry Fry’s charge rounded off last season with a career best and given the drop back in trip, it’s interesting him fitted him with cheekpieces again, as they may be key to outlining their expectations for him kicking off what could be a successful season. 

Ascot 14:40

Coral Hurdle (Grade 2) (Registered As The Ascot Hurdle)

  • 4YO plus, 6 Runners
  • Hurdle, Turf
  • Winner £56,950, 2nd £21,370, 3rd £10,700, 4th £5,330, 5th £2,680, 6th £1,340
  • Distance 2m 3f 58y
  • Going Soft

Prediction:

Our Verdict

IF THE CAP FITS emerged as a leading Stayers' Hurdle contender when denying Roksana over 3m at the Grand National meeting but he isn't devoid of speed, as he showed when landing this prize 12 months ago. He did have a run under his belt on that occasion, but has won fresh in the past and looks primed for another profitable campaign. Roksana lost little in defeat behind Top Notch at Aintree a couple of weeks ago, so will be a big threat again. Call Me Lord hasn't had much racing during the past 18 months but is blessed with the necessary talent to figure in the finish here.

Stats filter

Course Winner
Distance Winner
Won Last Time Out
Ran Within 30 Days
Number
Runner
Tips arrows-switch ico
Odds arrows-switch ico
  • Dark blue and yellow (quartered), striped sleeves
    1
    If The Cap Fits
    • Sean Bowen
    • H Fry
    • 7 years, 11-6
    • Form: 1/21321-

    Winner of five hurdle races and two NH flat races from 2m to 3m 1f on ground varying from good to soft. A winner at 7-1 in a Grade 1 hurdle race in the Group 1 Ryanair Stayers Hurdle at Aintree over 3m 1f (good) on his latest outing in April, beating Roksana by a head.

    Pointers:

    • Course winner
    • Distance Winner

    Tipped by:

    • Robin Goodfellow - Daily Mail
    • Marlborough - Telegraph
    • Templegate - The Sun
    • Rob Wright - The Times
  • Red, light green epaulets and sleeves, light green cap, red star
    2
    Le Patriote
    • R Johnson
    • Dr R D P Newland
    • 7 years, 11-4
    • Form: 1P/811-1

    Winner of six hurdle races from 2m to 2m 4f on good and soft ground. A winner at 20-1 in a Grade 3 hurdle race in the Group 3 Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle at Haydock over 2m (good) on his latest outing in May, beating Project Bluebook by 1l.

    Pointers:

    • Course winner
    • Distance Winner
    • Won Last Time Out

    Tipped by:

    • The Scout - Daily Express
    • Jason Heavey - The Star
  • Beige, purple sleeves
    3
    Blu Cavalier
    • J J O'Neill
    • A Stronge
    • 9 years, 11-0
    • Form: 1/23235-

    He has won three hurdle races and a NH flat race from 1m 7f to 2m 4f on ground varying from good to heavy. Well beaten at 20-1 behind Younevercall when fifth of 7 on his latest outing in a Grade 2 hurdle race in the Group 2 bet365 Select Hurdle at Sandown over 2m 5f (good) in April.

    Pointers:

    • Distance Winner
  • Emerald green, dark green sleeves, dark green and emerald green quartered cap
    4
    Call Me Lord
    • Nico de Boinville
    • N J Henderson
    • 6 years, 11-0
    • Form: 1321/73-

    Winner of five hurdle races from 2m to 2m 5f on ground varying from good to heavy. Third of 13 behind Malaya beaten 5l at 3-1fav on his latest outing in a Grade 3 hurdle race in the Group 3 Matchbook Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle at Sandown over 2m (soft) in March.

    Naps:

    • Matt Polley - Ipswich Star
    • Spotlight - Racing Post
    • Fortunatus - Sheffield Star

    Tipped by:

    • James Burn - LAMBOURN
    • Steve Mason - RP Ratings
    • Mel Cullinan - SPOTLIGHT
    • TOPSPEED
    • The Guardian
  • Emerald green, red stars, red and yellow check sleeves, emerald green cap, yellow star
    5
    Lil Rockerfeller
    • J E Moore
    • N B King
    • 8 years, 11-0
    • Form: 3530-32

    Has won five hurdle races and three chases from 2m to 3m on ground varying from good to soft. Beaten 9l by Ballyoptic when second of 7 at 3-1fav on his latest outing in a chase at Chepstow over 3m (soft) last month.

    Pointers:

    • Course winner
    • Distance Winner

    Tipped by:

    • Newsboy - Daily Mirror
  • Pink, royal blue chevron, halved sleeves, royal blue cap
    6
    Roksana
    • Harry Skelton
    • D Skelton
    • 7 years, 10-13
    • Form: 12/312-2

    She has won four hurdle races from 2m 3f to 2m 4f on ground varying from good to heavy. Beaten a neck by Top Notch when second of 5 at 11-10fav on her latest outing in a hurdle race at Aintree over 2m 4f (soft) earlier this month.

    Pointers:

    • Distance Winner

    Tipped by:

    • Garry Owen - Daily Record
    • POSTDATA

Can Jarvey put up a performance worthy of dining at the top table? 

Fergal O’Brien is a man in the finest of form since the National Hunt season kicked off, and he hasn’t shown any signs of that relenting recently, so everything he saddles looks worthy of a mention. One of his string looks to have an excellent chance of adding another winner to his tally for the year, namely Jarveys Plate. He’s due to be line up the in Graduation Chase at Haydock off the back of a clear career best on his seasonal reappearance last month. That came at Chepstow, when he was the outsider of the three up against the highly-touted Reserve Tank, and the near five-length gap he put between that himself and the favourite suggests that it wasn’t a fluke. Reserve Tank has since come out and boosted the form when winning a Grade 2 at Wincanton, and if that form is to be taken literally, then Jarveys Plate could well become a leading force in the novice chasing division. 

Midnight Shadow looks to be the one to give him most to think about stepping back up to a more suitable trip on his third start over fences. His first start saw him finish a distant third to two smart prospects at Carlisle over two miles last month, before returning to that C&D in a similar event last time out. Sue Smith’s charge was leading going over the last, but had a heavy fall, costing him what looked a certain success. The weight of the fall and the quick turnaround leaves a big question mark as to whether his jumping will hold up under pressure if his confidence has been affected, however. Activial attempts to regain his crown after being a fortunate winner of this contest last year. There was controversy surrounding the size of the fences at Haydock at this corresponding meeting in 2018, and he was a lucky beneficiary when his closest competitor fell when upsides at the last, allowing him to coast home for an easy success. The form of that can’t be taken literally, but given the experience he has and that he can still compete in these graduation chases, he can’t be written off. But, Ian Williams’ charge would need to have improved again to stop Jarveys Plate – who looks likely to put up a strong performance to give connections the chance to place him into graded company with confidence. 

Mullins or de Bromhead?

Henry de Bromhead is due to send Cheltenham Festival winner Minella Indo chasing after just one season over hurdles. He headed to Prestbury Park an unfancied 50/1 shot but saw out the stiff three miles of the Albert Bartlett to great effect, putting good distance between himself and the opposition, and subsequently proved that to be no fluke when following up in the Punchestown equivalent. 

The betting markets have only quoted him for the Stayers’ Hurdle come March, but connections have potentially put a stop to that with him in line to make his chasing debut at Gowran Park on Saturday. He was first seen in public winning a point-to-point in clear-cut style, suggesting that a bigger future could be forthcoming now chasing, and Henry de Bromhead will be hoping that a repeat success in March will be on the agenda. 

He looks likely to have a battle on his hands though, as Willie Mullins puts his star mare on the front line, namely Laurina. She excelled in two starts at this trip at the beginning of 2019, looking as if the world was her oyster, but connections dropped her back in trip for the Champion Hurdle - and that backfired, as she never was able to land a blow. Ruby Walsh was quoted to say that she is in fine form at home on ITV on Sunday, and given she is a strong and lengthy mare, fences could eek out more improvement. This promises to be an informative race over the intermediate trip of two and a half miles, and whatever each of the principals do, it won’t be the height of their abilities in this sphere. 

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