Altior vs Cyrname, the most anticipated clash of the 2019-20 Jumps Season, is on – but have bookmakers made a mistake with their opening prices for Saturday’s Ascot showdown?
Dual champion chaser Altior is as short as 8/13 to win the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday, which, on the face of it, would appear a fair enough price for a horse that has never been beaten over obstacles and threatens to be even better over this longer trip than he has been over 2m.
However, this is no ordinary renewal of this Grade 2 contest because for all Altior’s brilliance, he faces a rival with an official rating 1lb superior to his own.
Not only that, Cyrname earned that rating with a quite stunning Grade 1 success over the very same course and distance as Saturday’s clash, and this is the rub: if Cyrname produces that level of performance on his seasonal return, then Altior will need to post a career-best to get the better of him.
Altior has won every one of his 14 chase starts and his record first-time back is outstanding, but if one horse is capable of taking Nicky Henderson’s star out of his comfort zone, then it is almost certainly Cyrname on his ‘home patch’.
Cyrname is the equine epitome of exuberance – he is an ‘away and gone’ merchant from the very moment the tape goes up. His jumping is almost flawless and he is two years younger than Altior, so his best days might well still be ahead of him.
And it’s that ‘comfort zone’ issue that is perhaps the key angle into this race and its prices.
Altior Can Be Beaten
Altior’s unbeaten record hasn’t been without scares. He has looked in trouble in both of his Queen Mother Champion Chase victories, while he has also shown a tendency to jump to his left on occasions, most notably in this year’s Clarence House Chase (at Ascot), but his class edge has always got him through.
But that class edge doesn’t exist against the Paul Nicholls-trained rocket and there is also the question mark over Altior’s stamina. Sure, he has often shaped like a horse that will stay further, but he still has to prove he can do it, and on a stiff track like Ascot.
The pace pressure applied by the relentless Cyrname will magnify every chink in Altior’s armour. If Altior forfeits ground at the obstacles or hits a flat spot at any point, he’ll lose so much ground that it will require a Lazarus-like comeback up the Ascot straight.
Let’s not forget, Cyrname had raced freely through last season’s Ascot Chase but still looked jet-propelled from the home turn as he sprinted clear of Grade 1 performers like Waiting Patiently, Fox Norton and Politologue.
And those placed names are important because the last one, Politologue, was only beaten a length-and-three quarters by Altior in the Champion Chase on his next start, so a strict line through that horse gives Cyrname a huge edge over the odds-on market leader.
So, with all that in mind, the 11/8 about Cyrname looks terrific value. Of course, he may not win, but I would rather be taking that than the odds-on prices about Altior, who will surely trade odds-against at some point in this race – and quite possibly even before they have reached the first obstacle should Cyrname get a flyer.
As with so many of the big boxing pair-ups, the opening salvo might just be the prelude to an even bigger rematch, and the stage for that will surely be Kempton on Boxing Day.
But if Altior is to earn a crack at King George VI Chase glory, he is going to have to take down the machine that is Cyrname – and I for one don’t think he’s an odds-on chance to do so.