You don’t train over 3,000 winners without knowing a thing or two about race planning, so the conundrum that Paul Nicholls finds himself in this week with regards to the weekend destination of Cyrname is a particularly intriguing one.
So we should all be paying close attention to the decision of Nicholls and Cyrname’s owner, Johnny de la Hey, because it might just have ramifications on the way many people go about their everyday punting.
Cyrname, with an official rating of 176, will either go to Ascot for the Sodexo Gold Cup where he will concede upwards of 15lb to all of his rivals or head to Grade 2 Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase where he would be facing Charlie Hall rivals on significantly better terms than he would do in a handicap.
But it’s not as simple as that – far from it. Cyrname, like his owner, has developed a love affair with Ascot and has shown all of his best form at the Berkshire track, not least when inflicting a first defeat on the mighty Altior almost 12 months ago. Cyrname is the highest rated horse in the country thanks to his exploits on right-handed tracks.
Cyrname hasn’t raced on a left-handed circuit since he was beaten in the Big Buck’s Celebration Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April 2018, with connections repeatedly choosing to ignore widespread calls for the horse to be given a chance to show whether he can produce his best form on a left-handed course, most notably in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
In a way, connections have backed themselves into a bit of a corner with Cyrname now. If they decide to swerve the Charlie Hall it can only be because of the concerns about the course, given the otherwise favourable conditions of the race. Indeed, if Cyrname doesn’t go to Wetherby on Saturday, it’s hard to see a scenario where he would be sent left-handed.
Nicholls’ Thought Process
But more importantly, this decision will also give us an insight into Nicholls’ thought process when it comes to the task of giving weight away in a handicap.
Weight stops trains – so they say, but it clearly doesn’t stop class, as demonstrated by Nicholls’ own Frodon at Cheltenham only last weekend. The Ditcheat trainer has saddled 12 horses rated 169 or higher in handicaps since 1997 and four of them have won, including the mighty Denman when winning his second Hennessy Gold Cup.
These examples suggest a few things but most significantly they tell us that the eleven-time champion trainer doesn’t believe it’s as difficult to shoulder big weights in such races if the horse has enough class.
If Cyrname heads to Ascot it tells me that he places more value in the nature of the course the horse runs at than the specific weights and measures of the race. It adds foundation to the ‘horses for courses’ adage, if indeed it were needed.
And that’s what punters should be taking from this. If an eleven-time champion trainer values something as fundamental as course form greater than the actual weights and measures of a race, then why are punters so obsessed with a few pounds here or there in any given race on any given day? After all, there is a good deal that needs to go right in long distance handicap chases for a horse to produce its best. A 5lb pull in the weights with a rival goes out of the window if the recipient ploughs the first fence.
Nicholls is a master of his profession and if he sends Cyrname to Ascot on Saturday he is basically telling us all that weights and measures aren't the be all and end all that so many punters believe them to be.
All Eyes On Down Royal
This weekend’s Down Royal meeting is always hugely informative and there is no doubt that Envoi Allen is the star attraction as he makes his chasing debut.
The beginners chase on Friday has been the source of rich source of Cheltenham Festival winners in recent years, with Bostons Angel, Benefficient and Samcro all going on to glory at Prestbury Park in March.
There is every chance that the unbeaten Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner can continue that fine run but he faces just five rivals, none of which will provide any serious challenge to the red-hot favourite providing he jumps proficiently.
It will be a shock if Envoi Allen doesn’t make a smooth transition to chasing, but stablemate Abacadabras doesn't have it so easy and will need to be near the top of his game if he is to make a winning return in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle.
Abacadabras is a general 5/1 second favourite to be Champion Hurdler in March but expect him to usurp Epatante in ante-post lists if he manages to give weight and a beating to respected rivals like Aspire Tower and Sixshooter, who looked a horse firmly on the up when running away with a Punchestown contest earlier this month.
It could end up being the Gordon Elliott show at Down Royal because not only is he set to unleash a host of unexposed potential stars over the two days, he also has three of the top four in the betting for the feature Ladbrokes Champion Chase on Saturday.
Delta Work looks the obvious one there but it will be fascinating to see how Presenting Percy fares on his first start since moving to Elliott from Pat Kelly.