Showdown with Cyrname likely to prove a real test of Altior’s stamina
Ascot feature the longest trip the two-mile champion has faced in his impressive career
Nico de Boinville riding Altior clear the last to win The bet365 Clebration Steeple Chase at Sandown Park in April. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty
Much of jump racing’s pre-Christmas top quality action can have a ‘phoney war’ atmosphere but there’s nothing bogus about the anticipation surrounding the eagerly anticipated clash between Altior and Cyrname at Ascot on Saturday.
The Christy 1965 Chase is the longest trip the outstanding two mile champion Altior has faced to date in his record-breaking career.
On the verge of a 20th consecutive victory, the stretch out in distance, ahead of an intended try at three miles in the King George at Christmas, is a rare and bold sporting step towards finding out just how good Altior is.
If the Nicky Henderson-trained horse ultimately proves as dominant over longer distances as he is at the minimum trip then comparisons to iconic names such as Kauto Star and Desert Orchid could be valid.
Those horses were freakishly talented enough to be outstanding across the distance spectrum, ensuing their legendary status in the history of the game.
Instead of following the modern trend of sticking to the most winnable race, and continuing to clean up at two miles, Altior’s connections have opted to be brave and back their horse to be in the freakish bracket.
Even Henderson has his doubt that such a speedy animal can also truly stay and a clash with Cyrname is hardly a gentle exploration of Altior’s stamina.
No all-time-great aspirations are held for Cyrname but a 17-length Grade One rout over the course and distance last February indicates Paul Nicholls’ runner has his optimum conditions.
That performance has Cyrname officially rated 1lb higher than Altior, an indication perhaps of how Altior has been winning within himself.
Should future King George and Gold Cup ambitions be realistic there’s going to be no more of that.
There is a long history of racing head-to-heads failing to live up expectations and when anti-climax lurks at every obstacle Saturday’s heat has the potential to fall flat. The intriguing thought though is that not only could an outstanding duel unfold there’s also the potential for a truly rare talent to emerge.
More hard-bitten observers will suspect real staying championship clues will emerge less than an hour later at Haydock.
Just four line up for the Betfair Chase including the defending champion, and last March’s Gold Cup third, Bristol De Mai.
Also lining up for the first leg of a million pounds Triple Crown chase bonus is Frodon and his popular jockey Bryony Frost.
Here too though it is the unknown element that could be most exciting as last season’s leading novice Lostintranslation properly takes on senior opposition for the first time.
If for once the more lucrative Grade One prize has to concede the spotlight to Ascot’s Grade Two then Robbie Power’s presence on Lostintranslation underlines how in demand the Irish jockey is.
The 37-year-old’s link with top English trainer Colin Tizzard means he has criss-crossed the Irish Sea a number of times already this week.
Power’s three other rides at Haydock include Eight And Bob for Willie Mullins in a valuable handicap hurdle while a handful of mounts at Navan on Sunday include just one for his main employer, Jessica Harrington.
Instead his presence on Gigginstown’s ‘panel’ of riders is emphasised by Power keeping the ride on Abacadabras who steps up half a mile for the Grade Three Monksfield Novice Hurdle.
Power also has three rides for businessman Brian Acheson’s expanding Robcour operation, led by Chris’s Dream who is among the leading fancies for Sunday’s €100,000 highlight, the Ladbrokes Troytown Chase.
The locally-born rider wants a first win in the prestigious handicap which was dominated for four years by Gordon Elliott until Gigginstown’s Tout Est Permis won last year. Elliott has seven chances to resume normal service but numerically he’s trumped by JP McManus.
The owner has nine declarations including the long-time ante-post favourite Portmore Lough and former high-class hurdler Tower Bridge.
With conditions sure to be testing the topweights Discorama and Winter Escape especially face a tough task and off 10.9 one of McManus’s outsiders Fitzhenry could be an each way possibility.
Barry Geraghty might have to skip more than breakfast to do 10.9 but Fitzhenry put up an encouraging warm-up over hurdles at Galway last time.
Redhotfillypeppers is Willie Mullins’s sole chance of a first Troytown win in 10 years although the champion trainer’s primary weekend focus is likely to be on another mare.
Saturday’s Gowran card will have to pass an 8.00 inspection due to an adverse weather forecast. If it gets the go-ahead however, Laurina is due to line up over fences for the first time in a Beginners Chase that also features last season’s dual-Grade One winner, Minella Indo.
It’s a mouth-watering clash between two proven Cheltenham festival winners who appears to have boundless potential over fences.
Castlebrook is another promising young chaser who goes in a five-runner conditions chase at Gowran.
Mengli Khan sets an official 154 rating standard but was well beaten at Down Royal earlier this month so Getabird first-time out might ultimately prove the solution.