Altior has set off as an odds-on shot for 13 of his 14 wins over fences and he is odds-on once again, at a top price of 8-11, for his much-anticipated seasonal debut in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday. It is the biggest price Altior has been since he started at evens for the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2018 – if you don’t count the 15-2 in-running when he appeared to be struggling a circuit later – and many punters will need no further invitation to wade in head down.
But he is, of course, those odds for a reason, and there are strong grounds for arguing that Saturday’s Grade Two contest will put Altior’s unbeaten record over jumps under greater strain than any of the nine Grade Ones he has added to his record so far. In fact, if you set out to design a race and an opponent to finally end Altior’s 19-race winning streak, the contest would probably involve a significant step up in trip at the start of the season, and the horse would be the absolute spit of Paul Nicholls’s Cyrname.
On Timeform’s ratings, Cyrname has 7lb to find, but the list of genuinely positive reasons to side with Nicky Henderson’s chaser does not stretch much further than that. The BHA’s handicapper rates Cyrname 1lb superior to Altior, whose only previous outing beyond two miles was in a match over 18 furlongs at pancake-flat Kempton. On Saturday, he is due to go up to 2m 5f at Ascot, which is much more demanding, against a horse that put up a career-best performance last time out – over 2m 5f at Ascot.
Cyrname’s last two wins, in fact, were over Saturday’s track and trip, he is two years younger than Altior and his time-figure in last February’s Ascot Chase has been bettered by Altior only once, nearly two years ago at Cheltenham. To top it all, Cyrname is a bold-jumping front-runner, who will ensure that Altior faces the sternest possible test on his first start since April. He has yet to record a win on his seasonal debut, but for an 11-8 chance, Cyrname still seems to have an awful lot going for him.
It is very rare to get a head-to-head such as this between two outstanding chasers anywhere other than Cheltenham or Aintree in the spring. In fact, the 60 minutes between 2.05 and 3.05 on Saturday – which also takes in the Grade One Betfair Chase at Haydock Park and the Coral Hurdle at Ascot – could be as good as it gets this side of March. Then again, Saturday’s clash of the titans might set up an even better race for the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, when Cyrname and Altior could conceivably be joined by Clan Des Obeaux, Lostintranslation and more.
Tuesday’s jumping action could almost be a different code entirely by comparison, although Barntown (2.30), who looked like a certain winner when he departed at the final flight on his handicap debut at Lingfield last week, should make amends when he returns there off the same mark.
Most of the prize-money, though, is on the Flat at Kempton, where Mendoza (2.50) looks big at around 13-2 for the seven-furlong handicap having put up a career-best performance to win over track and trip last time. Bear Force One (2.20) is another improving sort to look out for on the same card, while Good Tidings (3.20) is a worthy favourite for the final of the London Middle Distance Series.
12.30 Courtandbould 1.00 Karakoram 1.30 Yaa Salaam 2.00 Troubled Soul 2.30 Barntown 3.00 Clondaw Anchor 3.30 Easter Gold
1.10 Skeaping 1.40 Black Tulip 2.10 Paricolor 2.40 Imperial Aura 3.10 Master Vintage 3.40 Perfect Moment
1.20 Beauvais 1.50 Book Review 2.20 Bear Force One (nb) 2.50 Mendoza (nap) 3.20 Good Tidings 3.50 Point In Time 4.25 Hart Stopper
4.15 Story Of Light 4.45 Summeronsevenhills 5.15 Bavardages 5.45 Magic Dust 6.15 Zefferino 6.45 Sonnet Rose 7.15 Affluence 7.45 Amjaady