Cyrname ends Altior's unbeaten run
The king is dead, long live the king. Altior's 19-race unbeaten sequence was finally brought to an end yesterday when Nicky Henderson's star chaser was beaten two and a half lengths by Cyrname in the Christy 1965 Chase on a slate-grey afternoon at the Berkshire racecourse.
If it had gone to script Altior, who was backed into 1-3 favouritism, would have joined the tall, front-running seven-year-old Cyrname at the second last for a battle royal best-man-wins contest up the straight.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
But the reality of it was that the writing was on the wall four out when Nico de Boinville began pushing the favourite and he could never land a blow at Paul Nicholls' chaser over the last half-mile.
Three out Altior needed a slap down the neck but the response was not electric as it invariably was over two miles and the nine-year-old merely plugged on behind his younger rival, finishing a very tired horse. But if Altior was shattered, it was not a patch on his connections.
As a litmus test as to whether Altior stayed the two-mile five-furlong trip it came up neutral - it did not really prove that he got it and yet you could not say he failed to stay it.
But Cyrname and Harry Cobden controlled the race throughout and, if it did not look like they were going a great gallop, the fact that the third runner Solomon Grey was soon 25 lengths behind them suggested otherwise and the attritional conditions sapped Altior of his trademark finishing flourish.
Cyrname is now 2-1 favourite with the sponsors, Ladbrokes, for the King George and down to 10-1 for the Gold Cup even though going left-handed has not been his strong point so far. However he is ironing out all his other foibles at such a rate that Cheltenham in March could well be worth a try.
"He's won round Kempton, it's the right way round for him, it's a flat track and he's settling all the time," said Nicholls, nominating the King George as his next start, afterwards.
"He did a beautiful gallop at Wincanton two weeks ago - a year ago we couldn't have done that. I thought he would be hard to beat but we were taking on a monster so we could never be confident."
He added: "Getting him mentally right has been the key. He was very nearly unmanageable but halfway through last season he started to believe in us.
"He's huge, he needed time and running him in those two-mile races he was trying to do it all on one breath. Over hurdles he would bolt to the start and bolt to the first but Rome wasn't built in a day and sometimes it takes two or three years to learn how to train a horse.
"Altior has been amazing for the game but they all get beat eventually as Big Buck's did. He ran a good race though - they are two special horses."
Cobden, who will now have to make what Nicholls called a "manful" decision between this horse and last year's winner, Clan Des Obeaux, in the King George, was most surprised at how the previously free-running Cyrname had matured to the point where he was actually worried at points in the race that he was too relaxed.
"I could hear Altior every step of the way," he said. "That why I wanted to stride on down the back and try and outstay him. He's really relaxing. Some of the time I was half-niggling him - last year he was almost un-holdable - and he jumped straight as a die."
Henderson was unclear quite what to make of Altior's performance or where he goes from here.
"Fair play, the best horse and the fittest horse won on the day," he said. "He got very tired and it didn't tell us whether he stayed. We'll have to sit down and think about it and see how quickly he gets over it. It was hard work in that ground at a good gallop - as simple as that."
Changing of the guard was also the theme up at Haydock where Colin Tizzard's Lostintranslation was promoted to 3-1 Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite after coming out on top in a terrific finish to the Betfair Chase with Bristol de Mai, winner of the race for the previous two years.
Robbie Power was content to sit last of the four runners before making his move in the straight. He and Bristol de Mai, the other joint favourite, were in the air together at the last two fences but the younger chaser galloped home a length and a half on top.
"Bristol de Mai is a very good horse round here," said winning jockey Robbie Power, "so that was a brilliant performance to beat him. We're dreaming of the Gold Cup and roll-on the King George."
Meanwhile, Laurina is clear favourite for next year's Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival with most bookmakers after making a perfect start to her career over fences at Gowran Park.
Always jumping well in the hands of Paul Townend, the Willie-Mullins-trained favourite moved into the lead before the home turn, passing the post with eight lengths in hand.
"That was a very good first run over fences," said Mullins. "She showed a good bit of toe, albeit against a three-mile horse. She is one to look forward to with the long-range plan probably the new mares' chase at Cheltenham in 2021!"
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.
Sunday Indo Sport