Declan Rix

A nine-race card at Ascot on Saturday was made shorter thanks to three classy performances. Here, Declan Rix takes a closer look at the victories of Cyrname, Clan Des Obeaux and Al Dancer, and the ramifications they could have on the Cheltenham Festival.

  • Sunday 17 February
  • Blog

CYR NOW A NAME TO RECOGNISE 

A bumper nine-race card at Ascot on Saturday had a marathon feel about it going into the day. It was the first time I’ve ever attended a meeting with that many races being run. In the past six-race cards always felt too short, eight too many, but three top-class performances played their part in making this Ascot card a doddle to get through.  

Two of the performances came in races that should have taken place last weekend at Newbury – the Betfair Hurdle and the Betfair Denman Chase; the Equine Influenza enforced shutdown of racing meant Newbury’s loss was Ascot’s gain.

The day belonged to Paul Nicholls and Team Ditcheat, who saddled an across the cards eight-timer with five of those coming at Ascot. There were plenty good performances among the eight, but the Ascot Chase winner Cyrname was the undoubted star of the show, winning the Grade 1 Ascot Chase by a facile 17 lengths.

Pre-race, I had concerns about his previous course and distance romp in a class 2 handicap being a bit of a freak result, despite the good winning time suggesting the 21 lengths victory was potentially believable. You always want to see horses back up out of the blue successes like that, and I’ve got to admit, I didn’t see it coming in a warm Grade 1 where all six participants were rated at least 161 and above.

In emphatic style, under Harry Cobden, the son of Nickname simply jumped and galloped his rivals into the ground. It was a phenomenal spectacle to witness and while I wasn’t a believer before the race, I can now confirm I am converted, because the run would appear to be just as good as it looks. Again.

Initially, when the field crossed the line my original feeling was those in behind hadn’t run their races, but surely all of Waiting Patiently (2nd), Fox Norton (3rd) and Politologue (4th) can’t have been miles below peak form, not all three? They certainly weren’t at their very best, but that’s because they were dragged into deep waters from the get-go and slowly drowned up the straight.

Cyrname wins the Betfair Chase
Cyrname leaves a classy field in his wake as he clears the last in the Betfair Ascot Chase

The removal of the hood aid, a tool used to help pacify flighty horses, two starts ago has seemingly helped in the sudden up turn of form. It’s worth remembering Cyrname started his season being beaten (3rd) in the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase at Carlisle before a well-held seven of 13 at Ascot in a handicap on November 24. There were no signs of a Grade 1 horse these days.

Cyrname now looks a different animal however, and on this performance he would be the second-best horse in training behind Altior. Going right-handed clearly suits him better, his record suggests that, but there must be a possibility we are now looking at a new and improved performer who can achieve away from the likes of the right-handed venues of Ascot, Kempton and Sandown.

On the evidence of his two latest starts, it would be a huge shame for a horse of this ability to not be able to compete at the likes of Cheltenham and Aintree, the former especially. The fact connections didn’t enter the seven-year-old in any 2019 Cheltenham Festival races wouldn’t inspire you with confidence in Cyrname adapting to a left-handed track at the highest level, but it would be fantastic to see him supplemented, if he happened to come out of the Ascot Chase in good shape, for the Ryanair.

CLASSY CLAN HAS PERFECT GOLD CUP PREP

Saturday allowed me to get a first-time look in the flesh at Grade 2 Denman Chase winner Clan Des Obeaux, the King George VI Chase hero I was lukewarm on after his Christmas victory. It is easy to see why Paul Nicholls has always been keen on this horse, because there is a seriously impressive presence about him. He is made for chasing and now he has started to fill out and strengthen into his frame, who knows how high he can go.

I’m well aware the seven-year-old was winning at 2/5 on Saturday, but it was still the performance of a high-class, progressive horse, and more importantly, a potential Gold Cup winner. In terms of maybe winning the Gold Cup, this was the perfect prep.

Like Cyrname, it has probably taken me one run more than many to get fully onboard with this horse, but it is clear to me now, Clan Des Obeaux just oozes class. The way he settled, travelled and jumped, along with the ability he showed to cruise past Grade 1-winning novice Terrefort, giving him 3lb, was impressive, and to beat the grey 11 lengths, essentially on the bridle, when not fully tuned, it was a performance right on a par with his King George victory.

This suggests there is even more to come, and with that being said, at this moment in time, Clan Des Obeaux should be at least joint-favourite for the Gold Cup with Presenting Percy, who may not have a run over fences before the festival.

Cheltenham and Cheltenham Festival form, along with guaranteed stamina, is maybe why Presenting Percy continues to sit comfortably ahead of Clan Des Obeaux in the Gold Cup market, which is fair enough, but I wouldn’t be getting too hung up on the fact Paul Nicholls’s horse has yet to win at Cheltenham.

He is clearly a different proposition these days for all he can still jump to his right and may be ideally suited to flat right-handed tracks. The positives of him being a class horse on the up in the care of Paul Nicholls should outweigh the above concerns however, and he now goes to Cheltenham with my full respect.

Let’s just say I’m not as happy with my Presenting Percy ante-post plays as I was this time last week!

SHADES OF TENT AS AL HEADS TO THE SUPREME

We were treated to a pretty smart performance from Al Dancer in the Betfair Hurdle, Nigel Twiston-Davies’s grey going on to bolt up by 3¾ lengths from his field in a quality performance, and time.

It’s quite scary how well the son of Al Namix travels through his races, and it was no difference here, as the six-year-old tanked his way around under Sam Twiston-Davies, still hard on the bridle approaching the last before quickening up to win in the style of a potential Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner.

The victory had all the hallmarks of a horse who will be ideally suited to the Supreme test; strong-travelling ability off a good gallop, fluent hurdling and staying power at the end, all in a marinade of class. It maybe wasn’t the strongest renewal of the race, but he could do no more than win like he did. It is clear this is a horse of serious natural ability and his market position of favourite for the Supreme looks right.

While that is the case, I couldn’t help being reminded of the 2013 Betfair winner, My Tent Or Yours, in Saturday’s victory. Both were six-year-olds winning the race, but more strikingly, and potentially more worryingly, both travel strongly in their races, maybe too strong.

After winning the Betfair, My Tents Or Yours went on to finish second the Supreme as a 15/8 favourite, where he just couldn’t get passed the game winner Champagne Fever having taken his customary strong hold throughout.

Giving how lit-up Al Dancer already is in wearing a hood, you do have to wonder, will the hullabaloo of an opening day Cheltenham Festival crowd get him over-racing even further, and soften him up?

This is something we will only learn on the day, but at the moment, he is the right favourite for the Festival curtain-raiser and an extremely likable horse. 

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