Nicky Henderson has insisted that star chaser Altior remains on course to engage in an epic battle with Cyrname in the Christy Chase at Ascot on November 26. Altior is unbeaten in 19 races over jumps and he has breezed to victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham for the past two years. Henderson has already declared an intention to step him up in trip this year and that puts Altior on a collision course with the talented Cyrname.
They are set to go head-to-head in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, the second biggest race of the year after the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Yet they are also due for a showdown at the Christy Chase at Ascot before that. The top betting sites make Altior and Cyrname the 11/10 (+110) joint favourites for glory, and horse racing fans cannot wait to see them lock horns.
Some commentators were therefore surprised to see Altior entered for the Betfair Chase – the first leg of the Triple Crown of Jumps Racing, which is followed by the King George and the Gold Cup – which takes place at Haydock on the same day at the Christy Chase. It led to accusations that Henderson and his team are running scared of Cyrname, whose official ranking is is actually 1lb higher than Altior’s after he delivered an eye-catching victory at the Grade 1 Ascot Chase over 2m 5f 8y back in February.
Hederson said that he has been inundated with calls from people asking why Altior was entered in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, but he insisted it is just a precautionary measure.“I would like to assure everyone that he is only in there as a reserve in case anything unfortunate, God forbid, should happen at Ascot on the same day,” Henderson said in his Unibet blog. “We are not running scared of Cyrname, but if for some unusual reason the going came up very heavy at Ascot and it was good at Haydock, then we would seriously have to think about it, but at the moment we are going to run in the Christy Chase.”
He added that he would end up looking “pretty silly” if Ascot was abandoned due to bad weather and he had not bothered to enter at Haydock as a precautionary measure. “I am very happy with Altior and looking forward to getting him started for the season.” said Henderson.
Altior has been invincible for several years now and he has justified short odds to win the Champion Chase – the leading minimum-distance chase in the National Hunt calendar – for the past two years, delighting millions of bettors in the process. Yet he is now nine years old and Henderson feels the time is right for a change of pace for the battle-hardened chaser. The King George represents a significant step up in trip at 3m, and the Christy 1965 Chase, run over 2m 5f 8y, is the perfect prep race.
Altior has made his name as a superstar over 2m, so it will be fascinating to see how he responds to a test over the longer distance. This is Cyrname’s speciality, as he put in a devastating performance to beat Waiting Patiently, Fox Norton and Politologue in the Ascot Chase. Politilogue won the Christy Chase last year, but he was nowhere near Cyrname in that race.
Waiting Patiently, Politologue and Fox Norton are all lined up to take part in the Christy Chase, but it is very much being billed as a two-horsed race between Altior and Cyrname. Altior is currently the 5/2 (+250) favourite for glory in the King George, with Cyrname at 5/1 (+500), but that could all change after the Christy Chase.
Bristol De Mai is the 7/4 (+175) favourite to win the Betfair Chase for the third year in a row. That might change if Altior actually goes for this race, but right now Bristol De Mai is seen as the one to beat. He loves sloppy ground, so it might be worth waiting to see what the going is like before betting on that race, as there are some talented runners being primed for it, including Might Bite and Valtor from Henderson’s stable, and Frodon and Black Corton for Paul Nicholls.