Before racing started on Saturday, Harry Cobden revealed that he would be riding Cyrname, rather than Clan Des Obeaux, in the King George on Boxing Day.
Paul Nicholls’ stable jockey faced a Sophie’s Choice scenario in which he had to choose between the highest rated chaser in training and last year’s impressive winner.
Whilst it’s easy to see why he has chosen the former, he may well come to regret this decision after Kempton’s showpiece. Here’s why –
The reasons for picking the upwardly mobile seven-year-old are obvious. With a BHA rating of 177, he’s officially the best chaser in training. Added to that, the bookmakers’ have him vying for favouritism with Lostintranslation, better fancied than stablemate Clan Des Obeaux.
It would take a brave man to side against a horse who toppled the previously indomitable Altior on his reappearance, ending a nineteen-race winning streak.
He jumps with relish and will put his six rivals to the sword from the moment the tape rises. Furthermore, he’s won both starts at Kempton by an accumulative eighteen-lengths. His failure to reproduce his very best away from Ascot and his unproven stamina are huge concerns though.
His profile currently screams Ascot specialist. His explosion of form at the turn of 2019 has all comes over two-miles-five at Ascot. Posting RPRs of 178, 181 and 179 in his last three races, he’s quite clearly a world-beater at the Berkshire venue, as shown when turning over Altior with ease a month previous.
His personal best performance away from Ascot is a neck second in a Novice Grade One at Sandown to Terrefort. That’s solid enough form, but a repeat of that 162 rated performance would leave him woefully short in the King George.
He’s raced just once outside of novice company away from Ascot. He was a beaten favourite at Carlisle in a race Lostintranslation won with ease this time around. The two ahead of him in Mister Whitaker and Happy Diva have since landed competitive handicaps. Nevertheless, that form once again falls a long way below what’s required on Thursday.
Much has been made of Cyrname improving beyond all recognition last season. That’s clear to see, after Nicholls admitted that it took some time to train the free going sort effectively. Horses improve at differing rates and whilst many say Altior didn’t stay at Ascot, that’s not a valid excuse for me.
Having said all that, all of his improvement has come at Ascot. He’s yet to prove himself away from that course in open company. His two wins at Kempton, whilst impressive, don’t add up to much. The three horses he beat each time are handicappers at best, The Unit whom he beat second time is rated just 139 now.
Added to this, he’s completely unproven over three-miles. The furthest he has ever travelled on a racecourse is two-miles-five. He’s never looked like stopping in any of his last three starts over that trip admittedly. But this is a completely different test of his credentials. He dominated a handicap, a weak Grade One and effectively a two-horse race in his last three runs. This is a Championship level Grade One, with six high class contenders in attendance.
His rivals are unlikely to give him free rein up front given the obvious dangers of doing so. He’s likely to be harassed up front. As a result, he might be forced to use up valuable petrol to establish a clear lead in which he thrives. This looks likely to place further emphasis on his untested stamina, and leave the race open to stablemate Clan Des Obeaux.
Whilst all of Cyrname’s best form comes at Ascot, Clan Des Obeaux posted the best effort of his career at Kempton when winning the race last year. He travelled supremely well under a confident Harry Cobden ride, running out a decisive winner from Thistlecrack.
He had the cream of Britain’s best staying chasers in behind him, including Native River and Might Bite. The flat track and the speedy three-miles at Kempton plays perfectly to his strengths.
The seven-year-old has raced three times over three-miles exactly, winning two of those starts. His King George success was followed by a facile win in the Denman Chase in which he finished eleven lengths clear of Terrefort.
That form suggests he has the beating of Cyrname, who was beaten a neck by that rival the season previous. He put the race to bed with a massive jump at the last, readily overcoming a fairly solid yardstick.
Defeat in both the Gold Cup and the Aintree Bowl will most likely be on Cobden’s mind. At the moment, Cyrname is only going in one direction, whereas Clan Des Obeaux has had his limitations exposed.
However, three-miles-two in the Gold Cup was a stamina test too far. Added to that, there was absolutely no disgrace in losing to Kemboy at Aintree, a horse who for me would have won the Gold Cup had he stayed on his feet.
Now in his second season in open company, many see Clan Des Obeaux as a reliable, albeit exposed staying chaser. He’s had his day in the sun and he’s unlikely to land top honours once more.
That couldn’t be further from the truth however. He is the same age as Cyrname and has had just three more starts in his career. He did nothing but improve in the 2017-18 season and was on a similarly upward curve last term before finding the Gold Cup a step beyond his capabilities.
Not only is he still open to more, but after failing to score at last year’s spring festivals, this will most likely be the main target for him all season. Nicholls will have him spot on for this, his own version of the Gold Cup.
His sole defeat over this three-mile trip came at Down Royal. That run came at a difficult time for the Nicholls’ yard however. Plenty of their runners were needing the occasion. He shaped as if that was the case. He came through strongly to lead three out before finding himself unable to stay with Road To Respect.
As well as a lack of fitness, that effort can be upgraded on account of the ground. The soft he encountered would have been on the slow side. That doesn’t apply to Noel Meade’s charge who is lethal on soft in the early stages of the season.
Returning to action with a clear second behind a conditions’ specialist at a time at which the yard was struggling for form is a hugely creditable effort. Clan Des Obeaux improved markedly from his return last year when fourth at Haydock to go on to land the big one at Kempton. A similar fate looks likely this year.
For many of you, the answer to the King George is neither of the Nicholls’ runners but Lostintranslation. He looks a very classy sort and he’ll have the speed to mix it with Cyrname, given that he spent most of last year battling with Defi Du Seuil.
His defeat of Bristol De Mai reads well given the latter’s record at Haydock. He faces two high-class contenders at Kempton who will provide a very different test however. He’s a similar sort in terms of the way he travels and jumps to Clan Des Obeaux. With the latter having won this race last year, I know where my vote goes, particularly at the prices.
Be sure to make use of all our tips and analysis, as well as our Free Bets, over the busy Festive period. We’ll be covering all of the eleven meetings on Boxing Day, including Kempton and Wetherby live on ITV Racing.