MULTIPLE champion jockeys John Francome and Peter Scudamore believe Cyrname could have the edge over Altior in today’s ‘race of the year’ at Ascot.
They gave their verdicts as dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Altior – trained by Nicky Henderson and the mount of Nico de Boinville – steps up in trip for the first time to tackle Christy 1965 Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
And while Altior – still unbeaten over fences – is on a 19-race winning streak, Cyrname, from the stable of Paul Nicholls, put up two imperious performances at Ascot last season under his young jockey Harry Cobden.
Francome, who was crowned champion jockey seven times between 1976 and 1985, does not see the extra trip being a major issue for Altior, but feels Cyrname will prove hard to beat at this particular venue.
“I remember watching Cyrname winning around Ascot the last time he ran and thinking ‘Altior would need to be at his best to beat him’,” explained Francome, president of the Injured Jockeys Fund.
“They’re two very good horses and there probably isn’t much between them. Altior looks to stay fine – I don’t think there should be any problem with the trip.
“Altior can jump a bit left as well, which won’t help around Ascot, so if I had to pick one to ride I’d probably go for Cyrname. Having said that, maybe I’d go for Altior, because I’d rather have a telling off from Nicky Henderson for getting beat than Paul Nicholls!”
The aforementioned Scudamore won seven straight jockeys’ championships between 1986 and 1992, having previously shared the title with Francome in 1982.
Like his old weighing-room rival, Scudamore would “just about” side with Cyrname if given the choice.
He said: “I can’t say I’d be confident which way it will go, but the Paul Nicholls horse has looked very good around Ascot.
“Altior looks as though he wants the step up in trip, but then I’ve been reading Nicky saying he’s been working very well and he doesn’t seem to have lost any of his pace. If I had to ride one, I’d just about go for Cyrname, but it’s going to be a fascinating clash.”
ITV pundit Mick Fitzgerald was stable jockey to Henderson before his retirement from the saddle and believes Altior will prevail.
Fitzgerald said: “Nobody wants to see a champion beaten. I think it’s great for racing that the Altior team are sticking their necks on the line and having a go and I really hope he wins.”
And Richard Johnson, champion jockey in each of the last four seasons, says he would plump for Altior as his ride if given the choice.
He said: “They are obviously two very good horses, but if I was picking one to ride it would probably be Altior. He has a perfect record (over jumps) and although it’s a longer trip than he’s been before, you’d have to say, looking at the way he races, there’s a good chance he’ll stay.
“It’s fantastic to have two horses like these taking each other on – I’m sure everyone will be a lot wiser afterwards.”