HARRY COBDEN had a perfect record on the scintillating steeplechaser Cyrname before their big race winning run came to an end in Kempton’s King George Chase on Boxing Day.
Yet Cobden – the weighing room’s new star with a surname to remember because of his unflappability under pressure – has every confidence that it will, once again, be ‘business as usual’ at Ascot today.
And the partnership’s biggest obstacle could be Storm Dennis – forecast rain, and strong winds, leave the high-profile meeting at the Berkshire track hanging in the balance.
However Cyrname’s rise to prominence – and effectiveness at Ascot where he continues to produce career-best performances – mirrors Cobden’s status as stable jockey to champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
First there was the wide-margin 21-length win in a competitive handicap chase at Ascot in January last year which many dismissed the frontrunning tactics as a freak result.
Then the confirmation when Cobden and Cyrname put a Grade One field to the sword in the Ascot Chase a year ago in a race that saw Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently the best of the rest and 17 lengths in arrears.
And then the adulation when Cyrname reaffirmed his status as the highest-rated steeplechaser in Britain when ending the long unbeaten run of Altior, Nicky Henderson’s dual Queen Mother Champion chase hero, in the Christy 1965 Chase in November.
Given this, it was inevitable that Cobden would partner Cyrname in the King George where the step up in trip to three miles played into the hands of Clan Des Obeaux – the horse that the jockey had partnered to victory in Kempton’s showpiece race 12 months previously.
Yet, while the fresh-faced rider was clearly disappointed, it confirmed to the 21-year-old that Clan Des Obeaux – co-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson – will be a major force in next month’s Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
And he has every confidence Cyrname, owned by Johnny de la Hey and dropping back in trip to two and a half miles, will add to his big race tally by making a successful defence of the Betfair Ascot Chase – weather permitting.
Drawing inspiration from the fluctuating fortunes of Anthony Joshua, a world heavyweight boxing champion, Cobden explained: “In my mind, you can’t be afraid of defeat.
“But you look at an athlete like Anthony Joshua, who bounced back from defeat himself – he always looks physically impeccable, trains well, but if he’s not 100 per cent he can tell you that. The problem with horses is they can’t tell you if they’re not ready for a race, we can only go by what we see at home. But that is what makes the sport so intriguing.
“Cyrname seems in extremely good form having schooled him in the week where he jumped very well. Scott Marshall, who rides him during the week, says he’s as good as he’s ever been. All being well he’s ready to roll. He obviously loves it around Ascot, his record there speaks for itself. If you look at his win in this race last year, he absolutely demolished them.”
Cobden, an ambassador for Great British Racing, also draws confidence from the manner of the aforementioned Altior’s victorious comeback at Newbury last weekend.
Even though their big clash last November was effectively a two-horse ‘match’ race, Cobden – and Altior’s jockey Nico de Boinville – both knew they had been involved in a protracted struggle on searching ground.
“You look at Altior last Saturday, I rode Dynamite Dollars in that race who is not a slow horse, and Altior flew past us like a five-furlong sprinter to win,” he added.
“So Cyrname probably had a harder race than we initially thought in beating one of the best horses I’ve ever seen. I think if the same Cyrname that beat Altior turned up in the King George on Boxing Day, he’d have been extremely hard to beat. All we can do now is look ahead, and hopefully we’ll see the very best of Cyrname once again, because when he’s in the mood he’s unbelievable to ride.”