The Kings are dead – long live the Kings. Nicky Henderson and Nigel Twiston-Davies might disagree but in just 60 minutes on Saturday between the hours of 2.07 (the off time of the Christy Ascot 1965 Chase) and 3.07 p.m. (conclusion of the Betfair Chase at Haydock) two champions were dethroned, possibly terminally such is the merit of their respective conquerors, writes Tony Stafford.
First it was Altior, unbeaten and unblemished in 19 races over hurdles and chases, but almost psyched (well Nicky Henderson and owner Patricia Pugh were) by the official handicappers to risk his record over the longest distance he’d ever tried. There has been general disbelief in many quarters (not least this one) that the weights and measures men from Wellingborough could translate two wide-margin wins around Ascot by Cyrname as worthy of a 176 rating, 1lb more than Altior earned in 14 impeccable runs and 28 miles of effort over three seasons’ hard labour.
More remarkable perhaps was that when Cyrname had finished a remote seventh of 13 at Ascot last year on the corresponding day’s racing in a 2m1f handicap chase, Altior had already been adorned with his 175 mark ever since beating Min easily in the Arkle at Cheltenham back in March of that year. In none of his previous triumphal marches to victory was it deemed necessary to mark him even the single pound higher than would have staved off Cyrname’s two-race surge early this year.
Cyrname exploded with a 21-length demolition of Doitforthevillage, Happy Diva, Mister Whitaker, Flying Angel and Mr Medic, smart chasers and big-race winners all, in the bet365 Chase over Saturday’s course and distance in late January, necessitating a surge to 165 from 150.
Four weeks later, back on the same track, this time for the level weights Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase he made all, in another clinical humiliation of a top-class field, running home 17 lengths clear of the 170-rated Waiting Patiently with Fox Norton (166) and Politologue (168) clustered up close behind. It would have been possible to give Cyrname less than the 176 he got, easy on a literal application to go even higher. The result on Saturday with Altior just over two lengths behind, suggests the officials got it right – at the longer trip – but that Altior is still pre-eminent over two miles.
Then again Nicky Henderson might be looking over his shoulder towards Ireland where Laurina’s first try over fences resulted in an eight-length margin over the more than useful Minella Indo, all produced with an effortless stroll up the run-in after the pair were close coming to the last fence at Gowran Park. Maybe that’s why Nicky didn’t rule out a rematch even in the King George where Paul Nicholls is intent on next revealing the new champ to his soon-to-be-adoring public, never mind Saturday’s restrained reaction to the upset.
For make no mistake, upset it was. The betting public had, it seems, as much respect for the present official ratings as the rest of us, making Altior a heavily-backed 1-3 shot after mathematically bigger odds-on prices had been available earlier in the day. Cyrname was never bigger than his 5-2 starting price. One thing I didn’t expect to witness happened as the horses came up to the line. Harry Cobden is still a relatively inexperienced jockey, albeit one whose boss thought enough of his potential to cast aside the excellent Sam Twiston-Davies not too long ago as first jockey. I was waiting for the Dettori-esque whip brandishing, extravagant waving to the crowd or the triumphal shake of the fist and a loving grab of his mount’s neck, but there was none of that from Cobden, just a professional message to his horse to slow down, the job’s done.
Having seen that happening 55 minutes earlier – got this timing thing down to a tee! – I was a little surprised when after a masterful waiting-at-the-back ride from Robbie Power on Lostintraslation in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, he did the full victory celebration as his horse crossed the line a comfortable length and a half ahead of dual previous winner Bristol de Mai.
His victory was anticipated by approximately half the betting public as he was shortened in to 5-4 equal favouritism with the title-holder, despite there being a 9lb deficit in their ratings, 161 against 170, the stylishly-ridden and economically-minded Lostintranslation living up to all Colin Tizzard’s pronouncements.
Since being beaten by Defi Du Seuil at the Cheltenham Festival last March, Lostintranslation won at Aintree the following month and easily landed the odds at Cheltenham on his return three weeks ago. It is hard to see how Bristol De Mai would turn the form around in next year’s Gold Cup, despite last March’s third place, and at this stage the Tizzard improver has to be one of the main contenders.
It was a case of the Kings are all dead (if you include De Sousa, Dettori and Moore) and Long Live the King in Tokyo on Sunday morning as overwhelming 2019 UK champion Oisin Murphy guided home Suave Richard to an opportunistic first place in the Grade 1 Japan Cup, squeezing through up the rail inside the last furlong and a half and holding the renewed effort of Curren Bouquetd’or by threequarters of a length.
Suave Richard was third favourite at just over 4-1 and earned the £2.16 million first prize. None of the other international riders got into the money, which goes down to fifth place. William Buick partnered the 16-5 favourite Rey De Oro in the 15-runner, all-Japanese line-up but could do no better than 11th. Christophe Lemaire, a regular in Japan, did best of the others in eighth on a 14-1 shot; Christophe Soumillon was ninth (19-1), Frankie Dettori 10th (14-1) while Ryan Moore beat only two home in 13th on a 33-1 outsider. The changing face of international jockeyship appears to be echoing what is happening in the UK steeplechasing ranks.
This weekend’s big attraction is another race that habitually throws up potential Gold Cup winners to show their early-season paces. In the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase’s more recognisable guise as the Hennessy, I hit on what was almost a guaranteed formula for finding the winner – a seven-year-old second-season chaser – not that it always worked.
When I had one of my biggest bets of all time on Jodami, who fulfilled my conditions in the 1992 Hennessy, he carried 10st2lb, a full 25lb less than previous Gold Cup winner The Fellow. He did beat The Fellow, who finished third six lengths back in a wonderful renewal of the race, but was still threequarters of a length behind another seven-year-old, Geoff Hubbard’s Sibton Abbey, trained by the late Ferdy Muphy. He was a 40-1 shot ridden by the brilliant Adrian Maguire and ran from 21lb out of the handicap. Three unbeaten runs later Jodami lined up at Cheltenham and won the Gold Cup.
It’s was sad news to learn of Ferdy’s death two months ago. He’d relocated to France in his later years but it’s good to see Mr Hubbard’s great friend Pat Betts still looking in fine fettle at Sandown recently watching his horse Le Reve finishing third for Lucy Wadham. Pat didn’t take any reminding of Sibton Abbey and was also quick to mention the great French Holly.
That brilliant, versatile horse won ten of his 20 career starts and would have been even more vividly remembered had he not been around at the same time as Istabraq. In three consecutive Grade 1 races he was beaten one length by the brilliant Aidan O’Brien-trained star at Leopardstown; was a six-length third to him in the 1999 Champion Hurdle and then after leading the great horse over the final jump of the Aintree Hurdle the following month, again gave best by a length.
He raced only once over fences, three miles at Wetherby and still had 18 lengths to spare of the field despite being eased, presumably when rider Andrew Thornton “felt something”. That was his final appearance. Ferdy was a great man, prone to sudden bursts of energy, suddenly calling you up to discuss the latest “vital” topic or other, and just as quickly moving onto another, and as a horseman he had few peers.
Sibton Abbey was the first big winner under his own name but as head lad to Bill Durkan in Ireland - in all but name he was the trainer - Ferdy guided the great mare Anaglog’s Daughter through her brilliant career in the 1980’s.
Back to next Saturday and, whereas the Henderson stable’s nine-year-old Ok Corral is ante-post favourite, I’m hoping that fellow Seven Barrows inmate On The Blind Side, who does fulfil age and experience requirements, and who was noted here after his fourth to Vinndication at Ascot three weeks ago, can win the race for Alan Spence.