Cyrname out to reclaim Ascot title

Cyrname seeks to bounce back to his brilliant best as he bids for a second victory in the Betfair Ascot Chase.

Paul Nicholls’ nine-year-old became the highest-rated chaser in Britain thanks to his 17-length demolition in the Grade One contest in 2019, a position he consolidated when he got the better of Altior in a much-anticipated clash over the same course and distance early last season.

However, he subsequently failed to fire when hot favourite for the King George VI Chase at Kempton, and was already on the retreat when suffering a heavy fall at the final fence in defence of his Ascot Chase crown 12 months ago.

Cyrname returned with victory this season on his Charlie Hall Chase comeback at Wetherby in October – but having disappointed once more in the King George when pulled up on his latest appearance, he again has a point to prove on Saturday.

Cyrname on his way to victory over Altior at Ascot
Cyrname on his way to victory over Altior at Ascot (Simon Cooper/PA)

Nicholls told Betfair: “Harry Cobden has chosen to ride Cyrname, who looked so good at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall Chase before running way below expectations in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. He was half-asleep at the start that day and was never really travelling in behind horses.

“Harry felt Cyrname was sulking at Kempton, so we are trying cheekpieces to sharpen him up. When we tried them on him at home a week ago they had a positive effect and certainly woke him up. If they work as well at Ascot then he has to have a big chance over a trip and track that play to his strengths.”

Cobden is relishing the opportunity to get back on board Cyrname, whom he describes as “the horse of a lifetime”.

“When he won the race a couple of years ago, he was very, very good,” said the jockey.

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“It was the best performance of any horse I’ve ever ridden around a racecourse – the way he jumped and travelled and beat all those good horses like Politologue, Waiting Patiently and Fox Norton. It was phenomenal, (and) I suppose that’s where he got his rating of 176.

“He’s the horse of a lifetime. Not very many people, riders or trainers, have horses like that come along in their life.

“I’ve won various races with him ,and hopefully he hasn’t won his last one – I’m sure he’s got plenty more in the tank.”

Master Tommytucker is a strong second contender for Paul Nicholls
Master Tommytucker is a strong second contender for Paul Nicholls (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Nicholls has an interesting second string to his bow in the form of Master Tommytucker, who will be ridden for the first time by Daryl Jacob.

The lightly-raced 10-year-old has not always convinced in the jumping department, but has got his act together this season to win three of his last four starts.

Nicholls added: “I’ve always rated him highly, and he has earned a shot at this Grade One level after some impressive performances this season. He is in serious order at home, working great, looks amazing – and everything is in place for a big run.

“While his jumping in the past was an issue, it was very good at Haydock and Cheltenham earlier in the season – and he was foot-perfect at Kempton last time, bar one blemish at the last fence.”

Jeremy Scott is looking forward to seeing how Dashel Drasher handles a step up in class.

The eight-year-old was a long way behind Master Tommytucker at Haydock in November, but has since registered back-to-back wins over this course and distance.

Dashel Drasher steps up in class but knows what it takes to win at Ascot
Dashel Drasher steps up in class but knows what it takes to win at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I’m relishing running him, because he seems well and he’s on a roll at the moment,” said Scott.

“His jumping is a lot better now, and he’s in rude health.

“First time out at Haydock, I think it was partly the ground and partly we rode him too conservatively – he’s proved the last twice that he suits being ridden positively. He was returning from an injury at Haydock, and we were a bit mindful of that.”

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Riders Onthe Storm ran out a wide-margin winner of last year’s renewal, but will defend his crown as an outsider after being well beaten in both his outings this season.

Twiston-Davies is undeterred, however.

Riders Onthe Storm is looking to repeat last year's victory
Riders Onthe Storm is looking to repeat last year’s victory (Julian Herbert/PA)

He said: “Riders Onthe Storm is coming into this in good nick. He obviously won the race last year, and we are hoping he can do it again.

“He hasn’t been at the same level this season, but he does seem in really good nick at the moment and should improve on what he has done.

“He won’t mind any more rain, because it was pretty testing last year.”

Bennys King from Dan Skelton’s yard, runner-up to Dashel Drasher last time, completes the line-up.

Nicholls quartet among 18 Ascot Chase entries

Paul Nicholls can choose from a powerful team of four after 18 entries were revealed for next month’s Betfair Ascot Chase at Ascot.

The Ditcheat trainer has four victories in the two-mile-five-furlong feature to his name, and recent Kempton Grade Two winner Master Tommytucker is the one from his quartet described as “definitely” on course for the February 20 showpiece.

It is his 2019 winner Cyrname, however, that heads the betting with the sponsors – with dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux and Real Steel also in the mix.

Nicholls said: “Of our four, Master Tommytucker definitely goes for the Betfair Ascot Chase.

Cyrname is not certain to line up at Ascot
Cyrname is not certain to line up at Ascot (Julian Herbert/PA)

“It just looks the obvious race for him, given the trip and everything, and I don’t see the track posing any problems at all. He is improving rapidly and deserves his place in a race like this.

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“Cyrname’s main target could be the Gold Cup, although we have not made a final decision on that.

“The Betfair Ascot Chase is another option we wanted to have, but if we decide to go for the Gold Cup, then he won’t be able to run in both races. We will have to make our minds up over the next fortnight about what we want to do.

“After how impressive he was in the Charlie Hall, I was keen to aim him towards the Gold Cup. Then obviously what happened at Kempton (pulled up in the King George) didn’t help, but I have put a line through that.

“Clan Des Obeaux will run in the Denman Chase at Newbury – although with the way the weather is at the moment, we felt it was worth making an entry for Ascot just in case.

“Real Steel is a possible for Ascot, but he would not want to run if the ground is too soft. We may keep him fresh for the Ryanair.”

Riders Onthe Storm (Nigel Twiston-Davies) took top honours 12 months ago as Cyrname fell, and he may attempt to emulate Riverside Theatre (2011 and 2012) as the only horse to win the race in successive years.

Other proven top-level performers among the entries include Ryanair Chase second Saint Calvados (Harry Whittington) and 2019 Betfair Chase scorer Lostintranslation (Colin Tizzard).

Leading owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede have four entries, all in the care of Nicky Henderson – Caribean Boy, Janika, Terrefort and Top Notch. Henderson is also responsible for Mister Fisher, winner of the rearranged Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham in December.

Venetia Williams is represented by Fanion D’Estruval, a creditable fourth behind First Flow in last weekend’s Clarence House Chase at Ascot, and recent Chepstow scorer Cepage.

Dashel Drasher is proving highly progressive
Dashel Drasher is proving highly progressive (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Dashel Drasher (Jeremy Scott) has enjoyed two victories over the course and distance this season, most recently defeating Bennys King (Dan Skelton) in a valuable handicap chase on the Clarence House card – a race Cyrname won in 2019 before his Ascot Chase success.

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup second Midnight Shadow (Sue Smith) and Kalashnikov (Amy Murphy) are also engaged.

Betfair spokesman Barry Orr said: “Off the back of a good run in the King George, Cyrname went off the 4-11 favourite in this race last season when seeking back-to-back wins.

“He is still at the head of the market for this year’s renewal, although is 2-1 following his disappointing run in the King George last time out.

“On these entries, it looks like a strong field could go forward, and that is reflected in the betting.”

Master Tommytucker makes all for Conti honours

Master Tommytucker secured the biggest success of his career with a fine front-running performance in the Ladbrokes Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton.

The lightly-raced 10-year-old made it three wins from five starts over fences this season by taking his form to new levels with victory in the Grade Two.

All eyes were on Imperial Aura, who was bidding for a second success at the level, but the evens favourite was an early casualty after parting company with David Bass at the second fence.

Jumping well out in front, Master Tommytucker continued to extend his advantage with his two remaining rivals hard at work in behind him entering the home straight.

Despite getting the last all wrong, the 2-1 shot was quickly gathered in by Harry Cobden before crossing the line 12 lengths clear of Clondaw Castle.

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Nicholls said: “Apart from the last, he jumped great there. Harry nursed him down the back full of running. How many times do you see horses do that at the last?

“He has got a huge engine and he is definitely better on a track like this rather than Cheltenham. A small field suits him better as well.

“At Haydock he went a gallop in heavy ground – he would gallop all day. The trip is not a problem to him anywhere. I’ve got no doubt there is a Grade One in him.

“I kick myself for running him at Cheltenham (last month) as it was too soon after Haydock, but Harry got off him and said this will be the making of him.”

Although Master Tommytucker holds entries in both the Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, the Ditcheat handler believes he would be better suited by heading to Aintree instead.

Nicholls said: “He is the Ryanair and the Gold Cup. We will have a chat with the owners and I know they will dream to run him in a race like that.

“To me he would be awesome at Aintree in that two-and-a-half-mile race around there. That would be made for him and the last day at Sandown, the two-mile-six race there would suit him well.

“I could definitely see him lining up in next year’s King George. He likes it around here and he has got huge ability.”

As for Imperial Aura’s trainer Kim Bailey, he felt a shadow in front of the fence was the reason behind the favourite’s departure.

Bailey said: “David Bass said there was a great big shadow in front of the fence and that’s his excuse. He said there was a big shadow there and he took his eye off it.

“He will go to Cheltenham now, but for what race is rather difficult to work out. I’d imagine he will go straight there.

“There is only one other race to run him in and that’s the Ascot Chase, but that’s three weeks before Cheltenham which is too soon. The lucky suit is now out of the window!”

Bailey hoping Aura can rise to Kempton test

Kim Bailey has his fingers crossed that Imperial Aura continues his rapid progression in the Ladbrokes Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

Winner of a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival last March, he reappeared with a smooth success at Carlisle and handled the step up in class with aplomb to win a Grade Two at Ascot last time out.

He carries a penalty for that success and is among the leading British-trained contenders for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

“This race has been the plan for some time now,” said Bailey.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed that he keeps going in the right direction.

“Whether two and a half miles is sharp enough for him trip-wise around Kempton, we’re not going to find out until the race!

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“He hasn’t put a foot wrong to date this season, but the form of his last race at Ascot doesn’t look very strong now – it’s difficult to assess really.”

Paul Nicholls is taking on the favourite with Master Tommytucker, who has been a reformed character this season.

Master Tommytucker has jumped much better this season
Master Tommytucker has jumped much better this season (Mike Egerton/PA)

His jumping has let him down in the past, but he has put in four clear rounds this season and made a valiant attempt off top weight at Cheltenham last time out.

“His jumping has improved a lot since he was last at Kempton and this looks a nice race for him with only a handful of runners,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“I thought he ran all right for a long way off top weight and learned plenty in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham, which was a seriously competitive race.

“I am expecting a big run from Master Tommytucker, with Imperial Aura the one to beat.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies is hoping the freshness has been knocked out of Riders Onthe Storm after he ran no race in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham.

He fell in last season’s Ryanair when still holding every chance, having won a Grade One at Ascot prior to that.

“Riders Onthe Storm is in really good form. He was a bit of a lunatic on his first time as he was very fresh, but he is more settled now. We are looking forward to this,” said Twiston-Davies.

“There are very few races a horse of his class can go for, but going back up to two and a half miles is plus for him. I’d imagine we will take this in en route to the Ascot Chase then the Ryanair.”

Clondaw Castle won a decent race at Newbury this season
Clondaw Castle won a decent race at Newbury this season (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

While Tom George’s Clondaw Castle is the outsider of the four runners, he has put up three good efforts this season and was slightly unlucky behind Mister Fisher last time out.

He had earlier won a good handicap at Newbury and finished second in the Old Roan at Aintree.

“Clondaw Castle definitely got hampered at the wrong moment last time and the ground would have been soft enough for him that day at Cheltenham, so we just hope they don’t get too much rain or snow,” said George.

“He’s definitely progressing, we’ve seen an improvement in him at home as well, so I think he’s heading in the right direction.”

Tommytucker masters Haydock rivals

Master Tommytucker and Sam Twiston-Davies proved a perfect match as they reunited for an impressive victory in the Back And Lay On Betfair Exchange Graduation Chase at Haydock.

Paul Nicholls’ talented but lightly-raced resurgent star has been let down by his jumping several times over fences.

But with Twiston-Davies back on board for the first time since they struck together when Master Tommytucker was making his racecourse debut in a novice hurdle at Exeter in 2018, there was barely a semblance of a mistake on the way to a fine front-running success for the 2-1 favourite.

The Nicholls camp may consider next month’s Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon for the nine-year-old, who won a match race over that course and distance just under two weeks ago.

For Twiston-Davies, though, this success by 15 lengths from another of his old favourites Good Boy Bobby is a case of job done – with thanks to helpful instructions from Master Tommytucker’s regular jockey Harry Cobden.

“He’s got a serious engine – he jumps from fence to fence and does it the hard way on the front,” he said.

“He does relax in front, but he puts other horses under pressure.

“We got into a good rhythm – and Harry Cobden had a really good chat with me (beforehand), and was incredibly helpful.

“He just said he likes to jump by himself, so just leave him to it – because pretty much, when you ask him, he tends to do his own thing.

“So he said, whatever you do, as hard as it can be, just sit and hold his hand all the way round.”

Reflecting on his first association with Master Tommytucker – who earned quotes of 25-1 and 50-1 for the Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup respectively with Betfair – Twiston-Davies added: “That was a long time ago, but it’s nice to get another go on him – and great that it’s gone to plan as well.

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“He rides very smart anyway.”

Charlie Longsdon was earlier delighted with his “dude of a mare” after Snow Leopardess displayed great tenacity to win the Betfair Supports Safer Gambling Week Handicap Chase.

Snow Leopardess, a Listed bumper and Grade Two hurdles winner in her youth, had two years off with injury after an Auteuil success in 2017 and produced a foal by Sir Percy during her sabbatical.

But she showed she has lost none of her appetite for battle on the track, overcoming a serious mistake at the end of the back straight under Brian Hughes to gradually haul in another grey, the front-running Commodore, and hit the front just before the line to win by half-a-length as a well-backed 9-2 joint-favourite.

Longsdon had decided, after two placed runs in useful novice company this season on her only two previous chase starts, that the eight-year-old’s rating of 126 was favourable – and she ensured he was vindicated.

“She has been a really good mare in her time,” said the Oxfordshire trainer.

“She won a Listed bumper at Gowran, and she won a Grade Two at Newbury.

“She got a leg when she won at Auteuil, was off for two years and had a foal and has a yearling on the ground by Sir Percy.

“She’s very, very fragile – and we can’t train her hard at home.”

Nonetheless, Longsdon was always optimistic of a good performance here.

“We knew potentially off 126, it was a nice mark – she was 135 in the past, before she got injured,” he added.

“She loves her jumping, and she stays – and she’s a dude of a mare.

“I think she’ll only improve – and Brian said if she hadn’t made a mistake at the last in the back straight both times, she’d have probably got there easier.

“But I’m delighted with her – a winner on a big day like this is always important for middle-sized yards.”

Longsdon is prepared to aim even higher with her this season too if Snow Leopardess comes out of her victory well.

He said: “We’ll see how she is in the morning – we won’t make any plans (yet), but I know the owner would love to go for the mares’ chase at Cheltenham.

“That is two and a half miles, so we’ll have to make big decisions coming up – otherwise, she’ll have a look at the four-miler (National Hunt Chase).

“The most important thing is keeping her sound now, and we’ll wrap her up in cotton wool.

Llandinabo Lad was a clear-cut winner of the Listed Betfair Weighed In Podcast Newton Novices’ Hurdle for trainer Tom Symonds and jockey Richard Johnson.

The five-year-old remains unbeaten in his two hurdles starts, having finished second in two bumpers last winter and then had a wind operation in July.

He convincingly followed up last month’s Bangor victory, mastering the front-running 7-4 favourite Do Your Job at the last and staying on well to take the opening race in the already rain-softened ground by four and a quarter lengths at 13-2.

Symonds said: “I’m delighted with him, because he was chucked in a bit at the deep end.

“He doesn’t need it soft, but he appears more effective on it.

“The plan was to see where we were today – I’m thinking something like a Tolworth over that stiff two miles at Sandown will suit him, and that’s what we will look at.”

As the rain began to take its toll, the Betfair Racing Only Bettor Handicap Hurdle turned into an eventful and gruelling test – albeit over just two miles three furlongs – and it was Robbie Power who kept out of trouble as Colin Tizzard’s 13-2 shot War Lord stayed on to be an appropriate winner, by a length and a quarter from Umbrigado.

Cobden half-century is well ahead of schedule

Harry Cobden is just one winner behind Jump Jockeys’ Championship leader Brian Hughes after a double at Huntingdon, highlighted by his 50th success of the season aboard Wild Max.

Cobden continued his fine run of form on the five-year-old in the Download The tote App Michaelmas Hurdle, which was the third leg of an across-the-card four-timer for trainer Paul Nicholls.

“I always try and aim to ride 50 winners by January – so to get 50 by November is pretty good,” said the 22-year-old.

“I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season. Hopefully I can stay in one piece and keep on rolling.

“If we get March out of the way and I’m still there then it will be all guns blazing.

“This year is different to any others, because those that normally get 100 winners on the board early haven’t, so this season is a good one to give the title a go.”

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Victory for the 2-1 favourite, who obliged by a neck, was compensation for defeat on last month’s seasonal return at Cheltenham – where he suffered interference at a crucial stage when still holding every chance.

Nicholls’ assistant Harry Derham said: “I was little nervous he was doing a fraction too much – he has almost travelled too well, because he has a lot of pace.

“He enjoys a flat track, and all of his wins have come on them. I’d like to think the better the race, the faster they go, the more he will relax.”

Master Tommytucker, right, on his way to defeating Precious Cargo at Huntingdon (Tim Goode/PA Images)
Master Tommytucker (right) on his way to defeating Precious Cargo at Huntingdon (Tim Goode/PA Images)

Master Tommytucker (4-5) got his chequered career over fences back on track – to get the ball rolling for both Cobden and Nicholls in the Download The tote App Intermediate Chase.

Having fallen in three of his previous five starts over fences, the lightly-raced nine-year-old put in an immaculate display of jumping to defeat his sole rival Precious Cargo by 12 lengths.

Derham said: “He didn’t have to have too much of a hard race there, which was nice. There is no doubt the engine is there – it was just a case of getting rid of those jumping errors.

“He will go to Haydock now, because there is a two-and-a-half-mile graduation chase there on Betfair Chase day, and it is worth quite a bit. ”

Having had to come to terms with the loss of Namib Dancer after his fall earlier in the card, trainer Emma Lavelle had her spirits lifted after Dollnamix struck at the 16th attempt in division two of the Download The tote App Handicap Hurdle.

Speaking away from the track, she said: “It is just the ups and downs of racing for you.  Neither the horse or owners deserved that.

“I think Namib Dancer had a heart attack. He was doing everything right, then three or four strides before the hurdle (jockey) Aidan (Coleman) said he knew what was coming.”

On her 100-30 winner, Lavelle added: “Dollnamix has thrown a few races away before – but he has done everything right today, and that will do his confidence the world of good.”

Eileendover (28-1) saved the best until last when running out a facile 29-length winner on her debut in the Ten To Follow “Junior” Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

Winning trainer Pam Sly said: “She worked with one of my other useful ones Takeit Easy the other day – and I thought ‘that will do!’.

“She was supposed to run on the Flat but had problems with the stalls, but it’s a good job I didn’t go down that route now.

“I suppose we will look at getting some black type now.”