Ascot Saturday: Trainer quotes
Last Updated: 14/02/20 5:37pm
Paul Nicholls is confident Cyrname is at the top of his game for the defence of his crown in the Betfair Ascot Chase.
The eight-year-old was a brilliant winner of the Grade One contest 12 months ago, with the manner of his 17-length victory over Waiting Patiently ultimately meaning he ended the campaign as the highest-rated chaser in the country.
That status faced the toughest of tests on his seasonal reappearance as he engaged in a highly-anticipated clash with Altior, inflicting a first defeat in 20 starts over jumps on Nicky Henderson's ace and shooting to the head of the betting for the King George VI Chase.
Cyrname was then a shade disappointing in Kempton's Boxing Day highlight, filling the runner-up spot but finishing some 21 lengths behind his stablemate and defending champion Clan Des Obeaux, but Nicholls expects a much improved performance on Saturday, should the meeting pass a morning inspection.
"In hindsight, Kempton came a little bit quick after Ascot," said the Ditcheat trainer.
"He takes a little bit of time to come to himself between races, and he is is exactly where we want him to be now.
"If we were going to go to the King George again with a serious chance, I probably wouldn't use the Ascot race as a stepping stone. He is so good fresh, he could go there first time up.
"He still ran well to finish second, and Clan was on fire that day, but it was obviously a bit too close (to Ascot). Both Cyrname and Altior had a hard race at Ascot - when good horses run against each other, that will happen."
Nicholls views Cyrname more in the mould of his former superstar Kauto Star than his then stable companion and great rival Denman - and hopes he will prove himself over the King George distance of three miles in due course.
He added: "He is not a big, heavy, strong horse like Denman - he is more a Kauto Star-type horse, so you have to mind him a fraction.
"The intermediate trip (two miles and five furlongs) suits him well on a track like Ascot. He is actually quite one paced and just keeps galloping - he is not a speed horse, but he's a relentless galloper.
"I do, though, one day think he will get three miles."
Cyrname is a red-hot favourite to see off three rivals in his bid to become only the second horse to win back-to-back renewals of the Ascot Chase, after Henderson's Riverside Theatre in 2011 and 2012.
The horse considered his biggest threat is Riders Onthe Storm, formerly trained in Ireland by Tom Taaffe and two from two since joining Nigel Twiston-Davies - following a valuable handicap win at Aintree and then an impressive display in a graduation chase at Ascot in December.
The Naunton trainer is under no illusions about the task facing his seven-year-old, however.
Twiston-Davies said: "We've got a mountain to climb. But we know our horse likes the track, and the testing conditions won't be a problem, so we'll see what happens.
"We are looking forward to running him. This race has been the plan since his last win at Ascot, and he is in good form.
"It is obviously going to be tough to get the better of Cyrname, but we are going to have a go and are looking forward to the challenge.
"Riders Onthe Storm has been brilliant for us since arriving from Ireland, and hopefully there is more improvement to come.
"If Saturday goes OK, then he'll head to the Ryanair at the Cheltenham Festival."
Henderson's Janika steps back up in distance after finishing fourth behind Defi Du Seuil in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot four weeks ago.
The quartet is completed by Gary Moore's Grand National contender Traffic Fluide.
Rest of Ascot card
Anthony Honeyball is hoping Storm Dennis does not derail his plan to run Sam Brown in the Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices' Chase at Ascot on Saturday.
A Grade Two winner already, Honeyball is adamant Sam Brown will be suited by an extra half a mile.
However, should the meeting be lost to the weather, the eight-year-old would probably head straight to the Cheltenham Festival without another run.
"I don't think there's another race for him if we lose this. There's not much point in having a pop around somewhere, so we'd probably go straight to the RSA," said Honeyball.
"There's a Grade Two at Kempton next week over two and a half miles (Pendil), but I'm not sure that would suit him as we know he needs three really. He might have an entry, but it's unlikely.
"Anything after that is getting too close to Cheltenham, so we'll probably just have to pray and keep him in one piece. It would only be just over three weeks and I think that's too close, especially for a chaser.
"We're really excited about this, if it goes ahead, because everything looks set. Everyone knows how much I think of him, we just want to run him."
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls runs Danny Whizzbang, a Grade Two winner on his chasing debut but only third in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton afterwards.
"He won a Grade Two on his chasing debut at Newbury, then he was third at Kempton in the Kauto Star at Kempton. He was travelling OK when he got into trouble when Master Tommytucker fell in front of him and he was a bit on the back foot," said Nicholls.
"He gained a bit more experience finishing third. The Ascot track and soft ground will suit him much better as he is a real stayer. So a stamina track like Ascot would suit him much better than Kempton.
"He is also in at Cheltenham in a couple of races. He is in the RSA and the National Hunt Chase. It depends what happens on Saturday whether we go to Cheltenham."
Kim Bailey's Two For Gold is unbeaten over fences so far, winning three including a Grade Two at Warwick last time out.
"He's a very good jumper and he goes to every single race wanting to do his best for you," Bailey told Sky Sports Racing.
"It looks a tough ask on Saturday. The Reynoldstown has always been a good race and from our point of view, it will lead us to whichever way we go at Cheltenham, if we do go to Cheltenham.
"He's not good enough for the RSA on all known form, but if he happened to go and win on Saturday, then it becomes a different ball game. Would he stay the three and a half miles in the National Hunt Chase? I don't know. I think Saturday will lead us one way or the other.
"I'm not terribly sure very testing ground would be ideal, but he seemed to handle it when he won up at Kelso and I think he would go through it."
Nicky Henderson's Pym, Colin Tizzard's Copperhead and Alan King'a Alsa Mix, who has an option at Exeter on Sunday should the meeting be called off, also line up.
Honeyball has has two declared in the Keltbray Swinley Chase, in which only eight are scheduled to line up in the £75,000 affair.
Regal Encore, winner of the race in 2018 and two other valuable prizes at Ascot, and Jepeck, who landed the Veterans' Final in dramatic circumstances are all set to go if the weather allows.
"Regal Encore seems in good order, he's won this before, was third in it last year and won a couple of £100,000 handicaps at Ascot," said Honeyball.
"It wasn't until his last run that I thought he handled really bad ground. It was nearly off the last day, so he must handle it. He acts on Ascot heavy anyway.
"It's the right time to run him, the plan was always to go here and then the National, we were happy with his mark of 146.
"We've put in Jepeck, who is actually in a Grade Two novice hurdle at Haydock and a veterans' race at Exeter on Sunday!
"If Ascot is off early enough he'll go up to Haydock, but Ascot is first preference.
"It's a valuable race, there's only eight in it and we've got two tickets if you like."
The weights are headed by Ballyoptic, who is also engaged at Haydock, with Sean Curran's Domaine De L'Isle on a four-timer.
Sporting John and Master Debonair, who were due to clash at Exeter last week, have both been declared in the opening Thames Materials Novices' Hurdle, as well as at Exeter on Sunday.