Altior and Cyrname are due to meet at Ascot on Saturday at level weights. Altior is 9-y-o. Cyrname is 7.
Altior’s reputation has been structured and tended to and altered over a long time. He won his first race on October 10th 2015. In 18 appearance since he remains unbeaten. He’s won 10 Grade 1s and 5 Grade 2s. His current official rating is 175, a mark that as been unchanged over six races since he earned it winning the 2018 Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Cyrname’s official rating is 176, awarded after winning last time out at Ascot. He has won 1 Grade 1 and 2 Grade 2s. The highest official rating of Cyrname’s career – 150, was taken into his Ascot race on January 19th 2019. Like Altior he had held that rating for all 6 of his previous runs, showing not 1lb of improvement. But this was to be the day that puzzle was to burst open and the pieces scattered everywhere.
Cyrname led at the 2nd, clicked into a high cruising gear, jumped with great efficiency and was never in danger of even seeing a rival. Just under 4 weeks later Cyrname returned to Ascot ( same trip) and mowed everything down in even more astonishing fashion. His official rating was increased to 176. In two races he had gone from officially being Altior’s inferior to the tune of 25lbs, to being 1lb superior to him. The turnaround took him 28 days. How did he achieve this?
I had a dig around looking for an obvious explanation. Nicholls, Cyrname’s trainer will try anything legal to get improvement from a horse. An altered training regime, work partner, diet, position in yard, new trip … all of these are listed on the standard improvement menu for every trainer. A good little recipe is often found, but very rarely a mixture as effective as the one that had changed the lives of Cyrname and connections so explosively.
Hints can sometime be found in the post-race comments of connections, but there is nothing obvious in those from the Ascot races:
16Feb19 Ascot (21GS, RPR 181)
I thought Cyrname was good but I didn’t realise he was that good. Words can’t describe how impressive that was. I’ve always thought he was a Punchestown Gold Cup horse but we’ll leave it to Paul ? he’s the master of placing horses – Harry Cobden, jockey. I don’t know where that leaves us but we’ll have to look at the Ryanair – Paul Nicholls, trainer.
19Jan19 Ascot (21GS, RPR 178)
Cyrname’s first run this season was good and we probably wrongly dropped him in trip next time and now he will probably come back for the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase as his form says he is undoubtedly better racing this way round. You could see today when he is left alone and has that rail next to him he gets into a good rhythm and gets the other out of one. We always thought he was going to be a Grade 1 horse and he is now doing what we thought he was capable of this season – Harry Derham, assistant to winning trainer Paul Nicholls
That reference to a preference for right handed courses seems solid; he’s 0 from 3 left handed and 5 from 10 right handed. Ascot too is gaining a reputation as Cyrname’s key while being a barrier to Altior’s chances, yet Cyrname is 2 from 5 at Ascot; Altior is 2 from 2.
Anyway, back to the investigation on where Cyrname’s improvement had come from. Some cited the step up in trip over previous seasons, but it had been just a furlong or so; unlikely in my view to have generated such striking figures, but quite likely to have contributed to the overall improvement.
So, what had changed for Cyrname? Headgear check: nope, headgear free on both big wins … what next … whoah … Cyrname had worn a hood on every outing since his third victory in France. It was left off for both Ascot wins.
In the absence of other evidence I’m going to assume that removing the hood has been the significant factor in Cyrname’s sudden improvement. The intention of a hood is to offer the horse some protection from the sound at racecourses and lower the stress levels. I have no deep figure access to the general success of horses where the hood has been used/discontinued/resumed, but perhaps one or two of the twitterati could chip in some data here.
My suspicion is that with the passing of time and the horse adjusting to the ‘new’ situation, the effectiveness of the hood change will fade. Still, I’d like more evidence on this so won’t be having a bet on Saturday.
All the best.