The Charlie Hall Chase turned into a six-and-a-half-minute masterclass on why much of what many of us thought we knew about Cyrname was wrong. It was delivered by Cyrname himself, without ever really breaking sweat, in a two‑length defeat of a hard-ridden Vinndication in the first major chase of the winter campaign, and a final flourish was the prospect of the victor lining up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March – something else that many of us suspected we might never see.
There were several good reasons beforehand to think this would not be Cyrname’s day: the three-mile trip, the left-handed track and the lingering memory of a horrible fall at Ascot in February that left him winded and motionless for several minutes. One by one, they blew away on the stiff Yorkshire breeze as the eight-year-old cruised to victory, with Vinndication, who replaced him as favourite in the run-up to the race, and the frontrunner, Aye Right, in his wake.
Both the second and third ran with credit – they are, after all, 15lb and more behind the winner on the official numbers – but were ultimately swept aside by the horse who snapped Altior’s long winning streak on his first start last season.
He could not back up that immense effort in the King George at Kempton, finishing second to Clan Des Obeaux, a stablemate at the Paul Nicholls yard, but he will get an extra three weeks’ rest this time around and is now vying with Clan Des Obeaux to head the ante-post market on the feature race of the Christmas programme. Some firms have the pair as 7-2 joint-favourites but Cyrname is top‑priced at 5-1.
“I was never worried about the left-handed bit, that was a long time ago and he’s so much more relaxed now,” Nicholls said. “That means you can ride him accordingly and makes life so much easier.
“This unlocks a lot of doors for us [and] gives us a nice bit of time before Kempton. He was wrong last year, but if we can get him back to his best, he’ll be a serious challenger.
“I’ve always thought if he was successful today, we’d go Denman Chase [at Newbury in February] and Gold Cup. Horses that win this race can win Gold Cups. I wouldn’t want to go that far [three and a quarter miles] before the Gold Cup, but we’re certainly heading in that direction.”
There were potential Gold Cup horses running at Down Royal, too, where The Storyteller fought his way past Chris’s Dream in the dying strides to land the Ladbrokes Champion Chase, the first Grade One of the new season. His better-fancied stable companions at the Gordon Elliott yard, Presenting Percy and Delta Work, were only fourth and fifth, respectively.
Chris’s Dream surged into the lead between the final two fences and still had a useful advantage well inside the final furlong, but Keith Donoghue coaxed a final effort from The Storyteller which saw him cross the line a neck to the good.