Top Notch by name and top notch by nature, but the horse is only third favourite for the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday. That is because the small but select field includes the two highest-rated chasers in Britain and Ireland, with Altior and Cyrname set for a major showdown over two miles and five furlongs.
Keeper Hill and Solomen Grey make up the numbers and Top Notch can be backed at +1600 at online bookmakers. It’s about -400 that one of the market leaders wins the Ascot highlight, but there are two schools of thought about the most likely winner. Altior is easily the best horse Cyrname has met on the track and he will require a career-best run to prevail.
There has been a rush for advanced tickets to attend the meeting and see the biggest head-to-head clash of the season to date. Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls, the respective trainers of Altior and Cyrname, made it clear that the Ascot race on Saturday was the early-season target for the best horses in their yard. Neither has flinched, so this virtual match is on.
Top Notch has won eight of 13 starts over fences and holds a career-best Racing Post Rating of 169. The horse was beaten by a neck in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2015. While a proven performer at the highest level, Top Notch is a long way behind Altior and Cyrname in the betting for the Christy 1965 Chase.
Altior is unbeaten over hurdles and fences and has won the last 19 starts, which is a record for a jumps horse. He has won championship races at the last four Cheltenham Festivals, including the Champion Chase in 2018 and 2019. The horse is rated 175 over fences but has not raced over further than two miles and two furlongs. Fitness could be an issue and Ascot is not the most suitable track.
Cryname won the Grade 1 Betfair Chase by 17 lengths over the course and distance in February. That run earned the horse a rating of 176 and he is the highest-rated horse over fences in training. Cyrname’s last two races were at Ascot early last year and the horse missed Cheltenham and Aintree. He won those races by a combined distance of 38 lengths and there are no flaws in the form. However, Altior is the one horse in training that could get Cyrname out of his comfort zone.
Even though Cyrname is officially rated higher, Altior is fancied to come out on top. He is the dominant superstar over two miles, but the trainer believes he now needs to go further. Kauto Star and Desert Orchid were Grade 1 winners over two miles, but they both won the Cheltenham Gold Cup over three miles and two furlongs. The very best horses are adaptable in terms of trip.
On the other side of the debate, Cyrname’s backers point out that the horse is proven at the distance. They also are aware that Altior is not at his best going right-handed. The horse cannot afford to jump sloppily because Cyrname is good enough to take advantage. However, on balance Altior is the selection to win the showdown and then all roads lead to Kempton on Boxing Day and the King George. Potentially, there could be a second clash with Cyrname.