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Gigantic clashes at Ascot and Haydock make this a Saturday to savour

Altior: out to defend his unbeaten record over obstacles on Saturday
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What a week! You can't beat a good head to head, an upstart challenger taking on an established champion in direct combat.

Up and down the country, a famous pair are fighting to prove who is boss. And this time we will find out straight away who has come out on top.

When Johnson and Corbyn had their set to in a TV studio on Tuesday evening, we knew that we would not discover who had really won until December 12 – and even then, the result could turn out to be an inconclusive draw.

But there should be no need for a recount in Windsor or St Helens North on an eagerly anticipated afternoon that could end with power changing hands.

Altior has ruled almost unchallenged since the days that David Cameron was in Downing Street, proving himself a seemingly unbeatable 2m chaser.

He has seen off all comers in the course of winning a landslide 19 races out of 19 over jumps – the fact his wins last year came at odds of 8-13, 1-8, 1-10, 4-11 and 1-6 show the scarcity of serious opposition he faced.

Yet Altior is no certainty for the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot, where he moves up to 2m5f as the stepping stone Nicky Henderson has chosen on the way to the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

The distance is unlikely to be an issue for a chaser whose trademark power-packed finish has long hinted at untapped reserves of stamina.

More challengingly, he faces a rival who is rated his superior, probably for the first time since he beat the ill-fated Maputo in a novice hurdle at Cheltenham in 2015. The Racing Post and BHA handicappers both have Cyrname 1lb higher than the dual Champion Chase winner.

There are those who regard ratings with the same scepticism as they do opinion polls and would point out the challenger has it to prove today, having lost as many times as he has won in a ten-chase career.

Yet there is no doubt his Ascot Chase romp last February, beating three Grade 1 winners by 17 lengths and more over this course and distance, was an outstanding effort.

"I didn't realise he was that good!" jockey Harry Cobden said afterwards and plenty of punters are still less than convinced, as Altior has been odds-on favourite all this week.

That is despite Henderson having warned "the way he works, he doesn't look like he's going to stay" as recently as Tuesday, while Cyrname is "as fit as I can get him at home" according to Paul Nicholls, who revealed he gave him a gallop at Wincanton to ready him for this.

The talk is over now and the track whose roof was raised by the thrilling Enable v Crystal Ocean clash in July may need structural repairs if the latest race of the century lives up to the months of hype.

And this time there will be scarcely three-quarters of an hour to recover before we do it all again, 200 miles up the M40 and M6 at Haydock.

Bristol De Mai plays the Altior role in the Betfair Chase, an established star and an impressive winner of Britain's first Grade 1 race of the season for the last two years.

Bristol De Mai: conquered a quality field in last year's Betfair Chase

There is something about the place that suits Nigel Twiston-Davies' stable star as he has won all his four races at Haydock, scoring by a combined total of 115 lengths.

Yet conditions will not be as testing as when the mudlark's mudlark sluiced up by a scarcely credible 57 lengths in this race two years ago and Grade 1-winning novice Lostintranslation – the Cyrname of this £200,000 event – should give him a mighty race.

He jumped like a top-notcher in the making when scoring at Carlisle three weeks ago and has been described as 'a dream horse' by Colin Tizzard, a man not given to romantic eulogies who knows what it takes to win this, having done it three times with Cue Card.

He, Twiston-Davies and Nicholls have dominated the Betfair Chase, winning 12 of its 14 runnings, and that is one thing that will definitely not change today – nobody else even has a runner this time

Nicholls is represented by Frodon, which means that four of the top five British chasers in the 2018-19 Anglo-Irish classification are in action this afternoon. What a day!


Saturday cards and betting


Fact of the day: Why is it called the Christy 1965 Chase? The race is sponsored by Christy, who manufacture household linen, and it commemorates the year that jump racing started at Ascot


Capeland goes for double or quits

You can tell it is a big day when there are two handicaps with six-figure prize funds, plus a Grade 2 hurdle taken by a Champion Hurdle winner in three of the last six years, and they are just support acts.

On most other afternoons, Capeland's double-or-quits bid for redemption would be the stuff of headlines rather than a footnote near the end of an amazing day.

He is the Paul Nicholls-trained 2m chaser who had every chance of landing a £34,000 first prize at Ascot three weeks ago, only to be forced out at the final fence by wayward stablemate Diego Du Charmil who was controversially allowed to keep the prize.

He would earn £78,000 should he put the record straight in the Gerard Bertrand Hurst Park Handicap Chase over course and distance and the fact he runs off the same mark, so is 6lb better off with the winner, gives him every chance.

If The Cap Fits is also proven over track and trip in the Coral Hurdle, a Grade 2 race whose recent roll of honour includes Annie Power, Faugheen and Rock On Ruby.

The last name on that list is his own and he would join legendary company if he can triumph again as the last three dual winners are the outstanding trio Hardy Eustace, Baracouda and Morley Street.

David Pipe has won the Betfair Best Odds On ITV Races Stayers' Handicap Hurdle at Haydock with a progressive, well-backed five-year-old three times since 2010.

Today he runs Umbrigado, who has won three of his last four starts, is ante-post favourite and is five years old. Don't say you weren't warned.

High-class Laurina makes chasing debut

Willie Mullins will be watching the Betfair Chase with interest: will anything emerge to worry his top-class pair Al Boum Photo and Kemboy?

But by then the Gold Cup-winning trainer could have another couple of trophies for the mantelpiece on a potentially informative afternoon at Gowran Park.

High-class mare Laurina makes her debut over fences in the EBF Irish Stallion Farms Beginners' Chase, having been beaten only in the Champion Hurdle in seven runs for Mullins – who said she "has always looked a chaser in the making" in his Racing Post stable tour.

But she takes on Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle winner Minella Endo and stablemate Getabird has no easy task in the Talbot Hotel Carlow Chase either, facing Gigginstown pair Mengli Khan and Mortal plus Castlebrook – whose trainer claimed he was 'only 75 per cent fit' when making a successful chasing debut last month.


Statistic of the day: The last 12 winners of the Coral Ascot Hurdle started at odds of 100-30 or shorter and five of the last seven favourites have won.


Today on ITV Racing: ARMCHAIR GUIDE

1.50 Haydock
Betfair Exchange Handicap Hurdle
2m3f
Whoshotthesheriff had every chance of completing a hat-trick when falling two out at Cheltenham last month and bids to get back to winning ways for Phil Kirby.

2.05 Ascot
Christy 1965 Chase (Grade 2)
2m5f
The race of the season. Will Altior make it 20 out of 20 over jumps or will Cyrname lower his colours?

2.25 Haydock
Betfair Best Odds On ITV Races Stayers' Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
3m½f
Umbrigado is well fancied by David Pipe after a wind operation but faces five last-time-out winners in a race taken by the top-class Paisley Park last season.

2.40 Ascot
Coral Hurdle (Grade 2)
2m3½f
Last year's winner If The Cap Fits faces a rematch with Roksana, whom he beat by a neck at Aintree in the spring. 

3.00 Haydock
Betfair Chase (Grade 1)
3m
Bristol De Mai attempts to land the first Grade 1 race of the British jumps season for the third year in a row, opposed by Lostintranslation whose trainer Colin Tizzard won this three times with Cue Card.

3.20 Ascot
Gerard Bertrand Hurst Park Handicap Chase
2m1f
Paul Nicholls aims well fancied Diego Du Charmil and Capeland at a race in which his Cyrname went off favourite last year...and finished seventh.

3.40 Haydock
Better Value On The Betfair Exchange Stayers' Handicap Chase
3m4½f
Local trainer Oliver Greenall attempts to land his richest success with Late Romantic, who showed the benefit of a wind operation when scoring at Wetherby three weeks ago


Look back on a record-breaking year with the Racing Post Annual 2020, the perfect gift for every racing fan. Bigger and better and only £12.99, this year's 224-page book features all the best stories from a brilliant racing year. Order your copy here


 

A famous pair are fighting to prove who is boss. And this time we will find out straight away who has come out on top
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