'When he got up it was brilliant' - Nicholls moved by crowd reaction to Cyrname
The storm had been brewing all day at Ascot yet the darkest cloud fell at the final fence of the Betfair Ascot Chase, where Cyrname, the horse the majority had braved the elements to come and see, went down and stayed down.
The screens went up, the crowd fell silent and the worst was feared. Many minutes passed as Riders Onthe Storm returned victorious to the winner's circle but then a cheer went up; Cyrname was back on his feet. His trainer soon summed up the feeling of everyone standing by his side.
"When he got up it was brilliant and my God what a reception," said Paul Nicholls. "Moments like that show how precious he is not only to us but everyone. The vets were brilliant and thank God he was only winded."
A race full of more drama you could not find. Cyrname, who had tried to make all, was well beaten by the time of his tired fall but the race was far from over up ahead.
New kid on the chasing block Riders Onthe Storm, ridden bravely by Sam Twiston-Davies to serve it up to Cyrname before the home straight, was coming to the end of his reserves with only the last to clear and looking vulnerable to 40-1 chance Traffic Fluide.
Yet Cyrname was not the only one to come down at the last, as Traffic Fluide went from having a winning chance to being sprawled on the ground. Fortunately he too climbed to his feet as Riders Onthe Storm galloped away to a 14-length success over Janika, the only other in the field.
"I think he was probably a lucky winner in the end," said winning trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies. "Sam said he went to take on Cyrname and that probably tired him out a bit. Cyrname won't be in the Ryanair and our horse was hanging today. So going left-handed at Cheltenham on better ground should be quite a good thing for the Ryanair."
The majority of bookmakers were less convinced, Betfair Sportsbook among those to ease his price, offering 10-1.
The winner is owned by Carl Hinchy and Mark Scott and while they celebrated top-level success with a rendition of Riders on the Storm by The Doors they were as relieved as anyone to see Cyrname and Traffic Fluide walk away.
"The most important thing is that the other horses are fine," said Hinchy. "You hate to over-celebrate when there are issues with other horses but for us this means everything.
"We're doing it on a budget and doing our best. Winning a Grade 1, you're at the top table. He showed guts, character, speed and a lot of quality."
When suggested they had been brave to line up against Cyrname in the first place, not to mention take him on so early in the race, Hinchy added: "If horses don't race against each other how will we ever know how good they are?
"We have to test him against the best otherwise we're not doing what we should to honour racing. The season is not all about Cheltenham and Aintree, so we made a race of it today and thankfully all the horses have got up and are well. That's the main thing."
Nicholls was clear Cyrname will not run again this season with a full MOT to follow. "I've just said to Johnny de la Hey [Cyrname's owner], we want to leave it for the season now and go back to the drawing board.
"There's something missing. I'm not sure what it is. Everyone will say it's the Altior race but I won't. I think it's something physical or something missing somewhere. I can't quite put my finger on it."
The champion trainer added: "He's always had wind issues, which will be made worse on that ground and it might be something as easy as having to recauterise his palate. It's almost like he's not driving himself and something is missing. We'll get to the bottom of it."
Arguably the unluckiest of all was Traffic Fluide, returning from a mammoth 469-day absence, although rider Josh Moore was not convinced he was a nailed-on winner before falling.
"He travelled into the race lovely as the others were getting tired," said the rider. "Unfortunately he got tired himself coming to the last and it's the first mistake he's made in his life. It was a tired fall and I'm not sure if he'd have won."
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