Charlie Hall Chase: Cyrname ready to prove doubters wrong again at Wetherby
HARRY Cobden’s rise through National Hunt racing’s ranks has been as rapid as the horses that he has ridden to Grade One glory.
Six years ago, he was an unknown fresh-faced teenager when he partnered Old Guard to victory in Cheltenham’s Greatwood Hurdle.
He recorded his first Grade One triumph when Irving won the 2016 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle – and he is blessed to be associated with horses as brilliant as Clan Des Obeaux and Politologue after recently surpassing the 500-winner landmark.
Yet it is illustrative of Cyrname’s scintillating jumping that Cobden, who turns 23 next Friday, holds Johnny de la Hey’s horse in the highest regard of all.
Victorious in last season’s bet365 Charlie Hall Chase before Cyrname’s early season promise faded away, the Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old returns to Wetherby today to defend his title and, again, silence the doubters.
Cobden’s voice becomes animated as he discusses last year’s race with The Yorkshire Post – and how the exhilarating chaser’s athleticism took lengths out of his rivals.
Cyrname, he says, did not even hesitate jumping the final fence in the back straight – a daunting open ditch where there is no room for error. It was the same over the four fences on the gallop to the winning line, Cobden’s mount jumping with consummate ease as the pursuers, better horses than today’s opponents, made errors.
“Probably one of the most exuberant jumpers you will ever ride,” says the jockey, his anticipation as discernible as his Somerset farming accent (he hails from a family steeped in agriculture).
“He can stand off fences where other horses wouldn’t get to the other side. You saw that at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall, but even braver at Ascot (November, 2019) when he beat Altior, who was the highest-rated chaser.
“The way he travelled, the way he jumped. He was a jockey’s dream. It was a wonderful day and let’s hope there’s plenty more of them.”
Cobden was the personification of calmness in the saddle as Cyrname landed last year’s Charlie Hall – his horse was in a rhythm and he did not want to break stride.
The regret was that Covid restrictions meant no spectators were present to witness one of the most mercurial rounds of jumping in the 40-year history of this celebrated race which carries the name of one Yorkshire’s training greats.
Those on course would have witnessed Nicholls becoming increasingly animated with each jump.
“It was a good run,” reflected a trainer who relished proving wrong all those who believed that his horse would be unsuited by travelling left-handed and stepping up in trip to three miles.
Nicholls also believes there’ are legitimate excuses for Cyrname’s subsequent two runs – he said the horse just is not suited to a tight track like Kempton, where he was pulled up in the King George, and, in hindsight, should have withdrawn the steeplechaser from the Ascot Chase on account of the desperately heavy ground.
However he has never lost faith in the ability of a horse who has won eight out of 22 career starts – including the 2019 Ascot Chase when Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently was no match in a Grade One contest.
Nicholls says Cyrname has had his soft palate cauterised to aid his breathing and is invariably best when fresh. “To be honest, three miles round a galloping track like Wetherby suits him now he’s a bit older,” added the 12-times champion trainer who is edging towards his 4,000th winner.
“If he performs well on Saturday, we’ll make a plan from there. If not, we will be in trouble. But he seems in good shape. He’s not easy to train, never has been. If only he’d had clean wind for his whole career... there’ve been lots of little niggles.”
That does not faze Cobden, who is encouraged by reports from Scott Marshall, who rides Cyrname in his work each day at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Somerset, where Nicholls started training 30 years ago.
“I leave him in Scott’s capable hands. You don’t want to change a good thing,” says the jockey. “He’s delighted, very, very happy with him and I’m really excited to be getting back on him at Wetherby.
“Fingers crossed, he can go back there and repeat something like last year. A lot of people said he couldn’t go left-handed or stay three miles, but he jumped impeccably and proved Mr Nicholls right.”
As for Cobden, he is speaking while “somewhere in Wales” as he continues a cross-country tour that saw him ride at Fakenham on Wednesday, Ffos Las on Thursday and Uttoxeter yesterday.
He is also pleased to have recovered from the shattered cheekbone that he suffered at Aintree in April 48 hours after a big-race double on Clan Des Obeaux and Monimiral in the colours of legendary football manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who describes Cobden as a “humble and ambitious” jockey “who wants to be the best”.
“I definitely appreciate riding better horses more than I did a couple years ago – I guess you have to take the good days with the disappointments,” added the rider who is renowned for his laid-back approach.
“Horses like Cyrname, Clan Des Obeaux, Politologue, Greaneteen, they don’t come round very often. We’re very lucky to have them. I’m riding at a good strike-rate and everyone is very happy. I’m enjoying it. Long may it continue.”