Cheltenham Festival: Champion Chase rider profiles as Shishkin take on Energumene and Everyone For Self | Race News
Sky Sports Racing senior analyst Jamie Lynch assesses the leading contenders for one of the Cheltenham Festival’s most anticipated races, the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The Godfather Part II, Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back and Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps. These are rare instances where the sequel is better than the original, but that’s what we’re hoping for from Shishkin and Energumene’s revenge.
The two heaviest hitters in our sport start again, after an Ascot rumble that ended with three runs to a complete stoppage, is something to savor, on top of which the supporting cast is bigger and better than Clarence House.
By mutual agreement, it’s the race of the week at the Cheltenham Festival…
Everyone For Himself
Coach: Willie Mullins
Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is a pattern, they say. But is it already more than a coincidence, and therefore a pattern, that twice Everyone For Self ventured to Brittany (8/13 both times) that he returned home with his tail between his legs.
While it’s easy enough to forgive him for the Tingle Creek, because it was his reappearance (and he would have suffered a strain), it’s harder to forgive him for last year’s Champion Chase watching his mercy, before and during the race, until he came on Kate Bush’s time and ran up that hill.
Solving races can be about prioritizing questions, and the very next question – after the big one of the big two – is about which side of Free For All we will see.
The crucial point for Everyone For Self is not capacity but compatibility, so it’s a matter of individual assessment and the price you put on their UK crossings to know if it’s a coincidence or of a diagram. I need odds greater than 5/1.
Symptomatic of the team in that he’s better than ever this season, as evidenced by his back-to-back wins at Cheltenham, but he dominates the handicaps, and it’s a very different ball game.
Hard to believe he’ll play a big part in the finish, but he could play a big part in the race, impacting one or both of Shishkin and Energumene – likely to spoil the latter – as he is one-dimensional and will go with an all-out frontal attack.
He won’t wear the crown, but he might hold the keys to the kingdom.
Dan Marino has never won a Super Bowl, Jonah Lomu has never won a World Cup and Jimmy White has been beaten in all six of his World Snooker finals. It’s too early to say that Energumene, like this, is the right talent at the wrong time, but it just might be, in the same orbit as Shishkin.
I stand by what I said about Sky Sports Racing just after Clarence House: that you could count on one hand the number of horses in history that could have caught Energumene at Ascot that day.
The result at the line doesn’t need to define their relationship, not yet, not after a fight, not when there was 0.25 seconds between them, and not after Energumene had Shishkin on the ropes until the last round.
The Champion Chase is on a different day, on a different track, at a [slightly] different journey. These are all grounds for a knockdown, although Energumene had advantages at Ascot that cannot be replicated at Cheltenham, primarily his total control of the run.
Energumene is a hunting giant – but some stand on the shoulders of giants.
Henry of Bromhead
At this time last year, neither Shishkin nor Energumene had as much hype around them as Dispatch Allen, but a lost reputation (and unbeaten record) in pursuit of swamp novices never really was. bought since.
This season his CV is better than the reality as the second year he won doesn’t mean much, nor does the first year at Leopardstown at Christmas when he worked very hard to see his only remaining rival at Battleoverdean.
In between, he was put back in his place in a truer Grade One against Allaho and co.
He’s not the horse he once looked like he was becoming, nor a natural two-mile runner, but the declared plan is to come here rather than the Ryanair, and there will be no hiding in this high renewal quality and high intensity. .
Sivole tightrope walker
The horse that has run Shishkin closest to the fences, other than Energumene, is Funambule Sivola, who found himself within three and three quarters of him during the Maghull Novices pursuit at Aintree last year, though it’s a watered down version of Shishkin following his big change to the Arkle.
He is unbeaten this season at two mile, including the Game Spirit last time out, but he has only faced three rivals at Newbury (run by Royal Seal) and little or no improvement was needed. Hardly a qualification for a Champion Chase in truth.
Only a seven year old and a second season fighter, he obviously has a ticket to place even higher, on top of that he’s a very confident jumper, and so he’s in the hunt for a medal but the bronze is the best he can reasonably hope for.
There’s a hint of Andy Murray in Nube Negra, with Shishkin, Energumene and Each For Self taking over the roles of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal.
Nube Negre has the game up to them on a really good day, if the circumstances are right…and those circumstances are right.
He could be classed as rather unlucky when he finished second in last year’s Champion Chase and, although this upcoming edition is another league above, he hasn’t stopped himself.
He upped his game when he was impressive in the Shloer on his return, knocking out the last two Champion Chase winners.
He wasn’t in the Tingle Creek himself, the quick turnaround perhaps behind, but he’s since been refreshed for a big innings.
In a race that will be prepared for him, his high cruising speed and precise jumps will take him far on a track that is clearly in his street.
The big two might have class that he can’t handle, but I think he’ll be the best of the rest.
Put the kettle on
Henry of Bromhead
The antithesis of Everybody For Himself in that she reserves her best for Cheltenham, recording four wins there, including an Arkle and a Champion Chase.
His star seems to be fading, however, based on his recent runs with one of Cheltenham’s – beaten favorites in the Shloer – which doesn’t bode well.
It’s saying something that she’s aiming for another Champion Chase, rather than the easier Mares’ Chase later in the week, but that’s only a hypothetical hook, and the practical part of her performance this term suggests that the fire went out.
As a hunter, he is undefeated and, so far, unbeatable. Energumene produced a near-perfect two-mile pursuit performance in Clarence House, full of pace, power and perfect technique, and yet Shishkin still overhauled it during the run-in, despite being on the nose at the sixth closing.
To focus on the fact that it took him so long to master Energumene at Ascot is to underestimate everything he did to mirror his moves to pressure points that would shatter almost any other Hunter past or present.
Comparing him to the two-time winners of the Champion Chase stable, Shishkin is like an amalgamation of the two, blessed with the finishing touch of Altior on top of the high gears of Sprinter Sacre.
It’s trite to say that Shishkin will be hard to beat, because his price and record tell us precisely that, but how short should he be? The odds of 4/6 deduce, logically, that he would win that Champion Chase six times if you ran him 10 times and, to me, that’s hard to argue with.
Verdict from Jamie Lynch…
At the heart of the Champion Chase are the cogs and bolts of what happened at Ascot in the first title fight for these equine heavyweights and if you believe the different dynamics at Cheltenham will help Energumene to take revenge.
But the idea is built into this that Paul Townend will be able to play the cards whenever he wants whether or not they are the same cards in the same way as Ascot and that may not be not the case, as this is shaping up to be a double-digit field, including some competition for the lead.
The more the merrier for Shishkin, the stronger the gallop, the more invincible he is. Let’s also not forget that he has won the Cheltenham Festival twice, while Energumene still has that box unchecked.
Shishkin can cement its status as a modern great, but from a financial standpoint, I’m focusing on Nube Negra in more exotic markets, as this is his perfect playground and, after a break, he will be primed and groomed for peak performance by his best stable.