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Queen Mother Champion Chase Tips: Kate Tracey fancies Energumene to reverse the form with Shishkin

Kate Tracey talks through the Queen Mother Champion Chase where she analyses the contenders and gives reasons as to why Energumene can reverse the form with Shishkin from their Clarence House Chase clash.

Shishkin is the correct price

The current odds-on favourite and a simply, brilliant racehorse of that there is no doubt now. Shishkin’s only rules defeat came when falling on his second hurdle start but he hasn’t looked back since then.

His first Cheltenham Festival success came in the 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle where he overcame all sorts of adversity to win. He made a shuddering error at the third hurdle before being squeezed for room shortly after his mistake. He was then hugely fortunate not to be brought down by a faller at the second last yet powered away up the hill to beat Abacadabras by a head.

His Novice Chase campaign went perfectly to plan and resulted in a comprehensive win in the Arkle where he jumped beautifully and extended away from his inferior rivals.

There was much debate this season where and when we’d see Shishkin making his first start in open company.

He was expected to make his reappearance start in the Tingle Creek but Nicky Henderson had reportedly not been happy enough with Shishkin to run him at Sandown.

Again, Henderson had made his feelings known that he wasn’t 100% pleased with Shishkin prior to his return in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton. However, those fears were ultimately unfounded where Shishkin ran out an impressive winner. Shishkin hit his customary flat spot in the Grade 2 win at Kempton, much like his predecessor Altior did, before proving a different league to his rivals.

The stage was then set for the Clarence House Chase where Shishkin was set for his sternest test yet, taking on Energumene. The two titans came into the Clarence House Chase with differing profiles but there was no denying the huge talent both possessed.

Shishkin once again, had to overcome his own adversity in the race where he made a mistake and pecked on landing at the sixth fence. He once again, hit his flat spot before powering into top gear and staying on best of all to beat Energumene by one length.

Of course, there’s a whole host of evident reasons why Shishkin can uphold that form in the Champion Chase.

Most notably was that he was still able to win the Ascot Grade 1 despite making a momentum halting error whereas, everything went perfectly for Energumene and he still couldn’t beat Shishkin.

Shishkin’s stamina is likely to come into play even more so up the Cheltenham hill so even if Energumene tries to take advantage of the Old Course front-runner pace bias, he may still set it up for Shishkin.

Shishkin also has course form with his two wins at the Cheltenham Festival from two starts at the track whereas Energumene has never raced at Cheltenham.

Clearly, Shishkin is a brilliant racehorse and it’s understandable that he’s the clear favourite.

Plenty of reasons why Energumene can reverse the form

The rivalry between Shishkin and Energumene could hardly have been better teed up than for their clash in the Clarence House Chase.

Energumene, a hugely talented horse in his own right, losing the race but enhancing his own profile in the process.

Energumene began life with Sophie and Tom Lacey where he won his sole British point-to-point start before being sold to join Willie Mullins.

He won his second bumper start before also dominating his only run over hurdles. He was sent straight over fences last season where he could hardly have been more impressive on his first three chase outings. He won the Irish Arkle at last season’s Dublin Racing Festival by 10 lengths where he made all and put his rivals’ jumping under pressure.

He missed last season’s Cheltenham Festival after meeting a setback just a few days before the showpiece meeting.

That meant we didn’t get the clash anticipated between Shishkin and Energumene on that occasion and it was left for Shishkin to dominate.

Energumene returned for Punchestown where again, he posted a dominant display in the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase.
He had his second start of the season in the Clarence House Chase following his huge effort to win on reappearance at Cork in the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase.

He ran an absolute belter and looked to have Shishkin beat for most of the race. The plan could hardly have gone better for Energumene yet he looked to be marginally outstayed to the line by an immensely talented horse.

There are some reasons though which might make Energumene worth chancing to reverse the form with Shishkin. The Clarence House Chase was listed to be run over 2m 167 yards but was actually 2m 210 yards when taking into account rail movements. Therefore, the Clarence House was run over 10 yards shy of 2m1f. Shishkin needed every yard of that trip to claw back Energumene and the trip of the Champion Chase may well be telling.

The Champion Chase is due to be run over 1m7f199y, which is 231 yards less than the Clarence House Chase and if the Ascot contest had been run over that trip, the result would have been different as Shishkin hit his flat spot.

The Champion Chase is also run on Cheltenham’s Old Course which is a much sharper test than the New Course. Naturally therefore, the track lends itself to front runners and previous winners of the Champion Chase tell us that in itself. Put The Kettle On was ridden positively before winning last year’s renewal, Politologue made all to win, as did Special Tiara in 2017.

If Cheltenham gets the typical spring ground accustomed, then that will put further emphasis on speed which is certainly in Energumene’s favour.

All of these reasons and the pressure he may put on Shishkin again from the front sets up the Champion Chase perfectly.

Chacun Pour Soi needs to prove he can travel

There is still certainly a big divide on whether Chacun Pour Soi can bring his brilliant best form to Britain. There is no doubt just how dominant he is when racing in Ireland and he is near unbeatable over two miles in his home country.

He’s proven his superiority countless times despite the fragility which has threatened to derail his career on occasions.
He has six Grade 1 wins to his name, all of which coming at Punchestown and Leopardstown.

He gained his third Dublin Chase success last time out at the Dublin Racing Festival where he bounced back to his brilliant best to destroy his inferior rivals.

He’s only been beaten once in Ireland, that was when overturned by A Plus Tard in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas in 2019. However, it’s clearly been a very different story when he’s travelled to Britain.

He was due to run in the Champion Chase at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival and made the trip across the Irish Sea with the rest of the Mullins’ string. He picked up a stone bruise the morning of the race and was withdrawn.

He looked ready to make amends at last season’s Festival but was overturned as the 8/13 favourite. There was much debate as to why that happened and I was of the more forgiving mindset. I felt the race conspired against him where he should have been ridden more prominently in hindsight. The entire race looked a shock to his system and cost him the win however, he certainly wasn’t disgraced finishing 1 1/2 lengths third.

It was a very different story on his return in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek, however. It was a clear objective to ride him further forwards and to dictate the race. Chacun Pour Soi never travelled with his customary verve and was chipping in short, uncomfortable strides at the railway fences. The writing was on the wall from a long way out.

The result was too bad to be true and a subsequent finding of a hamstring strain may have been the reason. It was therefore, reassuring to see him bounce back at Leopardstown.

Willie Mullins commented that he thinks the travelling to England may take more out of Chacun Pour Soi than expected and that’s why he underperforms.

Mullins plans to leave more on the horse at home so the travelling only takes that extra bit of condition off of him.
He should therefore, be straight for another tilt at the Champion Chase and what a training performance that would be if he could win.

Nube Negra is best when fresh

Nube Negra was another horse who disappointed in the Tingle Creek last time out when finishing fourth, in front of the tailed off Chacun Pour Soi.

The race fell apart and it was left to Greaneteen to pick up the pieces after being ridden in rear whereas Nube Negra, was ridden far more prominently.

Nube Negra may still be worth chancing to bounced back from that effort which also, looked to come too soon for him. It’s worth remembering that Nube Negra did finish just half a length behind Put The Kettle On in last season’s Champion Chase.

It was commonly believed that he was the moral winner of the race after he stumbled after the last fence and had to switch on the run-in. He was just held in that run where of course, he had Chacun Pour Soi behind him again in third. He signed off his season the following month with a lesser performance in the Grade 1 Champion Chase won by Chacun Pour Soi.

However, Nube Negra looked to appreciate a summer break and proved his best form when fresh at Cheltenham by winning the Grade 2 Shloer Chase by six lengths.

That race is over the same course and distance as the Champion Chase and was run on good ground in November. Nube Negra defied the typical pace bias of the Old Course by being held up in rear before asserting on the run-in to comprehensively overturn the Champion Chase form with Put The Kettle On in third.

Nube Negra perhaps found that the Tingle Creek came too soon following his Cheltenham success just 20 days prior.

Three of the four chase wins from Nube Negra have come on the back of a break of at least 173 days. The only other win was when justifying 2/5 favouritism on the back of a 27-day turnaround.

It looks interesting therefore, that Dan Skelton is keeping Nube Negra under wraps, just as he did last season for the Champion Chase.

If there is pace pressure on Energumene from the likes of Chacun Pour Soi and Politologue and the race is strongly run, Nube Negra may well be able to pick up any pieces and run into a place.

Envoi Allen bids to recapture his former glory

A hugely forgotten horse in a very short space of time is Envoi Allen. One of the most exciting horses of a generation prior to the Cheltenham Festival last season, he looked to have the world at his feet.

He was invincible in his bumper season, winning the Champion Bumper on his fourth start under rules. That theme continued into his novice hurdle campaign where again, he dominated and ran out a very impressive winner of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 2020.

The start of his chasing career couldn’t have gone any better with him upholding his unbeaten record on his first three chase starts.

However, his owners, Cheveley Park Stud took the decision to move him from Gordon Elliott’s cared after the photo emerged of the trainer sat upon a dead horse for which he received a suspension. The switch of yards just a few weeks prior to the Cheltenham Festival looked to have a negative impact on Envoi Allen’s mindset.

He was in danger of boiling over at the start of the Marsh Novices’ Chase, for which he was the 4/9 favourite. He was fractious and made an uncharacteristic error at the fourth fence and fell.

He was then found to be lame when pulling up in the Grade 1 3m120y Novice Chase at Punchestown when signing off last season.

He returned with a win at Down Royal where he looked back to his invincible best in a Grade 2. His jump at the last and how clever he had to be before being eased to a 22-length victory sounded to most people that he was back.

However, he certainly didn’t look any cut above his rivals in the Grade 1 John Durkan where he finished sixth over the 2m4f100y trip. Again, it begged all manners of questions about the horse and whether or not he’d ever been the superstar most had labelled him as.

He dropped down to 2m1f last time out to gain another Grade 1 win against two rivals where he won in workmanlike fashion. He didn’t shape like a two miler on that occasion so the potential of running Envoi Allen in the Champion Chase would leave me lukewarm.

Easy to forgive Greaneteen’s latest outing

Greaneteen was perhaps unlucky to become another of Paul Nicholls’s runners to fall fowl of the poor yard form at the Dublin Racing Festival. He was sent off as second favourite for the Grade 1 Dublin Chase behind Chacun Pour Soi but as soon as Bryony Frost asked him for his effort, he quickly cut out.

That has been the nature of Nicholls’s runners throughout late-January into early February where various possible reasons have been sighted. The Leopardstown run therefore, may be easy enough to forgive in time once the form has returned to the inmates at Ditcheat.

Greaneteen has some of the best two-mile form around of course, as he signed off last season with a win in the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at Sandown where he defeated Altior.

He made a respectable reappearance this season under top weight in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter which was very much a reappearance run to set him straight.

He then took full advantage of many of his rival’s frailties to win another Grade 1 in the form of the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December. Admittedly, Chacun Pour Soi was disappointing and the race probably came soon enough for Nube Negra. Greaneteen was ridden towards the rear and circled the field wide before staying on well to win by a going away 5 1/2 lengths.

He was subsequently no match for Shishkin in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase but was still able to do next best of the small runner field.

He finished fourth in last year’s Champion Chase, just 1/2 length behind Chacun Pour Soi and filled that same position the season prior in the Grand Annual.

Provided he can bounce back from his Leopardstown run, which was too bad to be true, he may be able to pick up the pieces late on and finish in the frame.

Politologue may be past his best

One of the most popular horses in training, Politologue is now an 11-year-old but the old grey still has plenty of fire in the belly.

He was the Champion Chase winner in 2020 when Defi Du Seuil failed to fire and Chacun Pour Soi was a late non-runner. He made all and found a lovely rhythm in that success which put all his rivals under pressure.

He returned the following season to win the Tingle Creek where he overturned his stablemate and reopposing Greaneteen.

He didn’t make it to the Champion Chase last season due to blood coming from his nostril which may have been caused by a bang to the head. Whatever the reason for the bleed, Paul Nicholls took no chances and withdrew him from defending his crown.

His sole start so far this season was when second to Nube Negra in the Schloer Chase at Cheltenham where he ran another admirable race over his favourite course and distance.

He underwent a wind operation over the summer which looked to work on his reappearance and for all he’s probably past his best, he’s still likely to give his running.

No show this season from Put The Kettle On

The reigning champion should certainly receive a mention as Put The Kettle On returns to her former, favourite track and trip.

The winner of the 2020 Arkle, she carried the trend of Arkle winners’ positive record in the Champion Chase through to last season when winning the open contest.

She was hugely underrated for her chances in last season’s Champion Chase and was sent off at 17/2 which was baffling considering her 100% record over the course and distance in her three previous runs at Cheltenham.

She again, forced the pace last March but showed a great attitude to prevail over Nube Negra by 1/2 length.

The eight-year-old mare hasn’t looked herself in her two starts this season, akin to many of Henry De Bromhead’s horses.

She looked lethargic and uninterested on her return at Cheltenham in the Shloer Chase when sent off as the 15/8 favourite. She was ridden throughout the race and became outpaced before staying on to bag third.

The decision was taken to up the mare in trip in the hope it was just a lack of pace as to why she underperformed at Cheltenham, so she ran in the 2m5f110y Grade 3 Mares Chase at Fairyhouse. Clearly, it was more than the trip that had been against her and she finished a tailed off last.

It’s difficult to know what to expect from her at Cheltenham at all as she hasn’t looked in love with the game this season. She may run in the Mares’ Chase instead of the Champion Chase but it’s difficult to side with her no matter what she runs in.

Conclusion

Shishkin is certainly the correct favourite for the Champion Chase however, I think he’s just about worth taking on at his current price of 1.84/5 with Energumene at 4.03/1.

I hope that the pace bias on the Old Course holds up and the spring ground should aid Energumene’s style of racing. The shorter trip of the Champion Chase may well play to the advantage of Energumene to foil Shishkin staying on in the closing stages.

It’s going to be a brilliant spectacle regardless of the result and I for one, cannot wait.

Check out what the team have to say about the Champion Chase on the latest Roarcast below, featuring Betfair ambassador Bryony Frost.

Betfair Betting Podcast ? Cheltenham Roarcast | Episode Four | Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase & Cheltenham Gold Cup

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