It was a hell of a build up, you’d have thought it was the only race of the weekend, but to be fair it lived up to the hype for every single yard.
A belter, a true classic, but it was only the warm up and, in my opinion, I think Willie Mullins would have possibly left with less questions to ask.
The hype around the race was understandable, because we don’t often get to see these match ups outside of Cheltenham and often by Cheltenham one of the big names in these duels doesn’t get there. Because of that I cant help but think that Energumene was over here solely to get a feel of how good Shishkin actually is, and I think they left fairly happy.
Lets not get mistaken, as much as both trainers would have wanted to win on the weekend, that race was a prep, and if you offered them both a win at Ascot in mid January, or a win at Cheltenham in March there would only be one answer.
However, we Brits seem obsessed with these duels. Our media are in a mad panic for the best horses to be out every weekend and seeing the best of our bunch battle to the death throughout winter. Probably due to a mass collective opninion that racing is dying, if that’s the case it’s because media are killing it. The same media that jump on our horses come March when theyre all goosed and over the top.
The Irish train back from March, no fuss is kicked up when Allaho and the like win a penalty kick in January in an easy prep for Festival targets. The Irish campaign their top horses lightly, take Al Boum Photo as a prime example. This will go a way to explaining why the Irish dominate in March. Is it because all of their horses are far superior? The handicapper would prove not, its because they arrive in better shape to run their race on a specific day, not many weekends all over the winter.
Take Cyrname and Altior as a prime example. Two of the best rated horses in training when they met. Trained by two power house yards and begged by the media/public to have a slog on desperate ground around Ascot in the depth of winter. The race was brilliant, their future after the race absolutely non existent..
The way the race was going to be run on Saturday was inevitable, Energumene does what he does best and jumps his opposition into defeat, for 95% of the race that was achieved, and Shishkin, no matter how bias you are, looked beaten. Now, while neither would have been 100%, I cant for a minute imagine that Energumene was anywhere near fully revved and readied for the race, after all why would you show your full hand two months early?
With that in mind I think the Henderson camp have a whole lot more to worry about than the Mullins one. Energumene had Shishkin beaten for the vast majority, he took the horse out of his comfort zone, the turn of foot that we’ve seen him use to dispatch others in the past was negated by the Irish front runners pace and lets be honest Shishkins jumping was poor on the whole. The Champion Chase is run over the old course at Cheltenham, one that suits front runners, and if Shishkin jumps the way he did on the weekend he wont be close enough, come the hill, to use that stamina to good effect.
Having said all that, Shishkin is looking more and more like Altior mark 2 the more he runs and he will eat that hill in March, as he has the last 2 years, a hill at a track that Energumene has never faced.
The ball is certainly in Shishkins court, but I suspect the Mullins camp left the race more than confident that Energumene can turn the tables. It was, after all, only half a length.
Its been a while since we gave you a few for the trackers, here’s a few that have caught the eye of late. Click on the horse and you will be able to load it into your At The Races tracker
FILS D’OUDAIRIES … No trainer has won the Coral Cup more than Nicky Henderson and this horse will play a big part in the race should he get there in March. Given a very easy time on yard debut at Ascot at the weekend, he finished the race full of running.
GRISBI DE BERCE … In a race not run to suit and after a farce of a start it is fair to say that this Alan King trained horse would have gone a lot closer. He wants decent ground and to go right handed, but is handicapped to win
ALAPHILLIPE … We know that if you win a trial for the Pertemps final youre most likely to lose the final so it was of no surprise to see this horse a non trier, but finishing close enough to qualify, for the final in March. Has C&D form and will play a big part come the festival.
MY BOY BOB … A handicap certainty on ground better than heavy. Burnt a few fingers last time out when heavily punted but he wasn’t given a great ride and didn’t seem to appreciate the deep ground. You’ll have to be quick when he’s out because his price wont last