Shishkin got up in the final few strides to deny Energumene in a pulsating renewal of the SBK Clarence House Chase at Ascot. Both horses brought unbeaten records over fences to the table in the Grade One showpiece, with Nicky Henderson's Shishkin the marginal favourite at 5-6 under Nico de Boinville. The Willie Mullins-trained Energumene was sent off at 5-4 in the hands of Paul Townend and travelled and fenced fluently in the lead for much of the way. It was not an easy watch for Shishkin's supporters, with De Boinville having to get lower in the saddle at various stages of the two-mile-one-furlong journey. The writing appeared to be on the wall for favourite-backers in the home straight, with Energumene seemingly still full of running under a motionless Townend while Shishkin - who made one fairly serious mistake and was not fluent at another fence - was being rousted along. Energumene still appeared the most likely winner as he held a narrow advantage jumping the last, but Shishkin's trademark turbo kicked in on the run-in to prevail by a length.
The fact that the race took place between Shishkin & Energumene was a real boost for the January Jumps program which needs that, to be honest. The race itself was superb. I do not think that is as cut and dried as people think as regards a rematch. The temptation would be for people to think with the record of Shiskin at Cheltenham he will have the measure of Energumene in a rematch at the festival. I'm not so sure and at the prices, Energumene still has plenty going for him. Here are a few thoughts on it. The Clarence House Chase was advertised as being run over 2m 167 yards but the running rail on the Chase Course was positioned between 5 and 8yds out around the whole course. As a consequence, that added “approximately 43 yards”, meaning the race was over just 10 yards short of two miles and a furlong. This year’s Champion Chase is set to be run over 1m 7f and 199 yards. In other words, 230 yards less than the race at Ascot on Saturday. That shorter distance will surely be to Energumene’s advantage. The fact Shiskin just got up at Ascot gives Energumene every hope of making up the length.
The Champion Chase is run on the Old Course at Cheltenham. It is much sharper in nature than the New Course, which is used for the second half of the meeting. The uphill finish can lend itself to fabulous drama but, overall, the track lends itself well to front-runners such as Energumene, especially over distances of about 2m. We only got to look at the past five renewals of the Champion Chase to see how it can favour prominent racers. Put The Kettle On was never far from the lead when prevailing last year, while Politologue (2020) and Special Tiara (2017) both made all. In between, Altior won in successive years and raced mostly prominently each time. Energumene is unproven at Cheltenham but he’s won at different tracks in Ireland and there’s nothing to suggest it will be an inconvenience to him. On the contrary, it should play to his strengths, look at last seasons Irish Arkle at Leopardstown. Shishkin is already a dual Festival winner, although he won an Arkle that lacked depth last year and increasingly looks as though he will be even more effective over further. The record of Shiskin at Cheltenham is formidable, everything went wrong in the Supreme and he still won.
Soft ground at Ascot brought Shishkin’s stamina into play and helped him claw back Energumene in the closing stages after it seemed certain his unbeaten record over fences was going to be lost. Will it be so testing at Cheltenham in the spring? It’s a possibility, of course, but a drier surface with more bounce in it would seem more likely. Energumene copes well with soft ground but logic dictates that anything which makes the race more a test of pace will be more to his advantage. He looks a speedy two-miler, whereas Shishkin looks more a staying two-miler. Energumene jumps very quickly over fences and went through most of Saturday’s race on the bridle. He’d also won easily on his comeback at Cork in early December. Shishkin was taken out of his comfort zone by the early pace he set and he pecked badly at the sixth, a ditch. Overall, he was not as slick as Energumene. Some will mark up Shishkin’s performance but I wouldn’t be inclined to see it that way, if errors creep in again at Cheltenham, Energumene could steal a march early doors. Hopefully, they both get to Cheltenham for a much-anticipated rematch.