Architect Tips gives his expert opinion on the week’s biggest Cheltenham Festival betting stories, including Shishkin versus Energumene at Ascot.
Who wins the Clarence House this weekend - Shishkin or Energumene?
The stage is set at Ascot this weekend for its biggest clash since Altior crossed paths with Cyrname in the Christy 1965 Chase, where the feature race is the SBK Clarence House Chase (15.35pm). Although only a handful of runners feature in the final line-up, a mouth-watering battle of the titans between Shishkin and Energumene is firmly on the cards as both undefeated chasers finally go head-to-head for the very first time in the hope that one can cement their position at the top of the Champion Chase market.
On the face of it, Nicky Henderson’s superstar Shishkin has the edge on the formbook, who’s six from six, and is a two-time Cheltenham Festival winner. He has obvious claims, and it will take an abnormal performance to see him beaten. That said, I am going to side with Willie Mullins’ leading Champion Chase hopeful Energumene to prove just how good he is on British soil by winning the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at the weekend.
I have been in his fan club ever since he won on hurdles debut in March in 2020, where I thought he could turn out to be a bit special and nothing has changed in the interim to affect my initial opinion about him almost two years later. He has a high-cruising speed, is accurate and sharp at his obstacles and might just be able to get Nicky Henderson’s star out of his comfort zone.
Shishkin tends to hit a flat-spot mid-race and, if doing so here, Paul Townend might have already committed Energumene for home and that could be good enough for him to prevail, as it might just prove to be too much of an uphill task for Nicky Henderson’s charge to reel him in.
The complexion of the race could change between now and Saturday afternoon, as nothing is ever certain but, assuming both are confirmed in the final line-up, prepare to witness the two outstanding two-mile chasers that the UK and Ireland has to offer serve up an eagerly awaited tactical treat this weekend at the Berkshire venue. May the best horse win.
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Dysart Dynamo to Supreme - Yes or No? And what about Sir Gerhard’s chances?
It was no surprise to see the exciting Dysart Dynamo cut for both the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival shortly after romping to victory in the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle when last spotted.
His performance has subsequently led to plenty of racing fans and punters debate about whether he’ll be aimed at either the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with the same applied to stablemate Sir Gerhard, who has both options available, too.
From my own personal point of view, I can envisage Willie Mullins deploying both in the Supreme instead of splitting them up and going into unknown-territory over two-miles and five-furlongs, especially when both have already proven to be fully effective over the two-mile distance at this stage of their careers and have more to offer. As the saying goes, don’t fix what isn’t broken, and that’s simply the case here.
Willie Mullins has claimed the curtain-raiser with some of the biggest names of the jumping game in the past, with the likes of Vautour, Douvan and Min adding their name to the roll of honour. It would make complete sense to send the strongest possible assault to potentially get off to a winning start.
For instance, the same situation could be said about Nicky Henderson’s pair Constitution Hill and Jonbon, who are set to take each other on in the Supreme and, if the Seven Barrows handler is going to do that with his two best two novice hurdlers, why can’t Willie Mullins do that with his?
Of the pair, I am sticking with Sir Gerhard, who’s been to Cheltenham and done it, as proven in last year’s Champion Bumper. He looks all about speed, based on the turn of foot he displayed to see off a high-class field in the championship bumper in March and, given he’s the only one of the big quintet in the betting with course-form in his back catalogue and is proven to go on any conditions (Dysart Dynamo hasn’t as of yet and is reported to be going straight to Cheltenham), he’s wildly overpriced and I wouldn’t be too concerned about his slight drift in the market, either.
Ante Post Angle: Which horses and races are you looking out for at the Dublin Racing Festival with a view to Cheltenham?
It was great to see the release of the early entries for eight Grade 1s at the Dublin Racing Festival (DRF) this week. Interestingly, the Willie Mullins-trained Sir Gerhard has just one entry at the DRF - the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle over two-miles.
Last year’s Champion Bumper winner is currently 6/4 favourite and that leaves the impression that his connections are aiming him at the Supreme regardless of whether stablemate Dysart Dynamo features in the opener at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Paddy Power Gold Cup is the main dish at the meeting and the most interesting entrant, at the time of writing, is the talented enigma, Asterion Forlonge, who looked set to go close in the King George when tackling three miles for the first time.
It is far from ideal arriving here with two consecutive none-completions, but he’s bounced back from mishaps before and shouldn’t be written off in haste with the hope that Bryan Cooper can maintain the partnership, who’s bought the best out of him, despite the form figures when combined suggesting otherwise.
Another event that looks sure to have a significant impact on the betting for the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival is the Irish equivalent, where Ferny Hollow is currently odds-on favourite and will bid to supplement his Cheltenham Festival credentials with victory in this race.
He could be joined by a few stablemates, including impressive chasing debutant Haut En Couleurs, who ran well on debut for Willie Mullins to finish third in last year’s Triumph Hurdle, and could provide the most resistance to his teammate if taking up this option.
I believe whoever can win this race, probably a Willie Mullins-trained individual, is likely to take all the beating in March and most punters will expect Ferny Hollow to be that horse.