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Cheltenham Festival: Energumene

He's the reigning and defending Queen Mother Champion Chaser but, following his Clarence House Chase loss, the contenders are lined-up to dethrone Energumene.

As the countdown for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we are taking a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.

Last season, Energumene lost a battle but ultimately won the war when it came his duel with Shishkin. So much so, that rival is off the two-mile scene now. Will it more of the same on 15th March at Cheltenham for Willie Mullins' star two-miler?

WhatQueen Mother Champion Chase 
WhereCheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire
When3.30, Wednesday 15th March, 2023
How to watchITV Racing, Racing TV & bet365 Sports Live Streaming
OddsEnergumene 2/1, Edwardstone 2/1, Blue Lord 10/3, Editeur Du Gite 5/1, Greaneteen 20/1, Chacun Pour Soi 25/1, Nube Negra 25/1, Gentleman De Mee 66/1

Mullins finally sees Champion Chase dream Bloom

He is the Cheltenham Festival's most successful trainer of all time, with a winning tally that stands at 88 heading into 2023, but for many years Willie Mullins found the biggest prizes in the Cotswolds were elusive.

He got his maiden Champion Hurdle in 2011, but six years went by before a Stayers' Hurdle arrived in 2017 and two more before the all-important first Gold Cup in 2019.

With that monkey off his back, the final piece of the Championship jigsaw was the Queen Mother Champion Chase and, last March, Energumene completed the quartet in some style.

He did so in the colours of owner Tony Bloom, the Brighton & Hove Albion chairman and renowned sports bettor and poker player.

Unlike some of the owners that sample Cheltenham Festival glory, Bloom's string of horses isn't extensive, so the fact he landed on one as talented as Energumene is quite something given the relatively limited sample size.

Revenge for loss of Ascot cracker

It's fairly widely accepted wisdom that the best jumps race run last season was the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January.

Just four runners turned up, with First Flow and Amoola Gold playing bit-parts, but the big two in the market served up a contest for the ages.

Energumene led Shishkin for most of the journey and the Nicky Henderson inmate appeared in trouble when he stumbled at the eighth fence as Paul Townend poured on the pressure in front.

For much of the home straight, it was Energumene that looked to be winning the battle, but Shishkin rallied after the final jump and edged him out in a pulsating duel.

There was little between them, but it appeared as though everything had gone to plan for Energumene and still Shishkin beat him - so why would it be different come Cheltenham?

As it happened, Shishkin flopped in the Cotswolds and was pulled up - he was 7-7 after Ascot as a chaser but is 0-2 since - leaving Townend to register a facile success from Funambule Sivola instead.

Mullins had completed his 'Grand Slam' of Cheltenham's biggest prizes. In the Cotswolds, there are no more worlds to conquer for the remarkable Irishman, just further embellishment to a stunning career tally in the years to come.

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Challengers lay down marker on Trials Day 

Energumene is 2/1 to become only the second back-to-back winner of the Champion Chase this century – after Master Minded in 2008/09. 

He reappeared with an effortless win Cork's Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase in December, looking as good if not better than ever. 

At nine years old, he's in the age category (9-10) that provided seven Champion Chase winners in the previous 12 before his own success last March.

His old foe Shishkin was beaten on his comeback in the Tingle Creek and no longer appears to have the pace to recover from the flat spot he tended to hit mid-race over two miles, leaving Henderson to consider going up in trip for the Ryanair Chase where he's an 8/1 chance.

In 12 months Shishkin has gone from 'unbeatable' over two-miles to not even getting a Champion Chase entry - some will say that was the true, bruising cost of winning that Ascot battle with Energumene.

But Energumene had his own bruising day out at Cheltenham on Trials Day, finishing only third in the Clarence House Chase behind Editeur Du Gite and Edwardstone. 

He ploughed his way through the final fence and lost all chance, while Gary Moore's Editeur Du Gite was ultra-tough in holding off Edwardstone, the latter looking sure to come and wear him down up the Cheltenham hill. 

It shook up the Champion Chase picture, with Editeur Du Gite now 5/1 to win again in March and Energumene suddenly looking fallible.

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