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Cheltenham - Racing: Shishkin vs Energumene II tops Champion Chase bill

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the main dish at Cheltenham on Wednesday afternoon and it promises to be a fascinating rematch from the race of the jumps season so far.

Shishkin got up in the dying strides at Ascot in January to win the Clarence House Chase, overhauling front-running rival Energumene in the nick of time.

All thoughts immediately turned to a rematch in this special place on this day – and they've both got here safe and sound.

Here's our Queen Mother Champion Chase preview ahead of Wednesday's feature race at the Cheltenham Festival.

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Sequel should be a blockbuster hit

They say sequels that are better than the original build on what the audience already knows and loves about the central characters, and that might just ring true here.

We got more or less what was expected at Ascot in January as Shishkin preserved his perfect chasing record at the expense of Energumene in a heavyweight contest that met all expectations.

The Willie Mullins runner set a fast pace in front, attempting to draw some of the sting from Nicky Henderson's stable star.

Halfway down the back straight, Shishkin nodded on landing at the back of the sixth fence and, in that brief moment, his supporters must have felt this was a contest that may be going against him.

Shishkin was off the bridle from four out, just trying to keep a close eye on his big rival, but keep an eye he did. He still had two lengths to find at the last but he was galvanised by Nico de Boinville and it was almost inevitable Shishkin would get there.

The Seven Barrows star is 8/13 to confirm the scorecards from the first blockbuster clash and make it three Cheltenham Festival wins in as many attempts.

Henderson was eager to point out in recent days that Shishkin is 'no banker' given only a length split them seven weeks ago but many will be viewing this as the coronation of the king in this division and Shishkin's depth of resolve under pressure will make him hard to topple.

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How do you defeat brilliance?

For Energumene it's back to the drawing board post-Ascot. He didn't put a foot wrong. The race unfolded exactly as Paul Townend might have hoped and, yet, despite adversity, Shishkin came and pinned him in the dying embers.

They go left-handed this time and there's a furlong less to cover – will those factors help sway this towards the 7/2 Irish hope? It's very hard to say.

First off, Energumene has a minor tendency to jump to his right and that won't help. Second, he's never raced at Cheltenham before and this great place is such a unique test, so he has questions he must answer.

Townend has sided with Energumene over Chacun Pour Soi, a 5/1 chance now having gone off odds-on last year when he could manage third. He's now a 10-year-old and has two sub-par runs on British soil to put behind him – though valid excuses accompanied his Tingle Creek run this season and he wasn't far off in this a year ago.

For all that, the race was there for him 12 months ago and he couldn't grab it. Mullins vowed to alter his training regime in a bid to have him right but Chacun Pour Soi's finishing burst has never been the strongest asset in his armoury and the Cheltenham hill is a gigantic worry.

Townend spoke gushingly last month at the Dublin Racing Festival about how much this horse means to him, but he jumps off now. A cold and calculated approach from the jockey isn't a shock, of course, but it's another negative for the Rich Ricci-owned runner.

Mullins, the all-time most successful trainer at the Cheltenham Festival, remains without a win in this contest and that sequence may continue.

The forgotten champion

Amid all the hype over Shishkin vs. Energumene II (of which we've been guilty here!) the reigning Queen Mother Champion Chaser is amongst the forgotten horses.

Put The Kettle On stormed up the hill last March and won a sustained duel with Nube Negra to claim this prize. Henry De Bromhead's mare is 25/1 here after two mixed runs this season.

One of those, the Shloer Chase in November, is the only time in five visits to Cheltenham she's been defeated and this former Arkle winner really shouldn't be an afterthought, despite this being a stronger race than last year.

Dan Skelton's Nube Negra meanwhile is 12/1 having just been edged out last year. He came from a good way back in that contest and lost nothing in defeat. The certain fast pace of this renewal could easily see him handed the chance to come with a late challenge again.

Politologue is another former winner, taking a weak renewal in 2020, and though Paul Nicholls' charge split Nube Negra and Put The Kettle On in the Shloer, he's 50/1 and it would be quite the upset if he prevails at 11 years old – Moscow Flyer in 2005 was the last of that vintage to win.

What about Envoi Allen?

Few horses in training had loftier reputations that Envoi Allen coming here last spring. He took a tumble of course in the Marsh (now Turners) Novices' Chase and his career has gone the wrong way since.

That was his first run after moving to Henry De Bromhead's yard and, when he was pulled up at Punchestown afterwards, a back ailment was put forward in mitigation.

He has actually won two out of three starts this season, a 2m1f Leopardstown Grade 1 at Christmas the most recent of those, but he's currently a 25/1 chance here.

That previous start was by any standards a windy Grade 1, but perhaps the writing off of Envoi Allen has taken place in too much haste? What better stage for redemptive return to his very best than here.

The day two feature has all the ingredients for being a proper Championship heat but, as with any Hollywood sequel, this can only really be billed around the superstar duo that are cast in the lead roles.

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