The highly anticipated first meeting between Shishkin and Energumene lived up to all expectations on Saturday, as two exceptional pursuers engaged in a duel of about two miles in Ascot before Shishkin pushed forward in the final steps, having leapt over the final fence with a still-to-be-missed find length .
There was a huge roar from the stands as the two horses battled to the line, with Energumene trying to hold on to a lead he’d held from the start. His maiden trip to Britain eventually ended in defeat, but a pulsating and unforgettable race has now led to a rematch in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March, which is sure to be the race of the festival.
Money had been pouring in for Energumene during the day and he left as the 5-4 second favorite, from 13-8 on Saturday morning, with Shishkin at 4-5. Willie Mullins’ pursuer, however, had no chance in running to the last steps, as Paul Townend set a fierce pace up front and Shishkin made the first jumping error early on the second circuit.
Energumene led 9-1 running between the last two hurdles but he hadn’t shaken Shishkin and Nicky Henderson’s pursuer had to find an astonishing twist to claim victory at the end of such a well-run race .
“I don’t get excited often,” said Shishkin’s jockey Nick de Boinville, after he quit, “but me and Paul went down the hill with these two. [Townend], the thrill and excitement of doing that is hard to buy.
“He had to be so brave. Great champions always find a way to win and he is exactly that.”
At Haydock, Jonbon van Henderson maintained his undefeated record in the second-degree Rossington Main Novice Hurdle, but his performance was much more solid than spectacular and as a result several bookmakers allowed him to calm down a bit for the Supreme Novice Hurdle in March.
Richmond Lake and Might I still had every chance on the last flight, but the 2-5 favorite found an extra gear during the run to finish three lengths in front of the line.
“It was a different test today, a speed track, very soft ground,” said Henderson, watching from Ascot. “They accelerated once on the straight and you thought he had something to do here, but … then he accelerated again and I like horses that can accelerate twice.”
Tommy’s Oscar is 25-1 (out of 50-1) for the Champion Hurdle after a smooth transition from handicap to Graded Company later on the map, while Royale Pagaille is 16-1 (of 25-1) for the Gold Cup after wearing from topweight to victory in the Peter Marsh Chase for the second year in a row.
Pemberley the choice in Sussex National
The Sussex National at Plumpton this month looks to be the strongest form for the Surrey National on Sunday, by far the most attractive race on the final afternoon of the Winter Million meeting in Lingfield.
Go What was seven lengths before Pemberley (3.35) there, responding well to a first-time visor, but he’s 7lbs worse off for the rematch and that could make all the difference in the stamina-destroying terrain.
Lingfield 1.20: Ballygrifin cottage Dan Skelton’s decision to throw him straight to Grade Two Company for his hurdles debut, finishing six lengths behind Blazing Khal at Cheltenham in December, was fully justified. Normal improvement should give him the beating of the more experienced Fameaftertheglory.
Lingfield 1.50: lord of war last time was no match for leading Arkle contender Edwardstone in a Grade One, but a repeat of his form at Carlisle in November may well suffice here.
Lingfield 2.25 :Only three runners for a £100,000 race, although they all have a serious shot. Marginal preference is for Darver star, who returned to something like his best form at Punchestown last month, taking 20 lengths off the runner-up in a decent amount of time.
Thurs 2.40: Minella Melody was very helpful over hurdles last season, finishing seven lengths behind Stormy Ireland in the Mares’ Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in May, and is the type that is just as good, if not better, over fences.
Lingfield 3.00: Bristol De Mai has his ground, but is still a difficult horse to support with confidence after a failure-packed performance before being drawn into the Betfair Chase in November. the consistent Dashel Drasher, with only 1 pound to be found on the official ratings, the better proposition seems to be around the 3-1.
Thurs 3.15: All four runners have at least one class one win to their name over fences, but God, Last year’s impressive Ryanair Chase winner looked as strong as ever on his seasonal return to the John Durkan, progressing from race to race last year.