Top class horse racing was seen on both sides of the Irish Sea this weekend as a number of horses impressed in their respective races.
Shishkin and Energumene have served the race of the season so far on Saturday at the Clarence House in Ascot, while the Inaugural Winter Million festival took place in Lingfield.
Ireland has raced in Navan and Thurles, with two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll in action among the horses.
Here’s what we learned in view of Cheltenham, which is now just 50 days away, over the weekend:
Hard to see Energumene changing shape with Shishkin into Champion Chase
There’s only one place to start and that’s with Shishkin’s incredible Clarence House win over Energumene in Ascot.
Mick Fitzgerald perfectly summed up the race on ITV by saying: “It lived up to all the billing, very rarely does that happen.”
But it did happen on Saturday afternoon and the great thing is that these top-class two-milers will all be doing it again in the Champion Chase in just over seven weeks.
Energumene looked like the most likely winner approaching the penultimate hurdle, but Shishkin’s signature turbo came on the attack after the final hurdle and he won by a length.
And it’s very hard to see any reason why Energumene will reverse the mold with Nicky Henderson’s star in Prestbury Park.
Shishkin has won both the Supreme and the Arkle at the last two festivals, while Energumene will visit the Cotswolds for the first time after missing last year’s meeting due to lameness.
Given Cheltenham’s tough uphill finish and the fact that Shishkin only stayed with Ascot when Energumene seemed to have little left to offer, I can only see the gap between them widening in March, although the distance will be slightly smaller which could help Willie Mullins’ runner.
Allaho will be hard to beat in Ryanair
Allaho improved his Ryanair credentials with a 12-length win over Fakir D’Oudaries in Thurles on Saturday and he will be very hard to beat at Cheltenham if he tries to defend his crown.
He is now generally priced at 5-4 for the 2m4½f match he won ten months ago when he beat Fakir D’Oudaries by exactly the same distance.
Looking at the bets for Ryanair, it’s hard to see many dangers for the ante-post favourite, with Energumene likely going for the Champion Chase, while a few others at the top of the market have also never won at Cheltenham.
Saint Calvados could be the closest to him, having finished a neck second in the race to Min and 2020 when he was trained by Harry Whittington. He ran well in the King George for a long time when he had his first run for Paul Nicholls on St Stephen’s Day.
Jonbon faces huge challenge against Constitution Hill and Dysart Dynamo
The market for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has been constantly changing in recent months, with Constitution Hill, Dysart Dynamo and Jonbon all vying for favoritism.
After Constitution Hill and Dysart Dynamo both continued in recent weeks, it was Jonbon’s turn in Haydock on Saturday.
Unlike his first two starts over hurdles, Douvan’s full brother owned by JP McManus didn’t start and although things weren’t quite easy for him, he eventually got the job done.
After traveling freely behind the pace-setting pair of Richmond Lake and Donny Boy for most of the two-mile race, Aidan Coleman asked Jonbon to get closer to the third flight from the finish when he ran into the rear of Donny Boy and had to exchange inside.
Richmond Lake still had every shot at the final obstacle, as did Might I, who was last seen chasing home on Constitution Hill in Sandown.
For a moment it looked like Richmond Lake was going to make it into a real race, but Jonbon found another gear after Coleman pulled the whip and was three lengths ahead of the line.
Some bookmakers pushed Jonbon to 4/1 ahead of the Supreme, with his stable mate Constitution Hill the outright all-company favorite for Dysart Dynamo after his Tolworth win earlier this month. The bookmakers may be right and that could be the order in which they finish when they are all lined up in the festival opener.
Gerri Colombe goes straight to Cheltenham after Thurles win
Gerri Colombe was reduced from 1/12 to 10/1 for the Albert Bartlett after taking his track record to four wins from four starts at Thurles on Sunday.
The six-year-old landed the BetVictor WT O’Grady Memorial Irish EBF Novice Hurdle, crossing the line a length and a quarter ahead of his nearest rival with odds of 4/9.
The win came just days after Albert Bartlett was ruled out of ante-post favorite Blazing Khal from Cheltenham after a minor setback in training.
After the race, trainer Gordon Elliott said: “He won despite the track and we were very concerned about running him but there is a lack of races.
“I thought he didn’t have enough experience to go for a Grade One (at the Dublin Racing Festival) and Clonmel could have been a real slog. Jack said it was safe, but as good as he wanted it to be.
“Jack was happy and said he did what he had to do and he was the same in his bumpers.
“He was half off with one more track to go, but with a slap on the shoulder he goes again. I thought it was a good performance.
“He goes straight to Cheltenham, probably for the Albert Bartlett, because he wants the maximum travel.”
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