Energumene takes on six in Champion Chase defence
Defending champion Energumene will face six rivals in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday.
The nine-year-old gave Willie Mullins the final piece of his Prestbury Park big-race puzzle last year when lighting up a miserable day two of the Festival and is the sole Closutton representative in the second-day feature.
Although following up last year’s Cheltenham success with impressive victories at both the Punchestown Festival and on his reappearance in the Hilly Way at Cork, he failed to fire when only third in the rearranged Clarence House Chase on Festival Trials Day.
That day it was the re-opposing Editeur Du Gite and Alan King’s Edwardstone that fought out a thrilling finish, but Energumene‘s jockey Paul Townend now knows exactly what is required to turn the tables.
“The Clarence House Chase was a big indicator for the Champion Chase,” he told Ladbrokes. “I think we very much underperformed on the day and I wasn’t happy from the time he turned at the top of the hill.
“I don’t think Editeur Du Gite will get it his own way in front here and I can see him getting taken on more on the other track at Cheltenham.
“I thought Edwardstone probably came out of the Clarence House Chase with the most credit even though he didn’t win.
“We learned a lot from that race and we know what Energumene is capable of.”
Clarence House winner Editeur Du Gite will attempt to give Gary Moore his second win in the race and is a first Champion Chase ride for Niall Houlihan, while Edwardstone may have lost out by the barest of margins on Trials Day, but still did enough for the bookmakers to make last year’s Arkle hero their race favourite.
Venetia Williams’ Funambule Sivola was eight-and-a-half lengths behind Energumene 12 months ago and returns to Prestbury Park in decent order having bounced back to something near his best in the Game Spirit at Newbury.
Dan Skelton is likely to be on weather watch for Nube Negra but has nonetheless declared his good-ground loving nine-year-old who missed the race last year when conditions turned testing on the second day, but was runner-up to Put The Kettle On in 2021.
Paul Nicholls’ Greaneteen was fourth on that occasion and is another returning to Champion Chase action having skipped the 2022 running, while the seven-strong field is rounded off by Irish raider Captain Guinness, who attempts to give Henry de Bromhead a fourth victory in the race.