Former Sky Sports Racing jockey and presenter Mick Fitzgerald has given his expert look at four of the main contenders for the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
This year’s race, held on the second day of the meeting in March, will be one of the most anticipated contests of the week as Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin and Willie Mullins-trained Energumene prepare to do battle once again. more after their mouth-watering clash in Clarence House at Ascot last month.
Two-time Festival winner Shishkin came out on top on this occasion and is determined to do the same, although Mullins is also set to send Everyone For Self into battle at Cheltenham, although it was a disappointment when he was favorite for the race last year. .
- Coach – Nicky Henderson
- Jockey – Nico de Boinville
- Age – 8
- Odds – 4/7
- Major Race Victories – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (2020), Arkle Challenge Trophy (2021), Maghull Novices’ Chase (2021), Clarence House Chase (2022)
He has never been beaten in seven runs over fences and he served us a real treat at Clarence House at Ascot last month beating Energumene. It was a fantastic race and like all great rivalries, it sets the stage for revenge.
Shishkin’s record at the Cheltenham Festival reads two out of two after winning both the Supreme and the Arkle, beating Eldorado Allen by 12 easy lengths in the latter contest last year.
His taste for the course definitely gives him an edge over Energumene as Cheltenham’s form is worth his weight in gold and he has that string to his bow.
In the Supreme, everything went wrong for him and he still won and the thing with really good horses is that they have a knack for winning when the variables go against them.
You can’t get away from its Festival form and if you have two horses in a race that are closely related and one has won the Festival and the other hasn’t, then there can only be one choice – I would always go for the one with this experience.
For this reason, I can’t see past Shishkin and it will no doubt be produced to perfection that day.
Strengths – He seems able to face any adversity.
Weakness – The flat point it can hit hasn’t been a problem so far, but it might be one day.
- Coach – Willie Mullins
- Jockey – Paul Townend
- Age – 8
- Odds – 5/2
- Big Wins – Irish Arkle Novice Chase (2021), Ryanair Novice Chase (2021)
There are people who think Cheltenham will be a better fit for Energumene than Ascot, but I would disagree as I really think he is a better right handed horse and hasn’t raced at Cheltenham.
He could be perfect, but we just don’t know how he’s going to react to the ups and downs of the course.
His bold attacking style is a joy to watch and if he doesn’t jump well he’ll put up a fantastic run. He’s a very exciting horse to watch and you need horses like him in these races because they run the race. It’s almost a typical Blue Quilt, and it’ll go strong from the start.
Around this track, where the jump counts for everything, Shishkin might make a mistake and if this guy can capitalize, he’ll push Shishkin to the limit again.
I just think the tendency to go right-handed around Cheltenham won’t quite add up.
Strengths – He is a very strong traveler, a good jumper and an elegant individual.
Weakness – His tendency to jump to the right may not be ideal on Cheltenham’s Old Course.
Everyone For Himself
- Coach – Willie Mullins
- Jockey – to be confirmed
- Age – 10
- Odds – 11/2
- Big Wins – Ryanair Novice Chase (2019), Dublin Chase (2020, 2021, 2022), Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase (2020), Punchestown Champion Chase (2021)
Again we are talking about horses that have proven themselves at Cheltenham and we have one that has proven itself at Shishkin and one that has not proven itself at Everyone For Self.
It feels from the Mullins camp that if there was a choice between Energumene and Everyone For Self racing in Ireland, then there is no choice and it would be Everyone For Self every time.
However, it’s hard to get away from the fact that the three times he went to the UK, once he missed the Champion Chase to a minor last-minute setback, and the other two times he was in below normal both times.
But, if he can bring his form from Punchestown to Cheltenham, and that form which he has shown when winning the Dublin Racing Festival for the past two years, then the 10/1 offered for the Champion Chase is outstanding value in each sense.
He was an 8/13 favorite in the race last year and had no excuses finishing third in Put The Kettle On. It wasn’t like he made any mistakes or found the track clunky, he was just very disappointing. It’s hard to get out of it and until he proves otherwise, the doubts will always be there.
On the performances we’ve seen, there’s nothing between him and Shishkin and his ability to produce his ‘A’ game on the course is the big unanswered question.
Strengths – Some of his career performances have been breathtaking.
Weakness – It is 0-2 in the UK.
- Coach – Dan Skelton
- Jockey – Harry Skelton
- Age – 8
- Odds – 10/1
- Big Wins – Desert Orchid Chase (2020), Shloer Chase (2021)
Nube Negra finished a very good second in the Champion Chase last year and was only fourth in the Tingle Creek but I never thought Sandown as a track would suit him. I always thought Cheltenham was much better for him and he would be knocked down, trying to get a place.
He’s such a strong traveler and I can see him sneaking into a place if the others go into a war.
I think he should be respected and he looked like a very good horse when he won the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November.
In a Champion Chase with Energumene in it, they’re going to go at a pace that suits him because he’s a good jumper and could be value either way.
Strengths – He is a very good jumper and a great traveler.
Weakness – Clearly a very talented individual but is he good enough on this stage?