Energumene ridden by jockey Paul Townend. Alamy Stock Photo

Donn McClean: Icy weather wreaks havoc as Energumene’s talent shows

Several big events were called off owing to adverse conditions.

THE WEATHER wielded its icy axe over the weekend. They put the frost covers down on Cheltenham, 40 acres worth of them, and they raced on Friday, and they put them down again on Friday evening, but they still couldn’t race on Saturday.

Doncaster raced too on Friday but not on Saturday. Navan’s Saturday card was an early casualty, Hereford went on Saturday morning and we found out late that Newcastle’s all-weather track wasn’t.

Punchestown held an inspection on Saturday and abandoned their John Durkan Memorial Chase meeting on Sunday.

There was talk of a plan to stage the meeting instead this Tuesday, but a look at the weather maps and apps told you that Tuesday would be long odds against.

The plan at the moment is to re-stage the meeting at some point this side of Christmas, maybe early next week, if the weather relents.

Willie Mullins said on Sunday that, if the meeting goes ahead, if the John Durkan Chase goes ahead, he hopes that Galopin Des Champs will take his chance in the race, the current Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite who would have been long odds-on for the race had it be run on Sunday. Hopefully, that will all come to pass.

They did race at Mallow in Cork on Sunday mind you, a green oasis among all the white, and it was good to see Energumene back.

Willie Mullins’ horse was long odds-on, you had to have nine on to win one, but he won like a 1/9 shot should win, out in front and jumping from fence to fence.

His jumping was very good, as it always is. He got in tight to one or two fences but, when he did, he was efficient and safe.

The only real worry was at the first fence in the back straight, when he was tight and, if you were on at 1/9, you were probably a little relieved when he landed.

But when he was long, he was superb. He really let fly, as all the top-class two-mile chasers in history did. In the end, he was 15 lengths clear and never in doubt.

The performance didn’t tell us anything new really about Energumene, we knew that he was capable of easily beating horses who were rated vastly inferior, and that’s what he did.

The reigning Champion Chaser, it was good to see him back. It just told us that he was healthy and well and that he was the standard-setter once again in the two-mile division.

Even so, the bookmakers took the opportunity to give his odds for the 2023 Champion Chase a strategic trim.

From 6/4 and 11/8 and 5/4 to odds-on generally, 10/11 and 5/6 and 4/5. William Hill are best of the main firms at even money. As likely to win as he is not to win, as likely not to win as he is to win. The toss of a coin.

That is down as much to Energumene’s talent as it is to the lack of strength-in-depth that now exists in this division.

Shishkin’s shroud of invincibility lies crumpled on the floor. The 2021 Arkle winner was unbeaten over fences before he lined up for the Champion Chase last March.

When he got the better of that epic duel with Energumene in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot last January, he took his record over fences to seven from seven, and he was sent off at odds-on for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March on the back of that win.

He never travelled in the Champion Chase though, it looked like he was in trouble from early, and he was pulled up in the back straight. And he could finish only third in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown last week on his seasonal debut. The talk now is of stepping him up in trip.

The Tingle Creek winner, Edwardstone, is now Energumene’s main challenger in the two-mile chase division according to the market, and that makes sense.

It took a while for Alan King’s horse to gain due recognition last season, his first over fences. But he won four on the bounce before going to Cheltenham in March and winning the Arkle Trophy.

He did well to win the Arkle too. He was fairly badly impeded when Brave Seasca fell in front of him at the fence in front of the stands. That was early enough in the race, a circuit from home, but it was still a significant incident, he lost position and momentum, which you usually can’t afford to do in a championship race.

He shipped a bump too from Riviere D’Etel when they collided in mid-air over the second last fence. Even after all that though, he still had the reserves of energy to soar over the last and stay on strongly up the hill to land the novices’ championship race by over four lengths.

He stepped up on that level of performance though in the Tingle Creek Chase, his first run this season, his first step out of novice company. He always travelled well through his race, he hit the front at the second last fence, and he came nine lengths clear of Sandown specialist Greaneteen, with Shishkin another six lengths back in third. That performance stamped him as a top-class two-mile chaser.

You can’t go saying that a race — any race — is a two-horse race when three months’ worth of water will flow under the bridge between now and the time that the race will be run but, at this juncture, it is difficult to see from whence the challengers to Energumene and Edwardstone will come in this division.

They are two top-class two-mile chasers, and it is correct that, as things stand at present, the two of them are well clear at the top of the Champion Chase market.

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