Shishkin Vs. Energumene Will Light Up the Cheltenham Festival 2022
It’s very early days in 2022, but we already have a candidate for most pulsating race of the year, if not the decade. That came at Ascot in January, when Shishkin and Energumene clashed in the Clarence House Chase. It was something of an appetiser, as the pair are set to clash at Cheltenham next month. But if events at Ascot are anything to go by, racing fans are in for a treat on Ladies’ Day at the Festival.
To set the scene, Shishkin and Energumene are both considered the best two-milers (middle-distance chasers) in the business. Before the meeting at Ascot, both had reeled of a series of consecutive wins stretching back to 2019. The pair had never met, however, with Energumene doing his business in Ireland and Shishkin defeating all rivals in the UK. So, there was a kind of Ali vs. Foreman feel about the Clarence House Chase, a sense of must-watch action ready to unfold.
In a race for the ages, Shishkin somehow pulled out a victory from the jaws of defeat. He looked out of it before coming up to the final flight, but he somehow caught Energumene and passed him at the finish line. The reaction of the crowd was incredible. They knew they had seen something truly special. As we said, this one may have claims on being the best race this decade.
Shishkin is the bookies’ favourite for Champion Chase
As you might expect, the victory means that Shishkin is the favourite when the pair meet again in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on 16th March. The latest horse race betting odds from William Hill put Shishkin at 4/6 to win the Grade 1 event, whereas Energumene is back at 9/4. But there is a real sense that this is far from over. The finest of margins can determine these things, and punters will be well aware that Energumene almost had the better of Shishkin at Ascot.
To make things even more interesting, it has been noted that the horses are both in the hands of two of the most legendary trainers to grace the Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins (Energumene) and Nicky Henderson (Shishkin). The two men were at Ascot to oversee their charges deliver one of the most pulsating battles in recent years. Mullins is the undisputed king of Cheltenham trainers, but he has never won the Champion Chase. He will certainly be trying to concoct a plan to get one over his old rival next month.
Jockeys must get everything perfect
And, as we mentioned, this can be decided on the finest of margins. So there will be scrutiny on the jockeys. Nico de Boinville got it right on Shishkin at Ascot, whereas Paul Townend will be wondering whether he used the right tactics with Energumene. The latter will probably be devising some plan with Mullins to see what they can do. If they get it right, then Shishkin could be in trouble.
Finally, we should mention that this is not a two-horse race. Many times in the past, events like the Champion Chase have focused on one or a pair of horses, only to see shock winners. Chacun Pour Soi, Nube Negra and Greaneteen might all have chances. But the focus will inevitably be on the “Big 2”, two wonder horses who have already dazzled us this year. They are capable of lighting up the Cheltenham Festival and delivering a Queen Mother Champion Chase like we haven’t seen in a generation.