Marlborough’s horse-by-horse guide to the Queen Mother Champion Chase
Chacun Pour Soi: Beaten odds-on favourite in this race last year and redeemed a blip in the Tingle Creek with a good win at Leopardstown last month; each-way player.
Energumene: Bold jumper who came off a narrow 2nd-best to Shishkin in the race of the season back in January. Looks sure to give the favourite plenty to think about once again.
Envoi Allen: Winner of all 11 starts in his early career, but profile has been patchy of late. Recent wind surgery could help, but likely playing for places at best.
Funambule Sivola: Likeable 2nd season chaser and good winner of the Game Spirit Chase last time out. Facing by far his biggest test however, and likely best watched.
Nube Negra: Good 2nd in this race last year who emphasized his liking for Wednesday’s course and distance with an easy win in the Shloer Chase last November. Each-way player.
Politologue: Winner of this race in 2020, but not hit the same heights since. Not getting any younger at 11 years old and, despite recent wind surgery, he will do well to figure here.
Shishkin: Top-class chaser, winner of all 7 starts over fences at twice a winner at the Festival, including last year’s Arkle. Very much the one they all have to beat.
Put The Kettle On: Last year’s Champion Chase winner whose record at this course reads an impressive 4 wins from 5 starts. Been out of form this season however; plenty to prove.
Marlborough’s tip of the day: Wednesday
This year’s Brown Advisory Chase looks wide open and, having understandably at his best over 3 miles around a flat, sharp, right-handed track like Kempton, the 3 miles around a galloping, left-handed track like Cheltenham is sure to be much more to the liking of AHOY SENOR, who has so far maintained a near-perfect record going left-handed. Moreover, the stiff fences at Cheltenham are sure to suit him better than others and he can confirm himself a staying chaser of the immense promise with victory here.
Undefeated Shishkin has eye on Champions Chase
By Marcus Armytage, Racing Correspondent
Nicky Henderson can win the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase with Shishkin on Wednesday and keep Willie Mullins waiting at least another year before he can fill in the one major blank on his Cheltenham roll of honour. The premier two-mile chase emerges from a couple of quiet years when it was either dominated by one horse, Altior, or not quite up to scratch with what looks, on paper at any rate, a vintage edition and the race of this year’s Festival.
Shishkin is unbeaten over fences, unbeaten indeed over obstacles since falling in his first hurdle race. He took the notable scalp of Energumene last time out, and this race will revolve around the tactics employed by Paul Townend on the Irish challenger. How does he find a length on Shishkin? Does he go faster in front, does he go slower and save a bit for the finish? If he repeats what he did at Ascot, where he appeared to have Shishkin in trouble turning into the home straight, will he come up just short again?
Shishkin is already a two-time Festival winner, having won the Supreme and Arkle. Course form seems almost more important these days than ever and, in that respect, he has an advantage over both Mullins runners – Energumene, who makes his debut here, and the usually brilliant Chacun Pour Soi, a beaten odds-on shot in last year’s race when he floundered up the hill. In their race at Ascot, Energumene appeared to be the first horse to go fast enough to get Shishkin out of a rhythm.
He was less slick with his jumping so Townend may need to go at least as fast as he did at Ascot to rattle Shishkin early on. But it is fine margins and he must hope his own horse lasts out up the hill. This, though, is not just the rematch, there are plenty of players who could throw a spanner in the works for the big two or pick up the pieces off a strong gallop. On his day, Chacun Pour Soi probably has a legitimate claim to be the best horse in the race, although punters may find it hard to forgive him for last year’s run. There is also last year’s winner, Put The Kettle On, who is a stone better round Cheltenham than anywhere else and she should not be dismissed despite her long odds. Unlike Mullins, her trainer, Henry de Bromhead, can do little wrong in the race.
We forget that this time last year, until falling in the Turners Novices’ Chase, her stable companion Envoi Allen was being hailed as the next Arkle. Connections may not have settled on his best trip yet but he won a Grade One back over two miles last time, has had wind surgery since and, maybe, redemption awaits. Dan Skelton has brought Nube Negra fresh, without a run for 102 days, which is the best way to have him. He was ridden for speed last year but only stayed on up the hill to finish second and a very strongly run race will suit him because he will travel through it. Paul Nicholls’ runner, Politologue, is getting a little long in the tooth now but is a former winner, while Funambule Sivola has 18lb to find on official figures with Shishkin.
Having said that, he is on a roll, going the right way and comes in on the back of winning what is often a key trial, the Game Spirit. Ireland, or rather Mullins, can get the day off to a good start with Sir Gerhard, generally considered one of their bankers of the week, in the Ballymore Hurdle. Stage Star has done nothing wrong but De Bromhead’s Journey With Me looks a bigger threat.
Henderson may not be far off the mark with Dusart in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, a race in which Nicholls will have high hopes for Bravemansgame and, likewise, Venetia Williams for L’Homme Presse, both unbeaten in four starts this season. Ahoy Senor is also in there with a shout but there is a lot more to come from Dusart and on Wednesday he can start making up for lost time.
Joy of six would be a fitting farewell for superstar Tiger
By Ed Chamberlain
Racing needs its superstars: we saw one on Tuesday with Rachael Blackmore and we bid farewell to another on Wednesday. Regular readers of this column will know that I am a massive fan of Tiger Roll and it would be such a thrill to see him win the Cross Country. Michael O’Leary has done a huge amount for the game but it’s a great shame that the ongoing row about the Grand National weights means the Tiger won’t take his place in that this year. And so this will be his last run. I am hoping he signs off in winning style. Five Cheltenham wins already, and hopefully six: an all-time great.
But where one door closes, another opens, and racing’s new superstar Blackmore delivered again. What a brilliant duo she is making with Honeysuckle, and that back-to-back win in the Champion Hurdle means we can now officially crown Honeysuckle as a hurdling great. We had Ronan Keating on ITV and his song ‘Life Is A Rollercoaster’ could not be more appropriate: at four o’clock Rachael was being cheered all around Prestbury Park after the Champion Hurdle, by quarter-past, she was on the turf after a hard fall from Tellmesomethinggirl in the 4.10. Let’s hope she is on the up again.
Shishkin versus Energumene: The Rematch in the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the race of the meeting, no question. Any sport loves a head-to-head, and the battle they had at Ascot in January was one of the best I have seen. All the talk is that everything went Energumene’s way that day and he couldn’t turn it around but I will say this: if you are backing Shishkin at a short price, be warned. Sir Anthony McCoy says that this is the best race to ride in, but there is no margin for error. You are one mistake away from blowing your chance in this ultimate test of jumping at speed.
This is a race that throws up upsets, and it is not just about the front two: for instance, some people in the Mullins yard rate Chacun Pour Soi as their best horse. Patrick Mullins told me that the Champion Chase is the Holy Grail for them, the Cheltenham race that has eluded them so far. I’d say this is one to watch rather than bet on but I’d consider Nube Negra: Harry Skelton will keep him out of trouble towards the back and he could pick up the pieces. But it is great to have a duel like Shishkin and Energumene, with plenty of mind games from the trainers as well. Willie is publicly playing down their chances, saying there is no way Energumene can turn it around but I don’t think he believes that.
I’m hoping to add to my three winners I tipped you on Tuesday and, in the Ballymore, I cannot see beyond Sir Gerhard, who is my banker of the week. He won the Champion Bumper last year, and a Grade One at Leopardstown last month. Ruby Walsh rides him at home and says he has a Rolls Royce engine.
You won’t get any sort of a price on Sir Gerhard. By contrast, there are some interesting options at bigger odds in The Coral Cup. Unexpected Party, for the Skeltons, catches my eye: they always demand consideration when they line one up for a handicap hurdle. Garry Clermont, for Jonjo O’Neill can also run well at a price.
Paul Nicholls will be on edge for the Brown Advisory. He had to watch on during day one but he is a serial winner and he will be desperate to get involved. Bravemansgame is the big one of the week for this great competitor. But Ahoy Senor, for Lucinda Russell, looks like he will gallop forever and he just gets my nod to run them ragged.
In the Johnny Henderson, I’m going for Thyme White. My ITV colleague Luke Harvey has been schooling him at home and raves about him. The focus in the Bumper will be on Facile Vega, daughter of the brilliant Quevega, and her expected battle with American Mike. A few others might be under-considered therefore, and I’m confident of getting a run from Joyeux Machin at a backable price.
- 1.30pm Sir Gerhard
- 2.10pm Ahoy Senor
- 2.50pm Unexpected Party
- 3.30pm Shishkin
- 4.10pm Tiger Roll
- 4.50pm Thyme White
- 5.30pm Joyeux Machin