Energumene takes Novice Chase at Punchestown to set up Shishkin rivalry

Energumene maintained his unbeaten record over fences and confirmed he is likely to be Shishkin’s biggest rival in the two-mile chasing division next season with an emphatic front-running success in the Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown on Thursday evening.

Running in the blue and white colours of Tony Bloom, the chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion, Energumene was immediately sent clear of his three opponents by Paul Townend and had galloped them into submission with two fences still to jump.

Captain Guinness, 13 lengths behind Shishkin when third in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham last month, was at least 20 lengths adrift when he unseated Rachael Blackmore at the final fence, and Energumene crossed the line 16 lengths in front of Janadil without being asked a serious question.

“He’s class, it’s an absolute privilege to ride him,” Townend said. “To get that feeling over two miles in chases twice in one week [after winning on Chacun Pour Soi on Tuesday] is like Christmas coming again. He’s entitled to go over and take everything on [next season]. They [Energumene and Shishkin] are going to meet at some stage and it will be a cracking spectacle.”

Energumene has been cut to around 6-1 (from 12-1) for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham next March, alongside his stable companion Chacun Pour Soi, the beaten odds-on favourite in this season’s renewal. Shishkin is the favourite at 7-4.

Energumene completed a Grade One double for Willie Mullins after Klassical Dream, the Supreme Novice Hurdle winner at Cheltenham in March 2019, toyed with his opponents in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle.

Klassical Dream had not seen a racecourse since December 2019 and was racing beyond two miles for the first time in his career. But he was strong in the betting at 5-1 and cruised into contention under Patrick Mullins just as Flooring Porter, the Stayers’ Hurdle winner at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, faded rapidly after making the running to two out.

Mullins was still motionless with his partner on a tight rein as he hit the front on the run to the final flight and then eased to a nine-length defeat of his stable companion, James Du Berlais.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Mullins said. “He’s a very high-class horse and it went wrong for him over two miles. I know he hadn’t run for a long time, but he was ready to run at Christmas and he got a small setback and then it was too late to go chasing.

“Eilish Byrne deserves a lot of credit, she rides him out all the time and he’s not simple. She said he’d settle once he was going and he had a hood on and they went a strong gallop.”

St Mark’s Basilica, last year’s Dewhurst Stakes winner, was an unexpected absentee when 15 colts were declared on Thursday morning for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday.

Aidan O’Brien will instead send St Mark’s Basilica to the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) and then the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby), and rely on Wembley (Ryan Moore), Van Gogh (Seamie Heffernan) and Battleground (Frankie Dettori) in the Classic this weekend.

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