Caballos que hablan: Energumene and Shishkin can stage a race for the ages

There is so much that could go wrong even between Monday morning and Saturday that it feels reckless to suggest it, but it is increasingly likely that the Clarence House Chase at Ascot this weekend could be that rarest of races over jumps: a season-defining, perhaps even an era-defining, contest which will unfold with something other than Cleeve Hill at Cheltenham as the backdrop.

Shishkin and Energumene, the outstanding two-mile chasers in the UK and Ireland respectively, both stood their ground for Saturday’s Grade One at the five-day stage on Monday morning. First Flow, last year’s winner and something of an Ascot specialist, remains a potential runner too and if all three go to post, we could well see the best jumps race outside the Festival since Moscow Flyer beat Azertyuiop and Well Chief in the 2004 Tingle Creek.

As was also the case at Sandown 18 hace años que, Shishkin and Energumene will be meeting for the first time if they line up on Saturday, but unlike the main protagonists in 2004 – who took the Arkle Trophy in 2002, 2003 y 2004 respectively – they are both eight-year-old, second-season chasers. Energumene was scratched from last season’s Arkle just a few days before the Festival, and bitterly disappointing though that was at the time, a 10-month delay has only increased the anticipation.

Bookmakers – and, presumiblemente, punters – seem fairly confident that Shishkin will emerge in front when the two horses finally meet. Nicky Henderson’s chaser is chalked up at a top price of 8-15 for Saturday’s race with Energumene – who would be racing outside Ireland for the first time – en 9-4. In the Champion Chase betting, Entretanto, Shishkin is 11-10 to follow up his Arkle win at the Festival in March, with Energumene on 5-2.

With no prior head-to-head to work with, sin emabargo, these odds are based as much on impressions and sentiment as cold, hard form, with perhaps some recency bias in there too, as Shishkin made his deeply impressive return to action at Kempton’s Christmas meeting three weeks ago.

On the ratings, aunque, there is almost nothing between them. The much-respected Timeform operation has Shishkin 1lb in front of Energumene, but Energumene dispatched his three rivals in a Grade One novice at Punchestown in April with every bit as much authority as Shishkin showed at Grade Two level at Kempton last month. Neither horse has ever been extended over fences and it is impossible to say which of them might find the decisive finishing kick if they land over the last side-by-side.

Ascot will hope to welcome around 10,000 racegoers on Saturday but this promises to be one of those races that many times more will make a point of watching live, wherever they are and whatever they happen to be doing.

In the age of the smartphone, por supuesto, that no longer means having to find a betting shop if you are out and about on a Saturday afternoon. De nuevo en 2004, somewhat bizarrely, I ended up watching Moscow Flyer win the Tingle Creek in a bookies at Brighton Marina, standing next to the man who happened to run it: the notorious – and subsequently jailed – former punter, John “Jock” McCracken. The surroundings will feel a little less intimidating at Ascot on Saturday, but the race itself, Ojalá, will live just as long in the memory.




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