What a day for jump racing yesterday, with home-based Shishkin just managing to overhaul the Mullins-trained Energumene on the run-in to take the 2m1f Grade 1 Clarence House Chase. What does that tell us with regards Cheltenham and the QMCC, where they will likely meet-up again next? Before the race, I advised friends to take the 6/4 about Energumene as I thought he'd be the better horse over this 2m1f trip, whereas I think Shiskin could end-up winning the "King George" over 3-miles at Kempton next Christmas before having a go at winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March 2023. I thought the finishing post would come too soon for Shishkin yesterday. So - who will prove the best of the pair at Cheltenham in March? There is nothing else in training that comes close to this pair over 2-miles at the moment and I have them 12 or 13lb better than anything else. It looks like Energumene is the better jumper of a fence; he's very quick and almost "skips" his fences; as such I can see Energumene leading the field - it could be a very small QMCC field - down the hill to the tricky 3rd-last fence. This could be were Energumene wins the race, or Shishkin loses it! I expect Energumene will fly that 3rd-last fence and hopefully nick a length or two in the process, giving him a significant advantage as he turns for home and meets the 2nd-last fence which comes very quickly after the bend. These two fences will certainly put pressure on the jumping technique of Shishkin, he could even make a serious error (as he did yesterday at the 6th fence, but Nico de Boinville managed to stay in the saddle) that puts him out of contention with the race beyond him. Then comes the run-in at Cheltenham: this is when the advantage moves from jumping technique to stamina and Shiskin will be gaining ground on Energumene with every stride.
Another important point to consider is how well both horses will recover from yesterday's race - which was tough for both. Shiskin has run in 4 hurdle races and 7 chases; whereas Energumene has run in 1 hurdle and 6 chase races. Shiskin has usually found +10lb between his race before the Cheltenham Festival and his Festival performance, and he's done this twice. Shiskin has never had as hard a race as this before going to the Festival, so can he find more improvement or is it a case of maintaining him at the same level? Last season, Energumene ran on 13Jan and again on 06Feb - with that 06Feb run at a performance level with Shishkin in the Arkle - and I expect Mullins was anticipating more improvement had he run in the Arkle (which was won by Shiskin). As such, I believe that Mullins has a bit more to find in Energumene which, combined with the better jumping for me puts him in the driving seat. As such, I think the odds of 3/1 (NRNB with Bet365) are great odds about a horse as good as ENERGUMENE.
I've taken a look back through the records, and when the brilliant Moscow Flyer won his 2nd QMCC in 2005 beating Well Chief (OR177) and Azertyiop (OR178) in the process, he went off the 6/4 fav. I accept that there's only 2 horses in contention for this years QMCC, but I think come the day we will be looking at "evens" about Shishkin and 7/4 about Energumene and the 3rd in the betting at around 16/1.
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