There’s often much complaining about how intensely the National Hunt season is focused on the Cheltenham Festival – something we’ve seen recently – but if there’s something that the four days in March does offer, it’s the promise of plentiful Cheltenham betting offers and some tantalising clashes that racing fans have looked forward to all season.
That could very much be the case in the Champion Chase, where – all being well, we could see the unbeaten chasing prodigy Shishkin, the front running monster that is Energumene, and the multiple Grade 1 winner that is Chacun Pour Soi going head-to-head over 12 fences in March.
The sporting gods can sometimes be cruel when it comes to this – injury has ruined many a great contest beforehand, but it is something to look forward to and at the moment, there’s a claim for suggesting that the 2-mile chasing division is one of the best contested in the sport.
Shishkin Misses Tingle Creek
Much of the recent talk regarding Champion Chase contenders has been about Shishkin, who will miss this week’s Tingle Creek with trainer Nicky Henderson saying he failed to ‘spark’ in training.
This has led to much debate about pre-Cheltenham campaigning, but assuming that Shiskin is well – and there’s no reason not to think so – then it’s easy to see why he’s favourite in the Champion Chase odds given the style of his novice wins, including the Cheltenham/Aintree double.
The form of his Arkle Chase win is now looking rosier, too – the 12 lengths second Eldorado Allen took the Haldon Gold Cup recently, Captain Guinness won the Poplar Square Chase, and Allmankind won the Old Roan Chase – and he’s one of the most exciting horses in training.
However, all of that is factored into a best price of 7/4, one which will presumably be available until Christmas at least if results fall into place, and he could face two horses good enough to test him at the Festival.
Take A Chance On Soi
Willie Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi was 8/13 to win last year’s renewal and looked as if he was going to do so after the last, touching 1.15 in running on the Betfair exchange, only to be out sped by Put The Kettle On and Nube Negra in a dash to the line.
The Champion Chase is normally known for its end to end gallop, but last year’s renewal was around 3 seconds slower to the third last than the Grand Annual, and 5 seconds slower for the Arkle to that point.
It’s possible that the pace didn’t suit Chacun Pour Soi, who was otherwise unbeaten in a brilliant season which saw him win three Grade 1 races by a combined 20 lengths, and perhaps in this year’s race we’ll see Chacun allowed to stride on.
If he runs to his best on the figures – and we’ll know plenty about how he’s doing this Saturday when he faces Nube Negra in the Tingle Creek Chase – then they’ll all have to go some to pass him.
At Cheltenham odds of 6/1, that may be a chance worth taking – even with frugal each-way terms, a top three placing will essentially return your stakes back.
The fly in the ointment would appear to be Energumene, who was sadly ruled out of a clash with Shishkin in the Arkle after his demolition job in the Irish equivalent, before showing us his class at Punchestown against overmatched opponents. His story will be a fascinating one this season, although he’s yet to be taken on for the lead.