Shishkin edges out Energumene in a Clarence House classic at Ascot

Willie Mullins’ prodigious chaser loses unbeaten record after a battle for the ages

Shishkin edged out Energumene in a classic at Ascot. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty

Shishkin edged out Energumene in a classic at Ascot. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty

 

Shishkin got up in the final few strides to deny Energumene in a pulsating renewal of the SBK Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

Both horses brought unbeaten records over fences to the table in the Grade One showpiece, with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin the marginal favourite at 5-6 under Nico de Boinville.

The Willie Mullins-trained Energumene was sent off at 5-4 in the hands of Paul Townend and travelled and fenced fluently in the lead for much of the way.

It was not an easy watch for Shishkin’s supporters, with De Boinville having to get lower in the saddle at various stages of the two-mile-one-furlong journey.

The writing appeared to be on the wall for favourite-backers in the home straight, with Energumene seemingly still full of running under a motionless Townend while Shishkin — who made one fairly serious mistake and was not fluent at another fence — was being rousted along.

Energumene still appeared the most likely winner as he held a narrow advantage jumping the last, but Shishkin’s trademark turbo kicked in on the run-in to prevail by a length.

The Joe Donnelly-owned Shishkin was given a huge reception as he returned to the winner’s enclosure, and Henderson said: “It was built up and it produced. They are two great horses.

“A race like that goes back to the Grundy and Bustino day (1975 King George And Queen Elizabeth Stakes) and he (Shishkin) only lives about four boxes from where Grundy did. It was important, it was a great weekend for racing actually.

“They (Townend and De Boinville) said to each other going down the hill, ‘we are flat to the boards’. It had to be that, there was no point hiding. Energumene was going to set a good gallop and we had to keep in touch.

“There were moments it looked as if we weren’t going as well but he stays very well, he possibly does drift a little bit.

“The great thing is they’ve both come home safe and sound. It was a great race. Willie and the guys are all great mates.

“There’s going to be rematch. I always said I hope it’s a good race today because then it won’t ruin the Champion Chase and they will be back to fight it out together.

Shishkin emphasised his Cheltenham credentials at Ascot. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA
Shishkin emphasised his Cheltenham credentials at Ascot. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

“Willie and I have both got jobs to do, we’ve got to get them back from a hard race today but there’s lots of time.

He added: “This is a battle, not the war. The big day is in March and there’s nothing between them. I’m pretty sure if we can both get them there together, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Fascinating.

“It’s special when you get that kind of build up, and it became very important - Nico said it gave him the best moment of his riding career so far, which says something when you’ve ridden Gold Cup winners and things like that.

“Today was round one and Willie and I have got to go home and get ready for March — that is going to be round two.

“It (Champion Chase) is no worse a race for what happened today. We won today, which obviously I’m thrilled about, but they went down fighting tooth and nail. It looked as though they had us on the ropes, but we got back

“Now we’ll go on to March, hopefully everything goes right and they’ll meet again and it will be another thriller.

“I couldn’t have him much better than he was today. Kempton brought him on nicely after the hiccup we had before Christmas.

“We weren’t going to duck today as I wanted the time between now and Cheltenham, rather than wait for the Game Spirit (at Newbury next month).

“I’ve now got time to freshen up and get ready for what will be another massive race.

“Fair play to Willie, who is an enormous mate and Nico and Paul are as well. We’ll go on and hope we can produce what will be another humdinger.”

Mullins was gracious in defeat, saying: “We have no excuses. We ran a cracker, jumped well and did everything right.

“Maybe Shishkin didn’t jump as well as we did and whether there is more improvement in him, I don’t know. I was watching my own horse, but Shiskin made two mistakes I think, so that would leave you to think we have a bit to go yet before we beat him. Shishkin is not too bad around Cheltenham You would have to think we are going to find it hard.

“He got in tight, but they are two-mile chasers meeting fences on a stride. I thought we jumped well enough, unless he was completely electric... but then if Shishkin jumped every fence as well as we did, the chances are he’d have beaten us easier, you know?”

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