Cheltenham Festival: Energumene is on the scene in Champion Chase shake-up

Our roving reporter Paul Binfield on whose hot and whose not in the ante-post market for Cheltenham 2022.

Allaho Rachael Blackmore Ryanair Chase Cheltenham March 18, 2021

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A wicked weekend of high-class action at Sandown and Punchestown with plenty of Cheltenham movers and shakers in the aftermath.

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Tuesday, March 15 – SUPREME NOVICES HURDLE

Another of the weekend’s winners priced at 33-1 before scoring, was Nicky Henderson’s Constitution Hill after a winning hurdling bow at Sandown on Saturday. The Seven Barrows trainer has a strong early hand in this as he also tutors favourite, Jonbon. We’ve seen plenty of cash for this fellow since his victory.

Tuesday, March 15 – ARKLE CHASE

The ‘double carpet’ 33-1 that was around about Edwardstone for next March’s Arkle Chase before he impressively scooped Sandown’s  Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase on Saturday evaporated  after he came up the Esher slopes in splendid isolation.

Trainer Alan King has become the UK’s top dual-purpose trainer but it took lad a couple of efforts before he won a novices’ chase at Warwick last month and now looks a serious tool for the master of Barbury Castle to go to war with.

The 2020 Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow only ran once over hurdles when he claimed the notable scalp of Bob Olinger before injury curtailed his season, so it was no surprise to see him justify odds-on favouritism in a beginners’ chase at Punchestown on Sunday. Paddy immediately took the knife to him for the Arkle Chase and we’ll learn much more about him on his next start in better company.

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Wednesday, March 16 – CHAMPION CHASE

Greaneteen wasn’t fancied in the market by punters when winning Saturday’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase, but that didn’t stop him easily winning the top-class prize by five and a half lengths from stable companion Hitman.

Winning rider Bryony Frost had a big smile on her face after what was a difficult week for her and the winner’s odds for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, in which he finished fourth – only beaten two lengths last season – were slashed in half for him to go those few places better this season.

Energumene didn’t get to exhibit his talents in last season’s Arkle Chase, but subsequent successes in the Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown last season and Sunday’s Hilly Way Chase at Cork means he’s now rated the biggest danger to Shishkin in what is shaping up to be a vintage renewal of the Champion Chase.

Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old is now seven wins from eight under rules, his only defeat having come in his first bumper start.

Allaho Rachael Blackmore Ryanair Chase Cheltenham March 18, 2021

Thursday, March 17 – RYANAIR CHASE

Willie Mullins’s Allaho was already at the front of the market for the St Patrick’s Day feature, but hardened in the market after overcoming an absence of 222 days to master Janadil by two lengths.

Kim Bailey’s First Flow also entered the Ryanair equation after the veteran trainer’s charge kept on well under David Bass to land Huntingdon’s biggest prize of the season, the Peterborough Chase, on Sunday by four and a half lengths to Funambule Sivola.

This was a lovely performance from a horse who was stepping up to two and a half miles for the first time and could be an bit of value given he was pretty good over two miles and was only about seven lengths behind Put The Kettle On in last season’s Queen Mother.

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Thursday, March 17 – MARES’ NOVICES HURDLE

There will be some celebration in Co. Meath if Gordon Elliott’s Party Central can land this event at Prestbury Park in March and she went one step closer with a brave head defeat of Humble Glory in a Listed mares novice hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday. She’s now two from three over timber with her one loss coming on soft ground and the 40-1 available beforehand is long gone.

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