Energumene has something to prove when he returns to Cheltenham to defend his Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase crown on Wednesday.
The horse responsible for ensuring Willie Mullins has the full collection of championship events at the Festival looked set to become the dominant force in the two-mile chase division when following up his Champion Chase triumph in impressive style at the Punchestown Festival before then returning in rude health at Cork in December.
However, his momentum was checked on Trials day when Energumene could only finish third in the rearranged Clarence House Chase.
The master of Closutton identified a couple of reasons for the under-par performance in the aftermath of that contest and is hoping to see his charge correct the record in the day two feature.
“It was great to finally get a Champion Chase last year and I think in the Clarence House he just needed the run over those different style of fences,” said Mullins.
“Even though he’d schooled over them at home, sometimes a horse just needs to get out on the track and see the thing and I’m sure that experience will stand to him when it comes to jumping off in the Champion Chase.
“There’s no such thing as a slowly-run Champion Chase and I think that’s going to suit us.
“The Clarence House was a very tactical race and I think a few jockeys might change tactics the next day.
“We learnt a lot I think and I’m happy and Paul (Townend) is happy he’ll improve a lot from that day.”
Energumene had to settle for third in the Clarence House with the Gary Moore-trained Editeur Du Gite making most before holding off the fast-finishing Edwardstone in a thrilling finish.
It was Alan King’s Arkle hero who went into most notebooks on that occasion and the Barbury Castle handler is happy with where he has the favourite ahead of the main event.
“I would obviously have preferred to have won (on Trials day), but it wasn’t to be and Gary’s horse battled back well,” said King.
“I’m very happy where I have the horse and we can’t do any more our end.
“We’re in very good shape for Wednesday, we just hope to get a nice, clean run now and see what happens.”
Editeur Du Gite’s victory was the second time this season he has caused an upset in a key Champion Chase trial, having also won the Desert Orchid Chase, and Moore sees no reason why the nine-year-old cannot play a leading role once again.
He said: “As long as he is as good as he was last time, that’s what he needs to be really.
“I see no reason why he can’t run like that again. I’m very happy with him, his preparation has gone well and it’s all systems go.”
Editeur Du Gite wears the colours carried to Champion Chase success by the stable’s Sire De Grugy in 2014 and Moore admits the improvement his contender has shown this season has caught him by surprise.
“Hopefully he can do the same as Sire De Grugy,” he continued.
“It would be nice and also a bit unbelievable – something I never thought he would be doing anyway. But it just shows you never know in this game!
“It’s surprised me how much he has improved but time is an amazing thing in racing and he has improved a massive amount and probably needs to improve a bit more now as well.”
The race will also be a big occasion for Niall Houlihan, who has struck up a fine relationship with Editeur Du Gite and will be riding in the Champion Chase for the first time.
“It’s a massive day for him and there’s a lot of responsibility on his head, but he’s a pretty cool guy and I don’t think it will be a problem to him,” added Moore.
“Everyone knows how Editeur Du Gite races and will be well aware of it and I hope Niall is as well – I’m sure he will be. If the others want to go fast with him, then so be it.”
Nube Negra won the Shloer Chase over course and distance in November, but was somewhat disappointing when second to Editeur Du Gite at Kempton in the Desert Orchid.
He has been freshened up by Dan Skelton ahead of another crack at the Champion Chase – attempting to go one better than his second to Put The Kettle On in 2021.
“Nube Negra goes very well fresh and is very good around the course,” said Skelton.
“Any dry days or hours would be appreciated. The day he beat Altior at Kempton it was officially described as soft, but we do know the better the ground, the more suitable it is for him.
“He’s very good at home and I couldn’t have him any better to be honest.”
Greaneteen was only a length and a half further back in fourth on that occasion and has since won the Tingle Creek twice.
He suffered a surprise defeat in the Game Spirit at Newbury, but trainer Paul Nicholls felt his charge really needed the outing that day.
He told Betfair: “I couldn’t be happier with Greaneteen who is much sharper now after a below-0par run at Newbury a month ago when I left him under cooked. I think you can put a line through that run when he was too fresh and the ground was quicker than he likes.
“Greaneteen pleased me in an away day at Lambourn recently, is much fitter going to Cheltenham and will appreciate some ease in the ground. He ran very well when finishing a close fourth in the race two years ago and I can see him being placed again.”
Venetia Williams’ Funambule Sivola won the Game Spirit and was also runner-up in this last year, while Captain Guinness completes the line-up attempting to provide Henry de Bromhead with a fourth Champion Chase trophy.
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