Jockey Patrick Mullins believes the Clarence House Chase in Ascot could be the perfect setting to finally find out who is the king of the two-mile split.
Energumene, coached by Mullins’ father Willie, and Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin could finally meet this month, putting their unbeaten records beyond the barriers on the line.
The pair were scheduled to clash at the Cheltenham Festival last year, but a last-minute setback saw Energumene lose the Arkle Novice chase as Shishkin clinched victory under Nico de Boinville.
After avoiding a grade one test in Leopardstown over Christmas, the Mullins team confirmed Ascot as their next stop on the road to Champion Chase in March.
As for Shishkin’s plans, Henderson remains eager to give his star another run between his Desert Orchid Chase victory on December 27 and Cheltenham, but he’s not sure if the Clarence House Chase on January 22 is coming too soon.
Speaking with Sky Sports Racing about the Racing Debate, Mullins said: “We think Energumene is very good and we were tired of not having declared that at Leopardstown.
“He entered Ascot, so if Shishkin goes, we may find out who is right and who is wrong.
“There are about three horses galloping here that get your attention every day and he’s one of them. Until we see something else, we think he’s as good as anything else.”
Mullins warns against underestimating Al Boum Photo
Dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo made his usual winning return to action in Tramore, participating in Savills’ New Year’s Eve chase for the fourth consecutive year.
On a break from their traditional path in Cheltenham, the Mullins team are hoping to have another run against the 10-year-old.
The betting markets weren’t moved by Al Boum Photo’s Tramore win, which kept him as a 14/1 overall after taking down teammates Burrows Saint and Brahma Bull.
“I think every year his performance at Tramore is underestimated, but if you look at the figures, he beat two horses ranked 156 and 157, gave them 7lbs and they had had a run,” Mullins said.
“He beat them easily, so he has to run up to 160 if not higher. It was a very good performance.
“Last year, with Covid and all, he didn’t have the ideal preparation. If he can beat the other two [Minella Indo and A Plus Tard] I don’t know, but we think it’s better than last year’s naked form. “
Potentially joining Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup lineup could be the shock of King George VI winner Chase Tornado Flyer.
Given a patient ride by Danny Mullins, the nine-year-old shot across the field as the main protagonists vanished from the games or fell over.
“I think the race fell a bit on his lap,” Mullins said. “Danny [Mullins] it gave him a great ride, but it’s a lot easier to do when you’re on a 28/1 shot that’s been told, ‘Run to run well’. You don’t have to cover the moves or be close at hand. There is no pressure.
“Was he suddenly improved beyond his old form? I don’t think so. But he was third in Ryanair last year and who can say another great race won’t make its way into the future.
“He never really filled the horse we hoped he might be until he won the King George.
“I guess the Gold Cup is the most obvious place to go now with the King George winner.”
Mullins astounded by the “breathtaking” Galopin
Even by his high standards, Irish champion coach Willie Mullins enjoyed a fruitful holiday period, but perhaps the most compelling performance came courtesy of chase rookie Galopin Des Champs.
The six-year-old, who was successful at both Cheltenham and Punchestown Festival last spring, jumped with real experience to get an easy winner in Leopardstown.
When asked how good Galopin Des Champs is, Mullins replied: “Breathtaking.
“Before the race, I had it in the same mold as Don Poli and Sire De Champs because it looked like a real catch but it looks like it could have been a faster horse on the paddocks.
“It was surprisingly breathtaking, even for a horse we thought was very good.”
The pecking order of Mullins’ Champion Bumper horses may still be determined, but Closutton’s Trainer Battalion is definitely taking on its usual formidable form.
Mullins has won the Cheltenham Champion Bumper a record 11 times since 1996, including the last two renewals with Ferny Hollow and Sir Gerhard.
And with four outstanding winners over as many days over Christmas, hopes are high that at least three of them will line up in the Weatherbys-sponsored championship event at Prestbury Park in March.
The progression is anticipated by Facile Vega, which successfully debuted in Leopardstown on Sunday, and Embassy Gardens and Redemption Day, which did the same Monday and Tuesday, on the same route and distance.
“Obviously Embassy Gardens will probably need to improve, but of the three, I think it’s the one that will improve the most,” Mullins said.
Redemption Day was installed as the third 6/1 favorite for the Champion Bumper following his triumph of four and a half lengths, but arguably the most visually impressive of the Mullins yard winning quartet was Easy Vega, who ran an impressive winner. six lengths.
Walk In The Park’s son is out of the six-time winner of Mares’ Hurdle Quevega and is the second 4/1 favorite for Cheltenham, behind American Mike trained by Gordon Elliott (11/4).
Mullins said, “Redemption Day is probably the fastest and Easy Vega is tallest and probably has the most range, so we all have different shapes and sizes.
“There are some tough decisions to make, but it’s a good position to be in.”