Shishkin ridden by Nico de Boinville jumps the last fence to win the 2021 Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Image: Getty)
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Fans have a clash to savour as Shishkin and Energumene put their unbeaten chasing records on the line this weekend.
The best two-milers from either side of the Irish Sea look set to light up Ascot on Saturday afternoon when they go head-to-head in the feature SBK Clarence House Chase.
Shishkin, already a winner at two Cheltenham Festivals in the 2020 Supreme Novices' Hurdle and 2021 Arkle Chase, heads to Ascot as the red hot 4-9 favourite with Grosvenor Sport to add a fourth Grade 1 prize to his CV.
However, Nicky Henderson's stable star has yet to encounter a rival that operates on the same level as Energumene.
The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old posted a number that would win most Queen Mother Champion Chases when dismantling his opposition in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork in December and his 'catch me if you can' run-style is exhilarating to watch.
Shishkin vs Energumene head-to-head chasing records
Starts: 6 vs 5
Wins: 6 vs 5
Grade 1s: 2 vs 2
Official Rating: 172 vs 171
Cumulative winning distances: 69.75 lengths vs 61 lengths
Paul Townend on Energumene wins The Patrick Ward & Co. Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Steeplechase
What the trainers say
Willie Mullins on Energumene: “I was very happy with Energumene (at Cork). He seemed to be in control from what I saw for the last mile. He jumped well enough and it was a good performance for his first run of the season. I’m hoping he will improve."
Nicky Henderson on Shishkin: "His work was very good and it was like what Nico was looking for that time before Kempton. He’s a heck of a lot lighter than the time he came here (Kempton), he’s back down to where he was last year – he was very heavy here. We’re in good shape."
Trainer Nicky Henderson
Is it a two-horse race?
Official ratings suggest so but last year's winner First Flow isn't going to go down without a fight and there is no doubt that he is better at Ascot than anywhere else.
The 2021 renewal didn't feature rivals of the calibre of Shishkin and Energumene so First Flow has his work cut out if he's to follow up. He will, however, be on hand to pick up the pieces should the big two not live up to expectations.
Paul Nicholls has won the Clarence House Chase five times, more than any other trainer, so the improving Hitman has to respected but a literal reading of his Tingle Creek form (beaten five lengths by stablemate Greaneteen who lost by ten lengths to Shishkin at Kempton) suggests he can't possibly defeat Nicky Henderson's charge.
Amoola Gold is the huge outsider and he has two wins and two seconds from four starts at the track. He should pick up the fifth-place prize money.
Clarence House Chase odds with Grosvenor Sport
4-9* Shishkin, 9-4 Energumene, 6-1 First Flow, 10-1 Hitman, 50-1 Amoola Gold
*Odds subject to change
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Who will win?
Shishkin is so strong in the closing stages of his races that Energumene's front-running style could simply tee this up for the odds on favourite, who came through a key piece of work last weekend with flying colours.
This has been Energumene's target for a while now so it feels reasonable to expect Willie Mullins to have his charge primed for the occasion and that will mean that Shishkin will need to be every inch the superstar he promises to be if he's to come out on top.
It is though, virtually impossible to oppose the Nicky Henderson runner given everything he's done so far.
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