Champion Chase Preview 2023: It's folly to dismiss Energumene despite defeat

Paul Townend on Energumene celebrating.
Daryl thinks Energumene will be very tough to beat in the Champion Chase.

Here with an ante-post preview of this year's Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival is Daryl Carter...

  • Daryl thinks Energumene will be prove a different horse come March

  • Edwardstone outbattled on trials day

  • Blue Lord to reverse the Arkle form?

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is a Grade 1 National Hunt steeplechase at the Cheltenham Festival open to horses aged five years or older. It is run on the Old Course at Cheltenham over a distance of about 2 miles.

Class act Energumene is still the one to beat

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Energumene 4/5 came through his first task of the season untroubled. He faced lesser opposition than when winning the race in identical fashion 12 months ago, and reverting to front-running tactics saw jockey Paul Townend keep him out of trouble. There were one or two minor errors at his obstacles, but it was nothing more than expected from the Champion Chase winner from 12 months ago.

We learned little other than he was fit and well. We learnt a hell of a lot more at Cheltenham on trials day though.

Energumene ran well for a long way here despite some suspect jumping, including when slamming through the final flight when Paul Townend had yet to pull the stick through.

The form of his Champion Chase win last term is very poor, and he was slower than the Mares Chase winner Impervious at Cork on his seasonal return.

His Punchestown victory at the back end of last year is not strong either, and neither was his Hilly Way victory in 2020.

In fact, on a form basis, it's very hard to find any subsequent Grade 1 winner that he has beaten in his entire career and the only time he has faced a genuine Grade 1 horse, he was beaten in this race last year by Shishkin.

However, he travelled through his latest assignment like the best horse in the race and I just wonder whether he needed this more than was expected?

Although now nine-year-old, he is lightly raced for his age after just 13 outings under rules and he still remains a considerable threat to anything in the race.

Edwardstone's form doesn't add up

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Last year's Arkle winner, Edwardstone 11/4, will look to follow the well-trodden path from the Novice event to open success by landing this year's Champion Chase.

This race has favoured second-season chasers in the past, but Edwardstone is not your typical candidate being a nine-year-old. He has had 22 runs under rules - almost twice that of Energumene - and it was thought that the Novice Chaser's last season was a below-par bunch.

That may not be a theory to quickly disregard despite the form gaining one boost by rival Blue Lord. And here's why...

Edwardstone put it all together when scoring in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, but there is a case to be made that runner-up Greaneteen 16/1 left his race behind when winning the Haldon Gold Cup, with his trainer having him A1 for the race at Exeter three and a half weeks before. That was unusual as trainer Paul Nicholls had previously used the Haldon Gold Cup as a prep run, but he was "ready for his life" this year.

The 6/5f Shishkin was found to have a breathing issue and was returning from the track after a spinal injury, while the fourth, Gentleman De Mee 66/1, was beaten 41 lengths next time by Blue Lord. The fifth, Dunvegan 100/1, was beaten in a handicap next time at his favoured Fairyhouse (he was 4-4 before that).

The form of that race looks a little shakey, and it may not be wise to do a U-turn on the preconceived idea that the Novices from last season were below par. That's without considering the poor form of Edwarstone's defeat at Aintree and how badly the Arkle has worked out.

The Arkle form outside of Blue Lord has seen the other six of the top seven beaten on all starts from 14 runs, while the eighth, Magical Daze (first-time tongue-tie), and fallen Brave Seasca are the only scorers since (the latter was then well beaten in a handicap).

Using the Arkle to Champion Chase stats may not be wise with this nine-year-old as the improvement the typical Novices have at an average age of seven may not lie here.

He has done little wrong, but his latest defeat to Edituer Du Gite at Cheltenham saw him outbattled when trading as short as 1.011/100 on the Betfair Exchange. That would concern me. He showed the same trait as a hurdler.

Still, this division has no stand-out star evident by the Clarence House result, and I wouldn't want to knock him too hard.

Blue Lord clearly improved for the winter

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Beating Edwardstone with a stick and then putting it in the back pocket to suggest his well-beaten Arkle (3rd) Blue Lord 6/1 could reverse the form is probably not wise. Still, it was a magnificent performance from him at Leopardstown at Christmas and the way he cleared away after the final flight saw him throw his hat firmly into this ring.

Still, I do have my concerns. The jumping of favourite Chacun Pour Soir in that contest almost certainly cost him any chance of fighting out the finish. The now 11-year-old folded after a mistake at the fourth last as the race was hotting up, and he is not getting any better with age. The runner-up, Captain Guinness, had been beaten in the race 17 lengths by Chacun Pour Soir last year, and the close proximity of Jermey's Flame in third makes me question the form slightly.

If you were to take Chacun Pour Soir out of the race, it equates to no more than Edwardstone had achieved in the Tingle Creek.

However, this was a career-best performance from Blue Lord, and you couldn't help but be impressed.

He needs to prove he can do it at Cheltenham. The Arkle run wasn't the biggest pointer to him being a Champion Chase contender, but he remains a big play.

Editeur Du Gite not just a tactical pawn

Editeur Du Gite 20/1, proved he is at this level when downing the big guns in the Clarence House at Cheltenham and is firmly on the upgrade.

An out-and-out front runner, his track position will give him every chance of scoring in this contest.

His presence again in the Champion Chase could determine whether a change of tactics on Energumene is forthcoming.

You could easily argue that with this latest win under his belt, Editeur Du Gite is the improving horse in the field and has the strongest form so should be favourite. However, the market is still not quite believing it.

The Verdict

This is now a good contest.

Energumene will improve for the outing in January but you could argue he now has a few questions to answer and his form is looking ropey.

Blue Lord is the one that could improve a good deal on his latest 2m romp at Leopardstown and Editeur Du Gite is also on the upgrade. Still, Energumene is so lightly raced that it might not be wise to dismiss him at the first sign of trouble.

1st: Energumene
2nd: Blue Lord
3rd: Edwardstone


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