Energumene bids to extend his winning sequence at Punchestown – and in the process set the scene for what promises to be a titanic clash with Shishkin at some stage next season.
Owned by Brighton & Hove Albion football chairman Tony Bloom, the Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old put down a real marker for championship honours when winning the Irish Arkle in tremendous fashion at Leopardstown in February.
All the talk then after his third win in as many chase starts was of the upcoming ‘race of the week’ in the Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham against Shishkin.
But in the end a setback put that on hold, and Nicky Henderson’s novice star duly won with ease in Energumene’s absence.
Mullins is happy again with Energumene, having conceded at one stage he thought his season could be over.
The Closutton handler said: “Energumene had a little mishap before Cheltenham, and I thought that was him for the season, but he recovered quickly.
“I was trying to get him ready for Fairyhouse and then I felt it wasn’t fair on the horse to go to Fairyhouse, so I said I’d wait for Punchestown.
“He’s been fine since, so I’m looking forward to getting him out.”
Just four rivals take on Paul Townend’s mount, chief among them Henry de Bromhead’s Captain Guinness – who fell in the Irish Arkle and was then third to Shishkin at the Festival, some 13 lengths adrift, having been involved in a duel up front with Allmankind.
De Bromhead hopes for better this time.
He said: “I don’t think we saw the best of him – the pair of them went a gear too fast throughout.
“I said to Rachael (Blackmore) ‘could we commit’ – and I didn’t think anyone could go with us – but obviously Allmankind did. I probably got her too committed, so it was my fault. It didn’t work out, so we’ll see how we get on.”
Mullins has a second challenger in Fairyhouse Grade One scorer Janidil, while Zarkareva gives the De Bromhead team two chances. The field is completed by the Joseph O’Brien-trained Embittered.