Energumene set up a mouthwatering clash with Shishkin at Cheltenham next month with a brilliant front-running display in the Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
The seven-year-old had looked a natural in winning his first two starts over fences – and with trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Paul Townend having already landed the first two Grade Ones of the afternoon, Energumene was the 5-6 favourite to follow suit.
Sent straight to the lead, the Tony Bloom-owned gelding fenced fluently throughout the two-mile-one-furlong contest to keep the pressure on his chasing rivals, with the fall of nearest pursuer Captain Guinness at the second-last leaving the market leader with a clear advantage.
His stable companions Franco De Port and Blackbow attempted to bridge the gap from the home turn, but Energumene was in a class of his own as he passed the post with 10 lengths in hand.
Franco De Port pipped Blackbow to the runner-up spot to make it a Mullins one-two-three.
Coral make Energumene a 5-2 chance for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham, with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin remaining at the head of the market at 8-11.
Mullins said: “I thought that was a helluva performance from a novice. He jumped and galloped, and gave no quarter to any horse.
“You couldn’t ask for anything more. He probably stood a little far back off the last, and Paul said he stood a bit far off another fence, but other than that it was as good as you’d get from a horse having his third run over fences.
“He went a good even gallop in front, and the time (quicker than Chacun Pour Soi in preceding race) tells you how good a performance it was.
“Obviously when you get that type of performance you’re delighted, because you don’t ever expect that.
“He’s every inch a chaser to look at. If you were going to draw a picture of a chaser he’s the one you’d draw.”
When asked if he is looking forward to a clash with Shishkin, Mullins added: “I don’t know, I’d rather it was without Shishkin!
“It looks like it’s going to be a race to look forward to from both sides. Shishkin is a helluva horse. It’s great that we have one from each side of the Irish sea going there, and we’re looking forward to it.”