Energumene and Latest Exhibition in mix for Fairyhouse

Cheltenham Festival absentees Energumene and Latest Exhibition are among 12 confirmations for the Underwriting Exchange Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.

Having completed a hat-trick of wins over fences with a dominant display in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown in February, the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene appeared all set for a fascinating clash with Shishkin in this month’s Arkle itself.

The seven-year-old disappointingly missed out on an appearance in the Cotswolds after suffering a setback the week beforehand, but compensation may await in Sunday’s two-and-a-half-mile Grade One.

Mullins has also kept in Asterion Forlonge, Franco De Port and Janidil – while Paul Nolan specifically sidestepped Cheltenham with Latest Exhibition to wait for the Easter Festival at Fairyhouse.

However, as well as being confirmed for a race formerly known as the Powers Gold Cup, he also has the option of running in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National on Monday – with a decision on which race he will contest yet to be made.

Nolan said: “We’re just going to give ourselves the option.

“It looks to be a fine week, with a few showers towards the weekend, so I think the ground is going to be beautiful.

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“We have to decide on Friday morning, so we’ll see.”

Latest Exhibition (left) may have avoided Monkfish but Energumene could lie in wait
Latest Exhibition (left) may have avoided Monkfish – but Energumene could lie in wait (PA Wire)

Other contenders for Sunday’s feature event include Denise Foster’s pair of Andy Dufresne and Conflated.

Grade One honours are also up for grabs in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final earlier in the afternoon.

Echoes In Rain, Gauloise and Royal Illusion are part of a seven-strong Mullins squad, with Shark Hanlon’s bargain buy Skyace – fourth in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – also one of 21 possibles.

Ronan McNally’s stable star Dreal Deal is entered for both of the two Grade Two races on the card – the Paddy Kehoe Suspended Ceilings Novice Hurdle and the Colm Quinn BMW Novice Hurdle.

However, he is not certain to line up in either, having missed the Cheltenham Festival because of aspergillosis – a reaction caused by a form of mould.

McNally said: “He’s not 100 per cent quite yet – but he’s getting there, I think.

“If we go to Fairyhouse he’d have a Grade Two penalty, so I’ll probably aim for Aintree to be honest because it will give us more time as well.

“He’s entered in all the Grade Ones over two miles, two and a half and three. Aintree is sharp enough, so I would be looking at the two-four and three-miler – but I wouldn’t discount the two-miler.

“His form over two miles is very good, so we’ll have a look and see what is the weakest race. There weren’t many runners at Cheltenham in the novice races, and those that ran will have had hard races.

“I think we’ll run in the weakest race if I’m honest.

“It was a shame to miss Cheltenham – but we wouldn’t have beaten Appreciate It, so second would have been the best we could hope for. It might not have done us any harm not going, and it gives us a fighting chance for Aintree.”

McNally has an entry in the Randox Grand National in the shape of Thyestes Chase winner The Jam Man – but he is in a similar situation.

“With The Jam Man, he’s just not quite there yet either,” he said.

“We’ve 12 days. He is coming, but he’s not there yet.”

Setback rules Energumene out of Arkle challenge

Willie Mullins has revealed Energumene will miss the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham after suffering a setback.

The seven-year-old has made a huge impression in winning his first three starts over fences this season – completing his hat-trick with a brilliant display in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown last month.

A mouthwatering clash with the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin looked one of the most exciting match-ups of this year’s Festival, but Mullins confirmed in a statement on his website Energumene will not be part of his travelling squad.

He said: “Energumene has met with a setback and unfortunately won’t be running at the Cheltenham Festival next week.”

Arkle promises a cracker as ‘big three’ all stand ground

The big three – Shishkin, Energumene and Allmankind – have all stood their ground in the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy for what promises to be one of the races of the week at Cheltenham.

Twelve horses were left in following the confirmation stage – but all eyes will be on the trio, who are unbeaten over fences.

Shishkin, last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, flies the flag for Nicky Henderson. The seven-year-old has looked a natural over fences, with two impressive victories at Kempton and one at Doncaster.

Energumene, trained by Willie Mullins, has been just as convincing in Ireland – chalking up a hat-trick which culminated in the Irish version of the Arkle at Leopardstown last month.

Dan Skelton’s Allmankind has done everything asked of him so far too, with Grade One success at Sandown sandwiched by two wins at Warwick.

Mullins also has Blackbow and Franco De Port in the reckoning for Tuesday, while Felix Desjy could be Denise Foster’s first Festival runner since she took over the licence from Gordon Elliott following his suspension.

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Dual Grade One winner Appreciate It heads 18 confirmations for the opening race of the four-day Festival, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Mullins’ charge has been clear ante-post favourite after winning all the his three starts over the smaller obstacles – including the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice and the Chanelle Pharma Novice, both at Leopardstown. He was runner-up in last year’s Champion Bumper.

Mullins has four other possibles in Blue Lord, Galopin Des Champs, Ganapathi and M C Muldoon.

Ballyadam, who was moved from Elliott’s stables last week by owners Cheveley Park Stud, is one three for Henry de Bromhead. Grade One scorer Bob Olinger and Irascible are the County Waterford trainer’s other possible representatives.

Metier is the main British hope in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Metier is the main British hope in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Leading the home challenge is the Harry Fry-trained Metier, winner of the Tolworth Hurdle, and Betfair Hurdle victor Soaring Glory from Jonjo O’Neill’s stable.

The Skeltons have a leading fancy in Roksana in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle, for which 12 stood their ground.

Roksana was handed this prize two years ago after Benie Des Dieux came down at the last. Fourth to Honeysuckle 12 months ago, she also holds an entry in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

Concertista, from the Mullins stable, looks a formidable rival. The seven-year-old landed the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle here in 2020 and has won two graded races this season.

Great White Shark and My Sister Sarah are the two other Mullins possibles. The Foster-trained Black Tears and Henderson’s pair Dame De Compagnie and Floressa are also in the mix.

Royale Pagaille tops 16 remaining in the Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase, following the six-day stage.

The Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old completed a hat-trick in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock. He also holds entries in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

David Pipe has confirmed Reynoldstown Chase winner Remastered – while other interesting contenders include the former Elliott-trained Galvin, now with Ian Ferguson, and Next Destination from the Nicholls yard.

Remastered remains in two races at Cheltenham on Tuesday
Remastered remains in two races at Cheltenham on Tuesday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Remastered is also one of 31 still in the Ultima Handicap Chase.

Nick Mitchell’s Lieutenant Rocco, the Foster-trained Escaria Ten and Happygolucky, from Kim Bailey’s yard, are among those prominent in the ante-post market.

Gary Moore’s Nassalam and the Mullins-trained Youmdor head the weights, with 28 remaining in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Mullins supplies Saint Sam, while the Nicholls-trained Houx Gris and Joseph O’Brien’s Busselton are among others high in the betting.

Energumene unstoppable from the front in Irish Arkle

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.

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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.

Energumene after his demolition job in the Irish Arkle
Energumene after his demolition job in the Irish Arkle (Niall Carson/PA)

“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.”

Energumene bids to measure up in Irish Arkle

Energumene is a hot favourite to follow in some illustrious hoofprints in the Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle.

Willie Mullins has saddled a record six previous winners of Saturday’s Grade One contest, with his last three – Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Footpad – going on to win the Arkle at Cheltenham the following month.

The lightly-raced Energumene has certainly made a big impression in winning his first two starts over fences – and while he is odds-on to complete his hat-trick at this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, Mullins is keeping his feet on the ground.

He said: “It would be very hard to compare him with the likes of Douvan or Un De Sceaux just yet – they were very high-class horses.

“Hopefully he can be up to that level, but he still has a fair bit to prove.

“He’ll have to show us this weekend whether he’s as good as them or not.”

The Tony Bloom-owned seven-year-old won by 18 lengths on his debut over fences at Gowran Park, before successfully dropping from two-and-a-half to two miles in a novice chase at Naas last month.

Mullins is hoping his charge can earn himself a shot at the Arkle at Cheltenham with victory this weekend, which would throw up a mouthwatering Anglo-Irish clash with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin.

“I just felt when he jumps so well, why waste it going two and a half miles? We said we’d see what he can do over two miles against good horses,” Mullins added.

“I think he passed that test (at Naas). He’ll have to pass this test against better horses, so we’ll just wait and see.

“I’d like plenty of juice in the ground. He’s a big unit, and you don’t really need fast ground for this type of horse.”

Energumene is not Mullins’ only hope of winning a seventh Irish Arkle – with stable companions Unexcepted, Franco De Port and Blackbow also featuring in a nine-strong field.

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Willie Mullins has plenty to look forward to this weekend
Willie Mullins has plenty to look forward to this weekend (Simon Cooper/PA)

Unexcepted has not been seen since making a flying start to his chasing career at Tipperary in October; Franco De Port won a course-and-distance Grade One over Christmas, and Blackbow was a distant third behind Energumene at Naas.

“Unexcepted had a little issue, but is going fine at the moment, and you’ve got to run in these races,” said the Closutton handler.

“If he’s not up to that standard we can always drop down and find another opportunity for him somewhere else.

“Franco De Port is a good, solid jumper. He doesn’t do anything fast early on, but if they go a mad pace in this race he’ll be coming up to mop up the spoils later on, so we know we’ll have something coming along at the end!”

Gavin Cromwell’s Darver Star and Gordon Elliott’s Felix Desjy were second and third respectively behind Franco De Port in December and are once again in opposition.

Elliott told Betfair: “I was left scratching my head after his run over this course and distance in December. He started off over fences with an easy win at Killarney and he beat Sizing Pottsie to win a Grade Two at Punchestown in November.

“Last time out everything seemed to be going well up until around halfway where he lost the lead and never looked happy at any stage thereafter. He is much better than that, but I’m baffled by that last run and I’m just not sure what to expect this time.

Felix Desjy needs to find his best form
Felix Desjy needs to find his best form (Niall Carson/PA)

“He’s in good shape and if the real Felix Desjy turns up he will run well, but I’ll be the first to admit he has questions to answer.”

Mullins is also well represented in the first of four Grade Ones on the card – the Nathaniel Lacy And Partners Solicitors ’50k Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle.

Stable jockey Paul Townend has sided with course winner Gaillard Du Mesnil over Stattler (Danny Mullins) and Ganapathi (Bryan Cooper), while Mark Walsh takes the ride aboard Shadow Rider for his retaining owner JP McManus.

Mullins said: “Gaillard Du Mesnil got beat at Punchestown on his first run of the season, when a lot of our horses were needing the run big time, and then went and won at Leopardstown.

“I’d rather the race on Saturday was two and a half miles, than two-mile-six – but he was a bit keen last time, and I think he’ll settle a lot better after getting that run out of his system.

“We were planning to run Stattler at Thurles, but he just wasn’t right. He’s back right again now, (but) he’s probably going to be better over three miles.

“Ganapathi was very novicey when he ran in the Moscow Flyer in Punchestown (finished second) and was up against a very professional horse in the winner (Dreal Deal).

Cape Gentleman should have his say this weekend
Cape Gentleman should have his say this weekend (PA)

“That was only the third race of our horse’s life, and I’m hoping there is going to be a great deal of improvement to come.

“Shadow Rider won very nicely last time and looks like a horse that could improve a fair bit.”

The Emmet Mullins-trained Cape Gentleman and Mouse Morris’ Gentlemansgame are two of the biggest threats to the Mullins brigade, while Elliott is hopeful of a bold showing from Fakiera.

He said: “Even though he is stepping up in class to Grade One level, I could see him running a big race.

“He will love the longer trip and if this turns into a proper stamina test, I could see him playing a big part in the finish.”

Mullins is responsible for three runners in the concluding Goffs Future Stars I.N.H. Flat Race, with son Patrick choosing Kilcruit over course-and-distance scorer Ramillies (Barry O’Neill) and Whatdeawant (Tom Hamilton).

Mullins senior said: “Kilcruit was very impressive the last day at Navan, and Ramillies was huge at Christmas.

“I was surprised Ramillies could do what he did, and he’s interesting coming back to the same track again.

“I know Patrick loves Kilcruit, and always has. He was the last horse my mother bred.”

After deciding against saddling Champion Bumper favourite Sir Gerhard, Elliott relies on Chemical Energy – while Cromwell’s Letsbeclearaboutit, runner-up to Sir Gerhard in a Listed contest at Navan in December, adds further strength in depth.

Elliott said: “This looks an especially hot bumper and is probably one of the most interesting races of the weekend.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing this horse (Chemical Energy) in action. I think he’s a quality sort – and I’d expect him to represent us well here.”