There has been much debate in recent months as to whether or not today’s Clarence House Chase should remain a Grade 1 contest or whether it should revert back to being a valuable handicap. The “Victor Chandler Chase” was a handicap from 1989 – the first two years were lost to frost in ’87 & ’88 – until 2008 when it was elevated to Grade 1 status.
Only four go to post for the 2022 renewal but they include two equine superstars in Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin and the Willie Mullins’ trained Energumene as well as last year’s winner First Flow. Shishkin and Energumene are unbeaten when they have stood up over jumps and something has to give this afternoon.
At least one of these champions will lose their unbeaten record today and we look guaranteed to get a truly run race with Energumene making the running and Shishkin and First Flow in behind. The pair will not want to give the leader – owned by Brighton boss Tony Bloom – too much rope.
The pair should have met in the Arkle at Cheltenham back in March of course, but Energumene was a late defector. Shishkin beat the Willie Mullins’ trained Franco Du Port 40 lengths at Cheltenham while Energumene beat his stablemate by 10 lengths at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival back in February when he did jump out to his right on occasions.
Shishkin looked to have improved again when scoring at Kempton on his reappearance but the same can be said of Energumene who was taken on by a dual Grade 1 winning novice chaser at Cork last month and beat him – Notebook – by more than forty lengths.
The fact that stablemate Chacun Pour Soi bombed out in the Tingle Creek at Sandown last month is a concern and this will be the first time that Energumene has crossed the Irish Sea. Soft ground on a right-handed track over an extended two miles is ideal for Energumene and I did feel Shishkin might be vulnerable on a right-hand track until he blew that theory out of the water at Kempton.
I hope and expect to see a race for the ages but, on home soil, it must be Shishkin although I do feel it is a race best watched.
Cat Tiger has been put in as a short-priced favourite for the 3m handicap chase but is 4lbs higher than when just touched off at Doncaster last time. Winds Of Fire (1.10) is not bred to stay three miles but he was coming back at the front two when third at Taunton last time over this trip and he strikes me as an each way alternative to the Philip Hobbs’ trained market leader.
The ew – 11/2 with Boylesports – selection only got as far as the first on his chase debut but scored at Newcastle next time before his Taunton run against two inform and progressive horses.
There are few inform horses in opposition today and, if his jumping holds up over these stiff fences, then I would be disappointed if he did not run a big race for Evan Williams whose string have been a bit hit or miss in recent weeks although they did have a winner at Exeter earlier in the week.
The 2m 5f handicap chase is, arguably, the most competitive race of the day and five of the eight who go to post are last time out winners, but I am sweet on the chances of two who were losers on their latest start.
Knight Of Dubai jumped superbly but was readily brushed aside in the home straight by Palmers Hill over an extended 2m 3f here last month and he is 11lbs better off with that rival today. The Dan Skelton trained runner would have been the recommendation on today’s softer ground but for the fact that he must prove his stamina for this trip.
The each way vote, however, goes to Phoenix Way (2.55) who can race from the same mark as when second over three miles here last month behind Annsam. The ew selection – 6s with William Hill – has only raced five times over fences and is still learning his craft, but he should have the race run to suit and I am not concerned about today’s drop back in distance. Kevin Brogan takes over in the saddle from the injured Lorcan Murtagh.
Harry Fry had a tremendous day at Lingfield on Friday with two winners at their Million Festival and this inmate must have an excellent ew chance.
Killer Clown did us a favour at Wincanton a fortnight ago, but I did not think that was the strongest of races and a 7lbs rise looks harsh although the Emma Lavelle trained 8-y-old is a better animal going right-handed.
The ground dried out too much for Gallic Geordie (3.45) at Newcastle midweek, but I am convinced that Sam Drinkwater’s 9-year-old remains well handicapped, and he can return to winning ways at Haydock where conditions were described as soft on Friday.
The selection – 9/4 with MansionBet – looked to be coming with a winning run at Gosforth Park, but he lost out in a three-way photo with jockey Sean Bowen suggesting his mount would not let himself down on ground quicker than ideal. Richard Patrick – who was in the plate for his facile Lingfield win last month – returns to the saddle.
It could be a good day for owner Harry Redknapp whose Shakem ‘Up’Arry has a leading chance in the Haydock opener and the former Spurs boss has a leading chance at Lingfield in the finale where Nefarious (4.10) can follow up last week’s win over C&D from just a 2lbs higher mark.
The ew selection – 4s with 10Bet – was slowly away and forced to cover ground last time, but the hope is that Jack Mitchell can get him into a good position going into the first bend and strike fast and late.
He was rated much higher when trained by Henry Candy and his running on fourth at Kempton on his penultimate start suggested that his turn was nigh. I would hope Sandra has had her fiver on each way.