Willie Mullins on Energumene's bid for back-to-back Cheltenham Queen Mother Champion Chase wins

Energumene has something to prove when he returns to Cheltenham to defend his Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase crown today (3.30).

The horse responsible for ensuring Willie Mullins has the full collection of championship events at the Festival looked set to become the dominant force in the two-mile chase division when following up his Champion Chase triumph in impressive style at the Punchestown Festival before then returning in rude health at Cork in December.

However, his momentum was checked on Trials day when Energumene could only finish third in the rearranged Clarence House Chase.

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The master of Closutton identified a couple of reasons for the under-par performance in the aftermath of that contest and is hoping to see his charge correct the record in the day two feature.

Defending champion: Paul Townend and Energumene celebrate after winning the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase last year - and are aiming for a repeat today.Defending champion: Paul Townend and Energumene celebrate after winning the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase last year - and are aiming for a repeat today.
Defending champion: Paul Townend and Energumene celebrate after winning the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase last year - and are aiming for a repeat today.

"It was great to finally get a Champion Chase last year and I think in the Clarence House he just needed the run over those different style of fences," said Mullins.

"The Clarence House was a very tactical race and I think a few jockeys might change tactics the next day.

"We learnt a lot I think and I'm happy and Paul (Townend) is happy he'll improve a lot from that day."

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Energumene had to settle for third in the Clarence House with the Gary Moore-trained Editeur Du Gite making most before holding off the fast-finishing Edwardstone in a thrilling finish.

It was Alan King's Arkle hero who went into most notebooks on that occasion and the Barbury Castle handler is happy with where he has the favourite ahead of the main event.

"I would obviously have preferred to have won (on Trials day), but it wasn't to be and Gary's horse battled back well," said King.

"I'm very happy where I have the horse and we can't do any more our end.”

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Editeur Du Gite's victory was the second time this season he has caused an upset in a key Champion Chase trial, having also won the Desert Orchid Chase, and Gary Moore sees no reason why the nine-year-old cannot play a leading role again.

He said: "I see no reason why he can't run like that again. I'm very happy with him, his preparation has gone well and it's all systems go."

Nube Negra won the Shloer Chase over course and distance in November, but was somewhat disappointing when second to Editeur Du Gite at Kempton in the Desert Orchid.

Paul Nicholls’ Greaneteen, Venetia Williams' Funambule Sivola and Captain Guinness from the Henry de Bromhead stable also run.

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Yorkshire’s best hopes of a winner this week appear to lie with Patrick Neville’s The Real Whacker in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (2.10).

Trained and ridden out every day by the Irishman at Ann Duffield’s stables near Leyburn, The Real Whacker is bidding for his third victory of the season at Prestbury Park under Sam Twiston-Davies.

The race is the novices’ equivalent of the Cheltenham Gold Cup – for which The Real Whacker also held an entry – and the seven year old is bidding to follow up successes in the mallardjewellers.com Novices' Chase in November and the Grade 2 Paddy Power Novices' Chase on New Year’s Day.

He will have to be at the top of his game to defeat Gordon Elliott’s favourite, Gerri Colombe, who goes into the race unbeaten in seven starts, with three chase wins, including two at the top-level.

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His latest, in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown, came over two and a half miles and Elliott feels the longer trip should suit.

He said: "In Sandown, when the other horse passed him (Balco Coastal), I loved the way he dropped his head and wanted to win.”

The Willie Mullins-trained Sir Gerhard bids to win the race on only his second start over fences and is one of five representing the Closutton handler.

Barton-Le-Street trainer Peter Niven’s Malystic, winner of Wetherby’s William Hill Castleford Handicap Chase and Doncaster’s Sky Bet Extra Places Every Day Handicap Chase this season, lines up in the penultimate Grand Annual (4.50).

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Queens Gamble has Cheltenham form in her favour as she faces off against the might of Ireland in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper (5.30).

Oliver Sherwood's talented mare has impressed twice at the track in her short career, beating Milton Harris' five-time scorer Mullenbeg by 10 lengths on debut before downing another subsequent victor when scooping Listed honours at Prestbury Park in the autumn.

Mullins has a record 12 victories in this Grade One event and has taken home the trophy for the past three years.

Patrick Mullins has chosen to ride Dublin Racing Festival runner-up Fact To File, which leaves Paul Townend free to ride impressive Navan winner It's For Me to try and continue the handler’s sequence.

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