Patrick Mullins feels he may have a tall order on his hands in taking on Energumene with Chacun Pour Soi in the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown.
Though scintillating when landing this prize 12 months ago and again when winning the Grade One Dublin Chase at Leopardstown in February, he unseated Mullins when going well five from home in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
Stablemate Energumene, who was beaten by Shishkin in the Clarence House at Ascot in January, now stands atop the two-mile chasing division after taking the Champion Chase and giving the Willie Mullins stable their first success in the race.
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Patrick Mullins, who is the trainer’s son and assistant, will again partner Chacun Pour Soi, although he knows the difficult task facing the 10-year-old.
“He walked into the third fence (in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham) and then got back jumping,” said Mullins. “While watching the race you would say I was going well, and I probably was, but I wasn’t surprised that he put down. I just didn’t feel that he was giving me the feel that I was expecting him to.
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“I don’t feel he was on his ‘A game’ on the day. I’m just disappointed as he shouldn’t be making mistakes like that.”
The Mullins team have taken the last three renewals of the day one Punchestown Festival feature, Chacun Pour Soi defeating Alhallo by a comprehensive five and a half lengths in last year’s race.
Mullins added: “It wasn’t the Chacun Pour Soi we know but look, I thought the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown was one of the races of the season last year. I thought Paul (Townend) was excellent on him, the way he bounced him out, and that was a huge performance the way he got Allaho out of his comfort zone completely.
“He is 10 now and Energumene is in his prime at eight, so it’s probably going to be difficult for Chacun Pour Soi, but I’d be expecting him to be much more like his old self and perhaps he might just be a better ground horse. It’ll be a fantastic race and I wouldn’t rule him out.”
With Shishkin pulled up early, reportedly suffering from a rare bone condition, and Chacun Pour Soi unseating, Energumene had plenty go his own way.
Mullins conceded: “In reality, the Champion Chase at Cheltenham turned into a Grade Two, but Energumene travelled through the race like the good horse he is. We’ll take it, a Champion Chase, we never had one before but we will have to take on Shishkin again and settle it once and for all.”
Paul Townend celebrates as Energumene wins the Champion Chase
Envoi Allen, winner of a Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas, seemed to benefit from wind surgery ahead of his third place in the Champion Chase.
The eight-year-old is one of five contenders for the two-mile contest and trainer Henry De Bromhead feels he goes to Punchestown with a fighting chance.
He said: “He is so classy, I think any trip would nearly suit him to be fair. He’s got such a high cruising speed, and he showed at Cheltenham that jumping and travelling at that pace isn’t a problem. We’re really happy with him.”
The Knockeen handler also saddles Captain Guinness, winner of three of his 11 attempts over fences and last seen finishing sixth to Fakir D’oudairies in the Marsh Chase at Aintree.
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De Bromhead added: “The extra half mile in Aintree caught him out, so we’ll go back to two miles with him. We’re happy to go again to Punchestown. It’s always a chance but he seems in good form so we’re happy to give it a lash and see. There is great prize money on offer, as is the case throughout the week.”
The Gordon Elliott-trained Grand Annual runner-up Andy Dufresne completes the quintet.