Freezing cross-channel conditions robbed Willie Mullins of a prime Grade One opportunity with Energumene, but another of his top two-mile stars, Chacun Pour Soi, steps into the vacant weekend headline slot at Thurles on Sunday.
The British Horseracing Authority confirmed that Ascot’s Clarence House Chase will now be run at Cheltenham next Saturday with Energumene still in the mix to line up against Edwardstone.
In the meantime, the six-time Grade One winner Chacun Pour Soi is extended out in trip further than he’s ever raced before for the Grade Two Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase.
The contest still widely referred to as the Kinloch Brae has a notable recent record of being won by horses en route to Gold Cup glory such as Don Cossack and Sizing John.
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Chasing’s “Blue Riband” is one festival contest Chacun Pour Soi hasn’t been entered for as Mullins has left open a range of options from the Champion Chase to the Stayers’ Hurdle.
That he is also among entries for the upcoming Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup underlines the puzzle Chacun has become.
Plenty have had their fingers burned by the horse’s failure to reproduce his best domestic form in Britain and he is very much playing second fiddle to Energumene in the two-mile ranks.
So, at 11 he is being tried at an intermediate 2½ miles for the first time.
Whether he goes up even further in trip in future, or drops back, remains to be seen but this is no tentative exploratory mission.
Among Chacun Pour Soi’s handful of opponents is a genuine top-flight star at the trip in Fakir D’oudairies as well as another highly rated Mullins hope in Royal Rendezvous.
The trio are all rated in the 160s, which gives a welcome competitive boost to a race also containing both Lifetime Ambition and French Dynamite.
For once, Fakir D’oudairies doesn’t have to contend with Allaho this time, which is always a plus for Joseph O’Brien’s runner, who will be ridden by JJ Slevin for the first time in almost four years.
Such a timescale underlines how consistent a performer he has been for so long and Chacun Pour Soi cannot afford to “cut out” as he has appeared to do in the past.
Rachael Blackmore and Jessica Harrington unite for Lifetime Ambition, who ran third to Galopin Des Champs in the Durkan and was previously runner-up in the Troytown.
Perhaps an even more progressive type, though, is French Dynamite, who didn’t appear to last home in the Savills at Christmas but is now back in trip at a course where he has already won four times.
Sunday’s other Grade Two, the Coolmore Mares’ Novice Chase, looks like being little more than a lucrative “school” for Mullins’s Allegorie De Vassy.
Despite a final fence blunder, she sluiced up by 19 lengths on her chase debut at Limerick over Christmas, and the runner-up that day, Malina Girl, is only 6lbs better off.
Usurped as favourite for Cheltenham’s mares’ race by Impervious last weekend, it will be a surprise if Allegorie De Vassy doesn’t manage to cement her festival claims.
Billaway is already a proven festival winner, having run down Winged Leader in dramatic fashion in last year’s Hunters’ Chase. He once again gets his season under way in the finale at Thurles where he tackles Winged Leader’s stable companion Ferns Lock. The latter is almost half Billaway’s age and the latter has form when it comes to needing his first race of the season.
Hey Johnny had little chance in last weekend’s Moscow Flyer Hurdle but carrying bottom-weight in a handicap hurdle on Sunday is a very different proposition.
Separately, Willie Mullins is closing in on the 150-winner mark for the season in Ireland. The champion trainer is currently on 145 winners from a total of just 502 runners in this country so far this campaign. Last season he broke the double-century by saddling 203 winners while he still holds the record of 212 set in 2017-18.
As well as half a dozen runners at Thurles, Mullins will saddle eight hopefuls at Navan on Saturday including Shanbally Kid for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud operation.
The horse was somewhat disappointing on his debut for Gigginstown at Limerick over Christmas but looks likely to relish a half-mile step up in trip for a maiden hurdle. He is also Paul Townend’s pick.
The champion jockey also steps for the sidelined Mark Walsh and will don JP McManus’s colours in the opening novice hurdle aboard Intranet.
He was a place behind Path D’oroux when both finished out of the money behind Facile Vega at Leopardstown over Christmas.
This will be just Intranet’s third start over flights, so improvement is likely. He also gets a 5lb swing from Landrake which could prove decisive against Gordon Elliott’s hope.