A drastic change of tactics helped Energumene land a dramatic renewal of the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival as pre-race favourite Shishkin disappointed and was pulled up.
The hunted became the hunter as jockey Paul Townend, who had made all the running when beaten by Shishkin in a thrilling Clarence House Chase in January, settled Energumene in behind Nicky Henderson’s horse.
Nico de Boinville, riding Shishkin, let out the warning signs early on and, after a bad mistake down the back, quickly pulled up his mount.
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That left Energumene free to pounce on Funambule Sivola and Envoi Allen, who were battling it out at the front end, with Mullins’ other hopeful Chacun Pour Soi departing at the second fence down the back.
Energumene was always travelling well, despite the very soft ground, and once Chacun Pour Soi had exited when going well toward the head of affairs at the fifth last, Townend’s job appeared much simpler.
Energumene, who had lost his unbeaten record at Ascot, had last year’s winner Put The Kettle On in his sights and turning in, had beaten off the mare.
He picked off Envoi Allen and once setting sail two out, it was Funambule Sivola (40/1) who gave vain chase in second, although he was soon in Townend’s rear-view mirror.
The eight-year-old went on to beat his six rivals by eight-and-a-half lengths, with Envoi Allen a further four and a half lengths back in third.
Townend said: “We had gone through tactics a lot at home; myself, Ruby [Walsh], Willie [Mullins] and my father. I wanted everyone’s opinion on it. It’s brilliant when it works out.
“I went out to ride a race. I could see Nico trying to get a bit closer and I just had to make a decision to go.
“It was clear that Nico wasn’t going from early on and I just had to ride my own race after that.”
It is a first Champion Chase victory for Mullins, who made it a double on the day after Sir Gerhard’s victory in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
A visibly emotional Mullins said: “It was fantastic. I was disappointed for the Donnellys (owners) and Shiskin and Nicky Henderson, to go out without a fight.
“You could clearly see early on in the race he wasn’t happy on the ground and in the conditions.
“Then for Chacun Pour Soi, he looked to be going very well, I was feeling for Patrick (Mullins) and Rich (Ricci) and then every time you looked back at Paul on Energumene, he was just travelling so sweet all the time.
“I’m surprised I’m feeling the way I am, that probably shows how much it means to me.”