Lizzie Kelly: I’m backing Shiskin to win both Clarence House Chase and The Champion Chase

Q1: Shiskin vs Energumene: who will come out on top this weekend but also at Cheltenham?

LK: The Shiskin vs Energumene meet has come to dominate racing headlines and for a very good reason. These two incredible horses, who haven’t met before, are about to go head to head for the first time in the Clarence House Chase this weekend, which is set to be one of the most watched races and it’s easy to see why. Shishkin, a dual Cheltenham Festival winner, and Energumene are both unbeaten over fences and have only been beaten once each from a combined 19 starts, which is incredible.

However, I’m team Shiskin as I feel he’s just that little bit ahead of Energumene and I wouldn’t be surprised if Shiskin comes in first both on Saturday and at Cheltenham in March. But the fact that we have these two ’super’ horses, who are neck and neck, taking each other on not just once but twice within a few weeks is what makes this such a great sport – and not just for someone within the industry but also as a spectator.

Q2. Looking at Cheltenham, who are the horses to watch this year?

LK: Without a doubt, the Champion Chase will be very interesting. We’ll know more about the Shiskin vs Energumene conversation after they go head to head this weekend but other exciting horses that’s worth keeping an eye on are Nube Negra, Greaneteen and obviously Put The Kettle On; and with the latter being 20/1 at the moment, that shows what a strong race the Champion Chase is.

In other races, Easysland is definitely one to keep a close eye on. He was trained by David Cottin in France, won the Cross Country in 2020 but now moved to Jonjo O’Neill so it’ll be interesting to see where this will take him.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the Cross Country and it’s a great race to watch. In terms of racing spectacles, I think it’s almost as good as the Grand National now because the National fences are that bit smaller, it’s not so much a jumping test anymore. Whereas the Cross Country remains a really good jumping test.

Then there’s Honeysuckle; a must watch because she’s simply fantastic. But also the connection between her and Rachael Blackmore is very special. It’s not very often that we see horses just being ridden by one jockey throughout their whole career so that in itself speaks volumes.

I also think that the Gold Cup will be a great race. We know that A Plus Tard really likes Cheltenham and I do think he was unfortunate to finish second last year; it was just a bit gutting.

You could see why Rachael had picked A Plus Tard over Minella Indo and sadly, it ended up being the wrong decision.

Galvin has had a great season so far – he’s been exciting and he’s improving. However, although he’s only eight, he’s never been a headline act. But who knows, perhaps this will be his year.

Meanwhile, Minello Indo is 8/1 at the moment, which is crazy considering he was last year’s winner. But I think there were question marks about the run at Kempton; but actually, Henry de Bromhead’s team were not in great form at the time, so you can kind of make excuses.

What’s interesting this year, is that it’s not as obvious of who will run well and who won’t; whereas last year, you could be quite confident about the team and their chances.

Q3: Who do you think in your opinion is the best horse just now and who do you think is the horse or horse(s) to keep an eye on?

LK: The horse that I probably like the look of the most at the moment is Bravemansgame. He’s a horse that just seems to really taken to chasing and he looks very exciting whenever he’s run; I love the style of job as he makes it look very effortless.

And then a horse that I looking forward to see, and want to keep an eye out for, is Appreciate It. He’s obviously had a very good hurdle career and although he hasn’t gone chasing, it’s interesting that he hasn’t run yet this season. So look forward to sort seeing where he sort of ends up really.

He’s a big talking horse, but the fact that we haven’t seen him yet this season sort of, for me, makes him quite interesting and makes me think…What plans are they cooking up…especially as it’s not ideal for a horse to go to Cheltenham without a prep run but in one way, that makes him even more interesting.

Q4. Rachael Blackmore had an amazing Cheltenham last year; what do you think about her chances this year?

LK: Although there will be added pressure on Rachael this year, mainly from punters and spectators, she’s a fairly cool cookie. Obviously she’d love to have a repeat performance on last year’s Cheltenham, which is possible, but the fact that Henry de Bromhead’s team have been under a little bit of a cloud recently, the internal pressure that comes with that is what may get to you; especially as Rachael knows that the horses haven’t been performing up to standard.

Equally, if you are going into a festival and basically everything that you’ve touched in the last six weeks has turned to gold, you’re riding a bit of a wave but that too, adds a huge amount of pressure…but a different kind.

Q5. Honeysuckle is ante post odds-on favourite already; do you think she has what it takes to win again?

LK: Although I don’t want to jinx anything, I do believe she’s the horse in the race with the best chance; and in the way in which she’s won all of her races, it’s a difficult one to argue with. Truth is, I can’t see anybody else being good enough to bear her. And also you take into consideration the fact that she’s got the mare’s allowance, which at this stage looks a little bit silly really.

But there’s nothing else in it that you could really get excited about. I don’t think either Sharjah or Epatante have got enough improvement in them to really trouble her and Appreciate It, who’s a great horse, but it’s a difficult one to call considering we haven’t really seen him this season. And the odds are reflecting this; Honeysuckle is currently 8/11 followed by Appreciate It at 6/1…that in itself speaks volumes.

Q6: Irish vs British English trained horses: do you think the Irish will dominate this year again?

LK: Yes I do think so. The Irish are just a lot better at the moment and looking at the horses who ran at last year’s Festival, who are now back, it doesn’t give enough room for the British trained horses to properly challenge them.

If anything, Bravemansgame is the only horse that may have a better chance this year than he did last year.

Shishkin I think will win the Champion Chase. And, to be honest, if he gets beaten by Energumene then so be it.

So overall, the power is still in Ireland and I think it’ll take a good couple of years to really address that balance and for the Brits to properly improve their game.

Q7: AP McCoy once said that obviously there was lots of rivalry between him and Ruby Walsh and Richard Johnson and the people that he was riding with, but they were really good friends at the same time.

So what do you feel or what did you feel when you were riding and to have some of the dynamics between sort of your fellow riders?

LK: I was very lucky that I had friends in the weighing room and I was lucky that I came just at the right time in terms of other girls joining too, which meant that we a nice environment inside the weighing room, like in the girls changing room.

But I suppose it’s a bit of a strange environment in the fact that you are all mates but then you are all competing against each other. And also, which muddles the waters, sometimes you’re actually competing for the same rides. But when it comes to male vs female jockeys, I believe that the sport is a completely level playing field and I do believe that on a day-to-day basis, we are getting the same amount of opportunities now and I think girls may even have a slight advantage in that you can do the low weights too, which isn’t a bad thing.

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