Exuberant Energumene a class apart

Sunday: 2.20 Cork
Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase (Grade 2) | 2m½f | 5yo+ | RTE2/RTV

We are all dying to know just how good Energumene is. We probably won't find out the answer to that question until later in the season but we will at least learn a little more about last term's unbeaten novice chaser here.

The exuberant seven-year-old, who won his four outings over fences by a combined total of 52 and a half lengths, is bidding to give Willie Mullins his ninth win in the race since 2011. 

Energumene saved the best until last as a novice, landing the Ryanair Novice Chase at the Punchestown festival by 16 lengths in April. That awesome front-running display earned him an RPR of 171 and he enters the new campaign with an official rating of 169 and second favourite for the Champion Chase. Only Shishkin is shorter in the market. 

It is a big moment for Sean O'Keeffe as Mullins put his faith in the young rider who won the Cork and Munster Nationals and also guided Galopin Des Champs to victory in the concluding race of the Cheltenham Festival in March. 

According to the ratings, Energumene's biggest danger is undoubtedly Notebook. He is a terrific jumper who won six of his 11 chases, including a pair of Grade 1s at Leopardstown two seasons ago, and the way in which he stormed clear of Samcro in the Grade 2 Fortria Chase at Navan last month suggests he has returned as good as ever.

As is the case with O'Keeffe on Energumene, Notebook will also have a new jockey with Shane Fitzgerald taking over from Rachael Blackmore, who is on Envoi Allen in the John Durkan at Punchestown.

Cash Back's form figures of FFF certainly tell a tale. He has not been seen since coming down at the final fence in this race last year but it is worth remembering he would have been a good second but for the spill. He has plenty of ability but putting in a clear round has proved an arduous task of late.

Daly Tiger and Darasso complete the line-up and victory for either would be a major upset. 

This should be the stepping stone for another lucrative campaign for Energumene. Anything other than a straightforward success would come as a surprise. 

What they say
Willie Mullins, trainer of Energumene and Cash Back
It's a tough enough race but if Energumene is anywhere near his best he'd be the one to beat. He's doing everything right at home. Cash Back's form figures would suggest he's one to watch rather than back but I hope he gets his confidence back over fences.

Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Notebook
He seems to be very well in himself. He was very good first time out at Navan and seems to have come forward again since then. Energumene obviously has some savage form and will be very hard to beat.

Joseph O'Brien, trainer of Darasso
He's a solid, consistent horse and we're hoping we can nick another few quid of prize-money.