Energumene© Photo Healy Racing
Willie Mullins remains keen to take the positives out of Energumene’s defeat at Cheltenham on Saturday ahead of his return to the track for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The nine-year-old provided the most successful trainer in Festival history with a first Champion Chase victory last season and he was a hot favourite to strike Prestbury Park gold once more in the rescheduled Clarence House Chase — saved from the previous weekend’s abandoned fixture at Ascot.
But while Energumene travelled with plenty of zest, he ballooned the first fence and a blunder at the last sealed his fate as he placed third behind Editeur De Gite and Edwardstone.
Mullins felt his performance was affected by the white trim on the fences at Cheltenham, which have been changed from orange since his Festival success of last term, and the Closutton handler believes that experience will stand him in good stead ahead of a likely rematch with the two horses that beat him in March.
“He seems to be fine and he travelled home well,” said Mullins.
“He’s just a bit stiff and sore. Sometimes when you get them home it’s three days later, because any horse can be stiff and sore for a day or two and you don’t mind it, but if they don’t recover then you are in trouble.
“Fingers crossed, he’s all right.
“It was his first time going to England and jumping the new white fences, even though he had jumped them at home, and he just baulked at the first.
“It was definitely a useful exercise for us and I’d say it’s something a lot of Irish horses are going to have to prepare for because if you miss the first at Cheltenham, your race could be gone.”
Mullins is taking further confidence from his stable jockey Paul Townend’s reaction to the performance.
He added: “Paul was very keen on him after the race and said come March, he wouldn’t swap him for the two that finished in front of him.”
Guard rails, take-off boards and top boards on British obstacles switched from orange to white last year after research showed white increased contrast and visibility for horses, leading to improved jumping performance.