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Cheltenham: Shishkin's House Party steals the show

Most often with sport, when we build something up to be epic before it actually takes place the result is a damp squib, but that cannot be said of Saturday's Clarence House Chase.

The meeting of Shishkin and Energumene, the brightest two-mile chasers in Britain and Ireland and both hitherto undefeated over fences, was billed as a superstar clash and it lived up to the hype and more in front of an engrossed Ascot crowd.

That and plenty more on a truly superb weekend of jumps racing ensured many contenders have made statements ahead of Cheltenham in March. Here's our look back on the weekend just gone.

Shishkin brings downs the House at Ascot

With the best of respect due to First Flow and Amoola Gold, the Clarence House Chase was all about two horses, with Britain's best meeting Ireland's standout Queen Mother Champion Chase prospect in what promised to be an exhilarating duel.

They delivered in some style. Energumene did as everyone expected of him, setting off in front aiming to burn his rivals off.

When Shishkin pecked on landing at the sixth fence, then surrendered second place two jumps later, it really was looking as though the tactics were working.

But Nicky Henderson's star is made of stern stuff and he was still battling hard as they reached two out.

Energumene pinged the final jump under Paul Townend and led by two-lengths, but Nico de Boinville and Shishkin were gathering steam all the way up the run-in and they forged ahead close to the line to rapturous roars.

No longer an unbeaten pair on paper, it would be hard to suggest either lost anything in this race. Eyes now turn towards a rematch on 16th March in the Champion Chase.

With his Ascot win, Shishkin is firm in the market at 8/15, as Willie Mullins' charge traded out to 3/1.

It should once again be quite the spectacle and this has the looks of becoming a rivalry to savour.

If it continues to deliver as at Ascot on Saturday, it could be one for the ages and you can follow all the action on our Sports Live Streaming platform.

Allaho delivers perfect Ryanair prep

Last year's Ryanair Chase winner Allaho is now 5/4 to retain that crown following his latest victory in Ireland on Sunday.

The Cheveley Park Stud runner made light work of the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles with a straightforward success under Townend for the Mullins camp.

As is his norm, he led everywhere and coasted home 12-lengths ahead of Joseph O'Brien's Fakir D'oudairies - last year's Ryanair runner-up - to make it two-from-two this season having also won the Grade 1 John Durkan at Punchestown in December.

For a horse of his physical size, eight-year-old Allaho leaves quite the impression on his trainer, given how he handles himself at the fences.

"He is a big horse, we've had some huge horses over the years; Douvan, Monkfish and him," said Mullins. "Some of those big horses can't adjust at fences, but he can and he danced in front of a couple of fences and does it very easily."

On this evidence it's going to be a tall order for anything to relieve Allaho of his Ryanair crown on 17th March, when he'll be seeking to leave Irish eyes smiling on St Patrick's Day in Cheltenham.

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Tommy's Oscar continues to star

Trainer Ann Hamilton has a real beacon for her yard in Tommy's Oscar and he continued his winning spree by landing the Grade 2 New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.

Danny McMenamin was ice-cool as Navajo Pass and Global Citizen went off with a clear advantage and his partner closed up to pick them off in really stylish fashion when the time was right.

That's his fourth successive win since mid-November and it would be hard not to suggest he's improving in each of those outings.

This was his first success at graded level and there's no doubting the Haydock race was a weakish Grade 2, but Tommy's Oscar did what was expected of him and did it with genuine ease.

The Irish have a stranglehold on the Champion Hurdle market, with Honeysuckle 4/6 to retain her crown and the likes of Appreciate It and Sharjah closest to her in the betting.

It would be hard to see Tommy's Oscar upsetting the star mare on 15th March, but at 25/1 in the betting after Saturday's win, it's less of a stretch to be considering him as a possible place player in the two-mile Championship contest.

Skelton's stayer in Albert Bartlett picture

Dan and Harry Skelton had a weekend to savour. They were on target with a treble at Ascot on Saturday as Doctor Parnassus, Unexpected Party and Molly Ollys Wishes all scored.

They also got amongst the winners on Sunday, as Lingfield brought down the curtain on their three-day Winter Million Festival.

This time it was Ballygrifincottage who obliged in the Winter Million Novices' Hurdle over 2m7f. Well-touted Irish raider Fameaftertheglory couldn't cope with Harry Skelton's charge, as they instead picked off Warren Greatrex's runner High Stakes in the closing stages.

It was a shade cosy for the winner and he could be one to take note of at 25/1 in Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle market now.

Winner of three point-to-points in Ireland last year, Ballygrifincottage is clearly well thought of as he was put into a Cheltenham Grade 2 in December on his first run under rules.

He finished third behind Blazing Khal and Gelino Bello that day, with the former having cemented strong status as the ante-post favourite for the Albert Bartlett in that win. Trainer Charles Byrnes on Friday confirmed that his charge will now miss the Cheltenham Festival after a minor setback.

It was timely then to see Ballygrifincottage scoring so cosily at Lingfield on testing ground and if it comes up soft on 18th March - the final day of the festival - he could prove himself a real player in the stayers' novice contest.

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