First Flow is on course to defend his crown in the SBK Clarence House Chase at Ascot on January 22, live on Sky Sports Racing.
Kim Bailey’s charge was unfancied at 14/1 last year, but floored 11/8 favourite Politologue by seven lengths after being prominent throughout in the Grade One feature.
Having made a successful reappearance in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon four weeks ago, First Flow will attempt to win the prestigious Ascot prize a second time.
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But he is likely to face a stiffer task this time, with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin and the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene among 11 entries. Both are unbeaten over fences and have been successful at the top level.
“I’m absolutely delighted with him and he’s on course to take on Shishkin, and anyone else, who wants to turn up, at Ascot,” said Bailey.
“It will be a bit tougher, but then he was an unfancied horse in the race last year.”
Energumene has only been seen once this season – winning the Hilly Way Chase at Cork by over eight lengths – after being absent from the two-mile Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas, in which stablemate Chacun Pour Soi was a late withdrawal.
He has only met with one defeat since joining Mullins having won a point-to-point in England, and that came in his first bumper.
Since then he has won a bumper, a novice hurdle and five over fences, including two Grade Ones, but this would be his first trip outside Ireland having missed last season’s Cheltenham Festival.
There could be an early clash of the two Champion Chase leading contenders with Shishkin, although Henderson has yet to confirm Ascot as the plan, coming as it does just three weeks after the Desert Orchid Chase.
Funambule Sivola, second behind First Flow at Huntingdon, is another possible runner, while Paul Nicholls has two in the race – Hitman and Rouge Vif.
Sky Pirate, Amoola Gold, Eldorado Allen, Sizing Pottsie and Waiting Patiently complete the list.