3 minute read
Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin returned to the winners’ enclosure for the first time this season courtesy of success in the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury.
The former Supreme and Arkle winner looks to have teed up another return to the Cheltenham Festival next month, with the Gold Cup seemingly on the agenda following his comfortable victory this afternoon.
Despite winning the Aintree Bowl over a furlong further last April, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the stamina of Henderson's ten-year-old, but the son of Sholokhov proved stamina to be no issue when coming home strongly to provide Henderson with a third success in the Newbury Grade 2.
Things have been far from straightforward since Shishkin's Aintree Bowl success last season with the Joe Donnelly-owned enigma showing his quirks by refusing to race on his intended reappearance in the 1965 Chase at Ascot. Testing conditions saw Henderson withdraw his charge from the rearranged Fighting Fifth hurdle at Sandown the following month, meaning Shishkin would head straight to the Grade 1 King George Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day for his first run of the campaign.
Everything looked to be going smoothly for the Shishkin camp as he found his way to the front of the King George field in a lovely rhythm, but disaster would strike shortly after the second last for the Nicky Henderson-trained runner, who stumbled on landing when holding a length advantage, leaving regular rider Nico de Boinville with no chance of remaining in the saddle.
While it was a far-from foot-perfect display from the dual Cheltenham Festival scorer at Newbury this afternoon, there would be no cruel ending for connections this time around as Shishkin stayed on powerfully from the back of the second last to beat the strong-travelling Hitman by four and a quarter lengths at odds of 8/11.
The front-running Betfair Chase winner Protektorat rallied well to finish a further half-length behind in third for Dan and Harry Skelton.
Although the prospect of running his Gold Cup candidate on heavy ground was concerning, the maestro from Seven Barrows was glad of the decision and gave plenty of praise to the ground staff at Newbury.
Henderson said: "The ground wasn't anything like I thought it would be.
"I was rather hesitant, but he had to run, but the ground wasn't that bad and Newbury have done a great job.
"That is actually his first completed run since Aintree last year, he had a good blow there and Nico thought it would do him a lot of good and it will actually do us all a lot of good.
"He's jumped very well and probably missed one, otherwise he jumped great. He just needed it more than anything else and we had to do it regardless of conditions."
Paddy Power left Shishkin as a 7/1 chance for the Blue Riband feature at Cheltenham next March and Henderson is looking forward to the battle.
"I think we have to (go to the Gold Cup) because there is nowhere else to go," added Henderson.
"You could wait for Aintree, but no, that's where we are and that's what he is.
"I don't think three and a quarter (miles) is going to frighten him and hopefully we have the starting bug out of our head, he was faultless there – even better than he was at Kempton.
"He was perfect there and we're in control of him now. He's behaving our way, not his. He's like that, he's a good character. Ascot was probably his fault, but Kempton certainly wasn't, unless you go and kick yourself in the leg on purpose.
"I went to Ireland to see how Willie's (Mullins) horses were getting on last weekend and Shishkin has a chance – of course he has. I don't see any point in not running and he can't come back to two and a half because he's not in it (Ryanair Chase) anyway.
"You have to be impressed with Galopin Des Champs, but after that I think there is an opening, and the Gold Cup is the Gold Cup – you have got to give it a go.
"It looked like he was going to win the King George and that would have put him in the picture. But he's won today and that definitely puts him in the picture – let's go!"