- Shishkin’s ability is evidenced by five Grade One triumphs across his career
- He made sure he was in gear for his big victory in the Betfair Denman Chase
- His win showcased why he shouldn’t be ignored at the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Shishkin showed with an ultimately decisive victory in the Betfair Denman Chase why he cannot be ignored in next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Much stronger opposition lies ahead, notably the defending Gold Cup champion, Galopin Des Champs, who looks as good as ever judged by his last two Grade One winning runs in Ireland.
Shishkin, trained by Nicky Henderson, remains rated at 8-1 for the feature race of the National Hunt festival, probably because the horses who chased him home on Saturday – Hitman and Protektorat – are both without a win since November 2022.
Shishkin has been labelled an enigma, because he can throw in a sub-standard run. He even refused to start on his seasonal debut at Ascot in November.
But the presence of the equine equivalent of an F1 engine beneath the bonnet is evidenced by five Grade One wins in his career, including the Arkle Novices’ Chase at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
Shishkin can’t be ignored in the Cheltenham Gold Cup after winning the Betfair Denman Chase
The enigmatic horse remains rated at 8-1 for the feature race of the National Hunt festival
It is a question of making sure he is in gear, and Shishkin was.
Having tripped himself up and unseated jockey Nico de Boinville at the second last when looking likely to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, Saturday’s win was important because it was Shishkin’s first completed start since he won the Aintree Bowl Chase in April last year.
Henderson, who admitted he had been nervous before the race, said: ‘You know you have a horse and you know you have to pass a test, and this was a big test especially after the season he has had. He had a good blow and Nico thought the run will do him a lot of good.
‘He missed one fence, otherwise he has jumped great. Nico said he was really up for it. You have to be impressed with Galopin Des Champs,’ Henderson said, ‘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.
Later in the day Nico de Boinville and Iberico Lord swept to victory in the Betfair Hurdle
‘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.’
Later, Henderson and de Boinville combined again to land the £155,000 Betfair Hurdle with Iberico Lord. It was a sixth win for Henderson in Britain’s most valuable handicap hurdle but a first for De Boinville, who executed his tactics perfectly, sitting off pacesetters who went too hard too early in the testing conditions.
A change to frontrunning tactics had a positive effect on Alan King’s Edwardstone, as he ended a six-race losing sequence with a bloodless win in the Game Spirit Chase.
But he, too, will face a much tougher task in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham from Willie Mullins-trained El Fabiolo and Henderson’s Jonbon.