Cheltenham 2023: The Cheltenham 5: Shishkin

As the days tick down of the final week before Cheltenham, we continue our festival feature with this year’s Cheltenham quintet.

Picture the scene: Ascot 2022. After winning in the Clarence House over Energumene, all was well with Shishkin.

Installed as 5/6f for the Queen Mother Champion Chase and seeking an 11th-straight victory, nothing could stop Nico De Boinville and the Irish gelding.

However, Cheltenham 2022 saw it all fall flat after being pulled up when failing to make the trip.

But now having roared back with an emphatic win a Ascot last month, is Shishkin primed for glorious redemption in the Ryanair Chase?

 

Shishkin odyssey

At the end of March, Shishkin will have been a thoroughbred racing horse for five years.

In that time, Nicky Henderson has ran out his gelding a total of 17 times.

During that period, just twice has the horse failed to finish a race and in only two further races has victory not been achieved.

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It was in January 2020, where the tale of greatness began.

Winning the British Racing Novices’ Hurdle, the then 6yo romped to an 11-length victory.

The Supreme Novices’ at Cheltenham soon followed and after stringing three more wins together, Shishkin returned to Gloucestershire in 2021.

A hot favourite for the Arkle, his winning margin over Eldorado Allen was a length further than the year before. Shishkin was the real deal. Victory on Grand National weekend then capped a stunning season.

 

Champion Hurdle woe; surgery

Then, inexplicably, the story began to unravel.

Unbeaten since a Newbury fall at the end of 2019, Shishkin laboured on softer turf in last year’s Champion Chase.  For want of a better phrase, everything was ‘off’.

Struggling with the jumps and keeping pace, Shishkin was pulled up after the eighth flight.

Somewhat sore from his no-show, trainer Nicky Henderson held back for his return until December only for his 9yo to sustain an injury.

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Taking a kick in the preamble before the Tingle Creek at Sandown, Shishkin came third behind both Edwardstone and Greanateen.

Adding salt to the wounds, it was then determined wind surgery would be required.

After such certainty, suddenly everything was in up in the air. Going under the knife on January 5 however, Shishkin was raring to go.

Which is why at Ascot only a few weeks ago it was joyous to see the returning conqueror slay the field.

Coasting to a 16-length win over Pic D’Orhy, Shishkin was back.

 

Unfinished business

Which brings us full circle. The Shishkin camp are keen to erase last year’s woes.

With the Ryanair now in the crosshairs, Blue Lord and the improving Allaho are set to be the main rivals.

Expected to go off once again a well-backed favourite, it won’t escape punters, pundits and indeed his trainer and owners alike though, that the pressure is back on.

His backers might be anxiously glancing at the current forecast and drop in temperatures but it does feel like Shishkin has unfinished business to resolve.

Victory on the Thursday of Cheltenham week this year would be oh so sweet for a horse on a mission.

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