Shishkin quashed all worries about his well-being when running out a hugely impressive winner of the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park.
Making a later than expected return to action, Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old stamped a huge claim to be crowned the best two-mile chaser in training.
Henderson had wanted to run his stable star in Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, but in the week leading up to that the Seven Barrows trainer felt the Arkle winner needed a bit longer to get up to full speed.
Yet again Henderson’s judgement proved spot on, and while he was given a late scare by the Kempton ground turning testing, he had a smile from ear to ear after the race.
It was far from a penalty kick for Shishkin on paper, with Tingle Creek hero Greaneteen in the field as well as Grand Annual winner Sky Pirate.
And while Shishkin did briefly need to be pushed along by Nico de Boinville just before the turn into the straight, he soon came back on the bridle.
Bryony Frost made her bid on Greaneteen – but Shishkin breezed past the multiple Grade One winner as if he was stood still, albeit in receipt of 3lb.
De Boinville kept the 4-9 favourite up to his work between the last two fences and he powered away to win by 10 lengths.
Coral make Shishkin their 5-4 favourite (from 7-4) for the Champion Chase, with Betfair a fraction bigger at 6-4.
Henderson said: “It is a relief, but it’s more than that – I am genuinely thrilled with him.
“I was nervous we weren’t really there, but we had to come out. When I looked at the ground yesterday I thought ‘should we come out and wait for the Clarence House’. Now it’s over and it’s great to see him back.
“He was in a bad place for three weeks, which is why he didn’t run in the Tingle Creek. Then his trachea wash backed it up – that he was wrong. It wasn’t the most popular decision, but it was the right decision.
“We’ve just got back in time for this. The temptation was to wait for the Clarence House as it gave us another couple of weeks, but I was pretty keen to get out here and get a run into him.
“He’s not flashy at home, but Nico came in three or four times last week and said he felt good and he’s got to be the judge.
“It’s great that it’s over as he’s proved one thing – he’s as good as ever, he still is what he promised to be. Class is everything and the way he crosses fences is extraordinary.”
On future plans, he added: “I’d like to have another run (before Cheltenham). The trouble is the Clarence House comes up quickly and the Game Spirit comes quite close to Cheltenham and you probably haven’t got a lot in between.
“He didn’t run in the Tingle Creek because he was all wrong – he was as flat as a pancake. I had no worries about missing Sandown at all – he wasn’t right and the horse comes first.
“If I’d run him in the Tingle Creek I’d have wrecked him, but as you can see he’s back now and we can push on and go forward and look forward to what’s in front of us.”
De Boinville praised Henderson’s patience.
He said: “The boss and everyone at home have been very patient with him and the patience has paid off. The boss made me understand if we were going to get beaten it was possibly going to be today just because we didn’t quite know where he was.
“I think he has allayed all our fears and it was nice to see him do that and just get back on the track and get a nice blow into him, so on we go.
“Literally in the last couple of weeks his bits of work have suddenly turned a corner. We felt he was in too good an order so we had to come here and take our chance. It was great to see him do that today. It was the same as normal (coming to the track today). I just had to try not to get too excited and do my job.”
Paul Nicholls felt the ground was simply too soft for Greaneteen.
He said: “Bryony said he just hated the ground – end of story. She said ‘I don’t need to say anything else’. We were going to go to Ascot for the Clarence House, but she said ‘leave him to the spring ground’.
“We will perhaps go to the Game Spirit, then the Champion Chase, then Sandown (Celebration Chase). The 3lb he was giving away made no difference and you have got to run in these type of races.
“I thought last week the ground was going to be decent like it was, then all this rain came and it has gone soft and that is the first time he has run on ground like that for a while.
“He has run a super race. I’d say watching all the horses I’ve seen, that (Shishkin) will win the Champion Chase. That will be the one to beat in the Champion Chase without shadow of a doubt.
“We will go there (Champion Chase) as you never know what will happen. Two miles is his trip as he has got plenty of boot. If we can go back to Sandown at the end of the season and get back there next season then that is good enough.
“Two years ago he won off 132 at Ascot and look where he is now so he has done really well. He will have a break now and he will probably go to the Game Spirit.”