Shishkin bids to crown his faultless campaign with victory in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree.
Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old has been foot-perfect in winning each of his four starts over fences to date – most recently dominating his rivals to provide his trainer with a seventh success in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.
Shishkin is the latest in a long line of crack two milers off the Seven Barrows conveyor belt, following the likes of Remittance Man, Sprinter Sacre and Altior – but that remarkable lineage is something Henderson does not take for granted.
“We’ve been very, very lucky,” he said.
“Sprinter Sacre was the horse of a lifetime, and no sooner had he retired then Altior turned up.
“Altior hasn’t finished yet, but maybe we have another one in Shishkin – they are properly top-class, two-mile chasers.
“They’re exciting races and exciting horses, but you do get a bit edgy with them.”
Shishkin will be long odds-on to see off four rivals on his first visit to Merseyside on Saturday, with Henderson not expecting the track to pose any problems.
He added: “Shishkin proved he is as good as we thought and hoped (at Cheltenham). He did what everybody was looking for, which does make you sleep better.
“Aintree and Cheltenham couldn’t be more different if you tried. Aintree is much more a speed track – but this is a sharp horse, and I have no desire at the moment to go up in trip.”
Elvis Mail (Nick Alexander), Funambule Sivola (Venetia Williams), Gumball (Philip Hobbs) and Longhouse Sale (Dan Skelton) are Shishkin’s four opponents.
Grade One honours are also up for grabs in the preceding Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.
Leading contenders for the home team include Skelton’s My Drogo and the Donald McCain-trained Minella Drama, while Henry de Bromhead’s Ballyadam and Dreal Deal from Ronan McNally’s yard carry Irish hopes.
Ballyadam steps up to two and a half miles after finishing a distant second behind regular rival Appreciate It in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Chris Richardson, managing director for owners Cheveley Park Stud, said: “We just thought that the ground would be suitable – and while the trip is an unknown, it will hopefully tell us where we should be heading going forward into next year.
“We thought we might be better coming here, rather than going to Punchestown and potentially bumping into Appreciate It for a fourth time this season!
“We’re on a learning curve at the moment. But he’s in good form according to Henry, so we’ll see how we get on.”
Dreal Deal has won his last six starts over hurdles and on the Flat combined, providing McNally with the biggest success of his career in the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in February.
The six-year-old missed an intended trip to Cheltenham after McNally’s string was hit by aspergillosis – a reaction caused by a form of mould – and the trainer admits only time will tell whether he is back to his very best.
“We’ll only know after the run. It’s obviously not ideal what’s happened, but he’ll go and take his chance – and we’ll hope for the best,” said the Armagh-based trainer
“His preparation since Punchestown has been poor. But at the same time it was poor going to Punchestown, and he was still very good.
“If he can run up to the Punchestown form it would give him a fair chance.”