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Shishkin delivers decisive victory in Wayward Lad

Shishkin continued his winning run in the Ladbrokes Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton.

Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old, who overcame a troubled passage to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in March, made a faultless chasing debut at this track last month.

Stepped up in class for this Grade Two event, Shishkin faced decent rivals in Gumball, Tamaroc Du Mathan and Elusive Belle, with the first-named runner setting a strong gallop at the head of affairs.

Nico de Boinville briefly appeared to be pushing on Shishkin at one point, but he really stamped his authority on the contest on the turn for home.

Tamaroc Du Mathan still appeared to be travelling well, but in a matter of strides the race was over and Shishkin was spring-heeled at second-last fence.

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The 1-3 favourite ran out a 13-length winner, with Shishkin now an odds-on shot with some bookmakers for the Arkle at Cheltenham in March.

De Boinville said: “Dicky (Richard Johnson on Gumball) has gone a right gallop from the start and I was just quite happy to sit off that and get him jumping.

“It was a solid Grade One/Two pace, so it was going to find out any horse that wasn’t up to that standard. It was definitely (an improved performance) as we were going a stride quicker.

“He was a lot sharper coming into today as well, the team at home had him in great shape. The ground was testing enough today, whereas last time he was here it was good ground, so he is versatile ground-wise.

“Like all horses, he is probably better on a slightly better surface, but I think we can come away from that with the dream still alive.

“If something came to challenge me I would have probably found a few more gears, but that was great the way he did it today. I was just checking (between the last two) where they all were as I didn’t want to get caught on the line and look an idiot.

“He got me out of trouble at the last fence down the back as the sun was very low and we couldn’t see an awful lot.”

Shishkin flies the last on his way to another win
Shishkin flies the last on his way to another win (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

De Boinville has won the Champion Chase on Sprinter Sacre and Altior, but is not keen on comparisons.

“I don’t really like to compare top-class horses as they all come with their unique attributes,” he said.

“This horse is different in his jumping style and the way he goes through races. Altior, when he started off, was a different horse to the horse you see today.

“He is incredibly quick through the air, he is very quick to get his landing gear back down on the ground and then he is away, whereas other horses potentially stay longer in the air. He almost hurdles his fences.

“There is plenty more to come for sure. I’m sure we will try to get another run into him and then head towards the Festival, fingers crossed.”

Henderson confident Altior can still scale heights at Kempton

Nicky Henderson is confident Altior can silence the doubters in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park on Sunday.

The dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero will officially turn 11 on New Year’s Day, and last season was far from straightforward for him, with Henderson admitting he is still scarred by his stable star’s only defeat over jumps to date when beaten by Cyrname at Ascot.

Altior bounced back to winning ways at Newbury in February, but has not been seen in competitive action since – missing the Champion Chase because of a setback and withdrawn from this month’s Tingle Creek at Sandown on account of testing conditions.

While the latter decision drew criticism from some quarters, Henderson remains happy it was the right call and insists there are no signs that Altior’s powers are on the wane, despite his advancing years.

“We’re all getting older, and it does slow you down, but he seems in very good form,” said the Seven Barrows handler.

“He’s got to prove it, of course. There are doubters out there and they’re perfectly entitled to doubt, but we’re happy with where we are and we know where we’re going, we think.”

Paul Nicholls is anticipating a bold showing from Duc Des Genievres.

Winner of the 2019 Arkle when trained by Willie Mullins, the grey made a promising start for his new trainer as runner-up to Irish challenger Put The Kettle On in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month.

Nicholls said: “We were very encouraged by his run at Cheltenham. He surprised us a little bit, because we thought he’d need the run.

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Duc Des Genievres on his way to winning the 2019 Arkle
Duc Des Genievres on his way to winning the 2019 Arkle (Nigel French/PA)

“I actually think this track will suit him better than Cheltenham, and he’s improved a ton for the run.

“Altior at his very best is going to be hard to beat, but our horse is in good form. He would like a bit of cut in the ground.”

The Harry Whittington-trained Rouge Vif carried a big weight to victory on his first start of the season in a Cheltenham handicap, before finishing an honourable third in the Tingle Creek.

“Rouge Vif has come out of the Tingle Creek in good form and he will probably get more suitable conditions at Kempton,” said Whittington.

“He has run well at Kempton the last two years and he is entitled to be there.

“We are happy with him at home and he is hopefully the young gun coming through in the division – it should make for a good showdown.”

Dan Skelton is looking forward to seeing Nube Negra run for the first time since chasing home Rouge Vif in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February.

He said: “It’s the first time he is stepping up into this league against the big boys – but I’m happy with him at home, and we’ve got to find out where we stand with him. We’ve given him plenty of time.”

Earlier in the afternoon Henderson will saddle the hugely exciting Shishkin in the Ladbrokes Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, a race Altior won four years ago.

Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner made a foot-perfect start to his chasing career at Kempton, and it will be a major surprise if he does not follow up.

“He’s a gorgeous looking horse with a lot of talent. He’s one of these guys who knows he’s good,” said Henderson.

“He won his bumper very easily – we’d have been disappointed with anything else. He actually fell on his first run over hurdles – but it wasn’t a big issue, and we corrected it fairly quickly.

“His run in the Supreme was extraordinary, because everything went wrong that could have gone wrong, and yet he still got it right.

Paul Nicholls feels Tamaroc Du Mathan is an exciting prospect
Paul Nicholls feels Tamaroc Du Mathan is an exciting prospect (John Walton/PA)

“He was in the Guinness tent at one stage! He was taken to an impossible position and had to come through a minefield of horses. I know he only won narrowly, but considering where he’d been, it was a pretty high-class performance.”

Shishkin’s three rivals include stablemate Elusive Belle and the Nicholls-trained Tamaroc Du Mathan, who faces a big rise in class after impressing on his fencing bow at Wincanton.

Nicholls said: “He’s a nice horse. We cauterised his palate during the summer and went for a novice handicap chase at Wincanton and duly won. He only won off 131, but he jumped brilliantly and hosed in.

“He needs to improve again, taking on Shishkin. But he jumps really well, and I think he’s an exciting two-mile chaser for us.”

Altior on course to reappear in Desert Orchid

Nicky Henderson reports Altior firmly on course to make his belated return in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.

The dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero was due to make his seasonal reappearance in the Tingle Creek at Sandown earlier this month, but was withdrawn the night before on account of the prevailing testing conditions.

While the decision drew criticism from some quarters, Henderson is happy it was the right call, with the Seven Barrows handler still scarred by Altior’s only defeat over jumps to date when beaten by Cyrname in testing ground at Ascot last season.

Speaking on a zoom call before Kempton’s Ladbrokes Christmas Festival this weekend, Henderson said: “As I said on the day, I know it was disappointing for the people that didn’t see him at Sandown, but we hoped it would be good for the people who would be able to see him at Kempton

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“Sadly, that is now not the case (because of coronavirus restrictions) – which is sad, because Altior does like a crowd.

“He’s only been beaten once, and it’s something I’ll regret for the rest of my life. The Cyrname race did a lot of damage, and I couldn’t face that happening again.

“We did what we thought was right, and I don’t regret it. It will be soft at Kempton, but Sandown soft and Kempton soft are two different things, and I have no worries about the ground – he will run.

“We’ll be happy to be at Kempton, and it’s fingers crossed. ”

Put The Kettle On could face Altior
Put The Kettle On could face Altior (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Altior, successful in Sunday’s Grade Two two years ago, is one of 10 entries this time – with Henry de Bromhead’s Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On, last year’s winner Bun Doran and Sceau Royal some of his possible rivals.

It promises to be a big day for the Henderson team, with last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Shishkin bidding to make it two from two over fences in the Ladbrokes Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase.

The six-year-old made a faultless start to his chasing career at the Sunbury venue last month, but his trainer expects him to face a sterner test on his return.

“Kempton is a lovely track to start with. He went round virtually on his own, and you’d prefer him to have some company,” Henderson added.

“I’m sure he’ll have some competition in the Wayward Lad, and he’ll have to be as good as we hope he is.”

Henderson has also entered Elusive Belle, while De Bromhead could send Benruben from Ireland.

Gumball (Philip Hobbs), Quick Grabim (Fergal O’Brien) and Tamaroc Du Mathan (Paul Nicholls) are the other hopefuls.

Altior on target for Kempton reappearance

Nicky Henderson has confirmed Altior on course to run in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas.

The Seven Barrows handler withdrew the dual Queen Mother Champion Chase from the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown at the 11th hour earlier this month, as he felt the ground was too testing with the rest of the season in mind.

He had to defend his decision at the time and reinforced his conviction when pointing Altior to Kempton on December 27.

“He’s been great and we’ve been delighted the way things are going,” Henderson said.

“Everybody has been saying ‘are you’re going to run him on soft ground at Kempton?’.

“Kempton soft ground and Sandown soft ground are two different things altogether. There are lots of different types of soft. This is about getting a clear run and lots of things can go wrong.

“Last year he got a splint three or four days before Cheltenham. Anything can happen, anything can jump out and bite you at the last minute.”

Henderson reports Altior to be in tip-top shape for his first race since he took the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February.

He told Unibet: “We put a little clip of him schooling out the other day. Nico (de Boinville) sets off and I shut my eyes, it is terrifying. He is just so quick and fast, and he just comes up miles away. Very few horses have got the scope to do what he can do.

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“It’s terrifying because he’s just so quick and fast. And just comes up miles away. Very few horses have got the scope to do what he does.”

Shishkin is already been hailed as a potential successor to Altior and he took could go to Kempton for the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase on the same card.

Shishkin saunters over an obstacle as he made a winning debut over fences at Kempton
Shishkin saunters over an obstacle as he made a winning debut over fences at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner made a successful debut over fences at the Sunbury Park track last month.

“You could not do anything other than give him 10 out of 10 for his first run over fences at Kempton,” said Henderson.

“I do not think he had a whole heap to beat. Not surprisingly, he jumped to the front after about three fences and it was a solo spin. It is going to be a different ball game up against talented opposition, but he has won a Supreme Hurdle under some extraordinary circumstances.

“He is a very talented horse and his jumping at Kempton was exemplary. We thought we would go back to Kempton for the Wayward Lad and then he would have one more run (before the Cheltenham Festival) in the Kingmaker or something like that.

“Him and Altior both won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and they both started their chasing careers with bloodless victories at Kempton, in the same race.

“It is possible that he could be another very high-class two-miler. If that is the case we are very lucky, because we had Sprinter Sacre and then Altior to take over. You would be lucky to see one horse as good as those two,  if there is a third one then we are desperately lucky.”

Epatante is to have her last run before her defence of her Cheltenham crown in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day.

The six-year-old mare, owned by JP McManus took the Kempton Grade One on her way to winning the Unibet Champion Hurdle in March.

She has already shown her well-being this term when lifting the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

“You are always nervous ahead of their seasonal reappearance. It (Fighting Fifth Hurdle) was a mess of a race, but Sceau Royal is a good marker,” said Henderson.

Trainer Nicky Henderson
Trainer Nicky Henderson (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“Daryl (Jacob, rider of Sceau Royal) said he couldn’t believe a horse could go past him going that fast, because he wasn’t stopping.

“Aidan (Coleman) gave her a beautiful ride, but there is a button and you just pray it is going to work every time you press it. She is extraordinary, that change of gear is electric.

“She goes along as if she is doing nothing, she is so slick. The way she crosses a hurdle is a bit scary. It’s a bit like Buveur D’Air, it is A to B like an arrow. It is just so economic.

“She will go straight to the Unibet Champion Hurdle (after the Christmas Hurdle). As it worked last year, I see no reason why not to put her away until Cheltenham.”

Henderson also intends to run Floressa, with her owners keen to take the plunge.

The five-year-old mate won the race formerly known as the Gerry Fielden at Newbury as Epatante had done 12 months earlier.

“The team that owns Floressa, being an exuberant bunch, have managed to persuade me to run her in the Christmas Hurdle,” he said.

“I said she wants two and a half miles and running in the Gerry Fielden was stupid, I thought Marie’s Rock would win that and they were mad.

“Now they are crowing and they have got their programme book, and I haven’t got mine any more, it is totally up to them.

“Even they know Floressa isn’t going to win the Christmas Hurdle, but there is Grade One black type in there for placed horses, so it could be a very valuable asset to her CV.”

Shishkin strolls to debut success over fences

Shishkin put in an assured performance to make a successful debut on his eagerly-awaited first try over fences under rules at Kempton.

Rated as talented a prospect by trainer Nicky Henderson since Arkle Trophy and dual Champion Chase winner Altior had his first start over the bigger obstacles in the same race four years ago, Shishkin did everything asked of him.

His jumping looked immaculate for a novice from the first fence, where he outjumped Battle Anthem in the Racing TV-sponsored beginners’ event.

Taking a clear lead under Nico de Boinville after clearing the second, Shishkin had the two-and-a-quarter-mile contest to himself from then on.

Mick Pastor tried briefly to mount a challenge, but the 1-6 favourite went on to score a facile success by 23 lengths. Battle Anthem was another 49 lengths away, last of the three finishers.

Shishkin was trimmed to 6-4 favourite from 2-1 for the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy with Coral and cut to 7-4 from 5-2 with Betfair and Paddy Power.

Henderson said: “I think you have to give him a 10 out of 10 for his jumping today.

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“With Altior, you turn him in and look at a fence and he’s gone, whereas this fellow is actually a titch more sensible.

“All you do in these situations is breathe a sigh of relief – you are glad when it is over.

“Having said that, you would have to be very pleased with the way he has executed the mission. He has enjoyed himself and he is quite showy when he wants to be.

“Nico was more pleased with him at the last when there was no stride at all, but he was just very sensible and quick. When he needed to just adjust himself and get to the other side, he was very good at that as well.

“You can see what he can do when he is long. You just pray he doesn’t go too long sometimes and try to do something silly to get out of trouble. He was very sensible.

Shishkin on his way to Kempton success (
Shishkin on his way to Kempton success (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“It was the same when Altior came here and you let them do that (go out in front). We’ve had a nice school, but I love Kempton.

“It is lovely ground and Barney (Clifford, clerk of the course) has done his usual good job. I’ve been in touch with him all the way through and he said it was lovely ground.

“It is a very nice track for them to start as there are no traps around here. It’s just a very good racecourse. Nico went round this morning to make sure it was safe on top, but he said it was lovely ground.

“I think this horse is pretty versatile as far as the ground is concerned.”

Henderson is now looking to Kempton at Christmas for Shishkin, following a route he took with Altior in 2016.

He added: “I would think that (Wayward Lad) is probably the route. We were never tempted to go hurdling.

“The Altior situation was he could have won a Champion Hurdle and I suppose he could, but he is a chaser. This is the start of another expedition.

“We’ve been very lucky at having these two-milers and that is a genuine two-miler, there is no question at the moment in my mind anyway, as he is very quick.”

Like Henderson, De Boinville was delighted with Shishkin.

He said: “He showed a bit of everything there. He had to do a lot of the donkey work himself. I was really happy he came up out of my hands turning away to the stands. I asked him up at the ditch and replied and showed loads of scope, but at the same time when there wasn’t a stride there he was nimble and tight.

“I love how he quickened away and flicked his way over the last couple. I’m really looking forward to the season with him. A lot of horses can go long at their jumps, but it is the ones who are just as quick in tight and can really dance on the board – Coneygree was very similar on the board and that is where the true quality stands out.

“These are the horses we are in this game for, but at the same time you want to get it right and enjoy it as well. Horses like this are few and far between, so you want to enjoy every moment.

“We were a bit apprehensive about the ground, as they have not had that much rain, but Barney has done a great job with it and once I went out on it on Captain Morgs I thought this was perfect for Shishkin.

“It is great for the team at home and it is great for Nicky and Joe Donnelly (owner) as well. He had been very good with his jumping at home, but he hadn’t been as flamboyant as that. He really does come alive on the track.

“He has had a really positive start. I think he is versatile and you could step him up to two and a half, but why would you want to? The programme is fairly laid out for those two-milers, you have to stay going up that hill at Cheltenham and it is probably the route we will be going.”

There was, however, a sad postscript to the race, as it emerged the Olly Murphy-trained Sangha River, who fell at the seventh fence, had suffered a fatal injury.

Shishkin set for chasing debut at Kempton

Shishkin is in line to make his eagerly-anticipated debut over fences at Kempton on Monday.

The six-year-old has won four of his five starts since joining Nicky Henderson from the Irish point-to-point field, his only defeat coming when suffering an early fall on his first appearance over hurdles at Newbury 12 months ago.

Shishkin went on to win his next three races, including a thrilling victory over Abacadabras in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and is a best priced 3-1 favourite for next year’s Arkle Trophy.

Speaking at the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival Gallops Morning at Newbury on Tuesday, Henderson said: “I’m thinking of running Shishkin at Kempton on Monday – it is the race we used for Altior.

“He has a piece of work to do tomorrow morning, and then a school. The race is just falling at the right time, and Kempton is a good course to start them off at.

“He is a great, big horse and a great jumper, touch wood.

“If he was a serious Champion Hurdle horse you would go there, but I think he is better off down the two-mile chase route.”

Shishkin is one of seven entries for the two-mile-two-furlong Racing TV Beginners’ Chase, with the Paul Nicholls-trained Pic D’Orhy among his potential rivals.

The latter already has a chase rating of 150 after finishing second on his first start over fences in Britain at Market Rasen last month.

Champ has Christmas target at Leopardstown

Nicky Henderson has identified the Savills Chase at Leopardstown as a likely Christmas target for Champ.

Last seen lunging late to claim a third win from four starts over fences in a thrilling renewal of the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the JP McManus-owned eight-year-old is this season on the Gold Cup trail.

Champ could kick off his campaign at Aintree before a potential Irish trip.

“Champ is not quite as far forward as some,” said Henderson.

“We have just looked at his wind, but that is all sorted now – however, he is a little bit behind the others in the A-squad.

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“I don’t think he will go to Sandown for the intermediate chase, and we aren’t that keen on the idea of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury – and I don’t think Kempton is really his track either.

“The Many Clouds Chase at Aintree is a possibility, and there is a serious chance he could go to Ireland for the Savills Chase at Christmas – that is something we have mulled over.”

Santini (left) chases home Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Santini (left) chases home Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Tim Goode/PA)

Henderson’s other leading Gold Cup contender is Santini, who was narrowly beaten by Al Boum Photo in the blue riband last term.

“We are trying to get Santini ready for the Betfair Chase at Haydock – that is the plan at the moment,” added the champion trainer.

“I don’t think he will go to Kempton for the King George, because when he got beaten in the Feltham the other year I didn’t think it was his track that day.

“Going back to Cheltenham for the Cotswold Chase would be the obvious place for him to go after Christmas. The problem with these big chasers is there aren’t many options for them.”

One of the most exciting additions to the novice chasing division this season will be Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Shishkin.

Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville with Shishkin
Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville with Shishkin (Simon Cooper/PA)

“Shishkin did his first piece of more serious work on Saturday, and it went great,” said Henderson.

“We’ve not schooled him over fences yet, beause we are just waiting for the ground to come right on the grass.

“It was a very easy decision to go chasing with him this season. If you look back at when we had Altior in the same position, that was a decision that was much closer.

“He (Altior) could have won a Champion Hurdle, no doubt about it. But he was a year older than Shishkin – and if we were going to go chasing with him we had to go that year and go for an Arkle, not a Champion Hurdle.

“With Shishkin, his career was always going to be chasing – and he is a big, strong horse built for it.

“In Epatante and Buveur D’Air you have two ready-made Champion Hurdle horses.”