Tag Archive for: Shishkin

Rare bone condition rules Shishkin out of Sandown finale

Nicky Henderson has revealed Shishkin has been found to be suffering from a “pretty rare bone condition” following his disappointing performance in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Unbeaten in seven previous starts over fences, the eight-year-old was a hot favourite to claim a third Festival victory in last month’s day two feature.

But the writing was on the wall for his supporters from an early stage, with Nico de Boinville giving up the ghost and pulling up Shishkin in the back straight.

Henderson was initially minded to blame the testing conditions following torrential rain in the Cotswolds, but has now discovered another reason why his stable star did not run up to expectations.

“Immediately the next day he was actually perfectly alright, then he was lame for a couple of days and then he was sound,” the Seven Barrows handler told Unibet.

“We weren’t quite sure where he was. Initially we put it down to the ground, but I think in out heart of hearts we knew that even though it was atrocious ground, that that wasn’t the whole thing – there was something else that was bugging us.

“We have, to say the least, dug and dug and dug until we could come up with something. There was nothing obvious, but he was intermittently lame on different legs, which seemed rather strange.

“We recently did a bone scan on his whole body and that would normally show you the one hotspot and tell you where the lameness is. On this, four different hotspots came up in completely different places.

“He has what you would have to call a pretty rare bone condition. Why on earth he should all of a sudden do this on the day of the Champion Chase, goodness only knows, but that’s the first day it affected him – he’d never taken a lame step the whole way through his preparation.

“The ground we knew was a concern, but that’s got nothing to do with it.”

Nicky Henderson with Shishkin
Nicky Henderson with Shishkin (Tim Goode/PA)

The curious problem means plans to run Shishkin in the Celebration Chase at Sandown have been shelved, but Henderson sees no reason why he will not return as good as ever next term.

He added: “It is a very strange problem, but it’s something that’s very mendable. He’s going to have a month’s box rest, then a month’s walking and then we’ll turn him out in the field.

“There is absolutely no reason why he won’t be ready for the beginning of next season. Once the bone has stopped this development in these four identifiable areas, that’ll be the end of it.

“Sadly all it means really is he’s going to miss the Celebration Chase at Sandown, which is where I’d hoped he would go.

“It’s a pity he won’t be able to run there, but as long as he’s alright for next season, that’s all that matters.”

‘Nothing obvious’ as Henderson continues Shishkin checks

Shishkin is expected to put his Cheltenham disappointment behind him with an outing in the Celebration Chase on the final day of the season at Sandown.

Aside from the very testing ground, Nicky Henderson is still none the wiser as to why his previously unbeaten chaser looked in trouble from an early stage and was pulled up shortly after the eighth fence in last week’s Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Tests are still being carried out, but nothing has come to light and the eight-year-old looks his usual bright self at home.

“There are little bits and pieces we are still checking out,” said Henderson.

“He just never went a yard. There’s nothing completely obvious that is wrong but there was clearly something which wasn’t right, so we’re still checking on everything.

“He looks bright in himself but there’s nothing obvious.

“I don’t see any reason why he won’t make Sandown, anyway.”

Shishkin was one of very few disappointments during the Festival for Henderson, who saddled two winners and six seconds during the week.

“Everything else ran fantastically well, we had six seconds and had another load placed,” said Henderson.

Chambard leads Mister Coffey over the last in the Kim Muir
Chambard leads Mister Coffey over the last in the Kim Muir (Tim Goode/PA)

“The one that got away was possibly Mister Coffey (Kim Muir). He was my sort of dark horse for the week and I’d been tipping him up at all the previews and it so nearly paid off.

“First Street (County Hurdle) ran a hell of a race, Marie’s Rock (Mares’ Hurdle) was brilliant, Epatante (Champion Hurdle) ran really well – they ran great across the board.

“We’re looking at Aintree for Epatante, we’ve never tried two and half (miles) with her.

“As for Champ, I’d like to keep him on a flat track. I’m not sure Cheltenham’s suiting him at the moment. It’s just an idea, we’re in discussions. He travelled very well in the Stayers’. We’ve a few things to sort out with a few of them.”

Henderson looking towards Sandown with Shishkin

Shishkin is likely to finish his campaign in the bet365 Celebration Chase at Sandown on the final day of the jumps season.

Nicky Henderson’s charge relinquished his unbeaten record over fences when pulled up on testing ground in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Shishkin’s failure to finish left Energumene, whom he had previously beaten in an epic duel at Ascot, to take the title for Willie Mullins.

Henderson initially raised the idea of stepping up to two and a half miles at Aintree in the Melling Chase after watching his stable star’s eclipse, but the Seven Barrows handler admits that is unlikely, whilst also ruling out a trip to Punchestown and a third possible clash with Energumene.

He told Unibet: “Shishkin is a bit sore – I don’t know why. You’d have to say he didn’t seem happy from the word go, but I think that was purely ground.

“We’ve always said he’s a better horse on better ground. He was never travelling. He’ll be all right.

“I think Aintree would come a bit quick for him anyway, so I’ll probably wait for Sandown on the last day and the Celebration Chase.

“I don’t really want to go to Ireland and I think we’ll leave the battle with Energumene at one-all for the season and meet up again next year.”

Henderson has won the Sandown Grade One on five previous occasions, including three times with Altior and once with Sprinter Sacre – his two-mile champions of recent years.

Ground woe for Shishkin and Henderson at Cheltenham

Nicky Henderson was in no doubt the ground was to blame for Shishkin’s disappointing run in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham.

Shishkin arrived at Prestbury Park unbeaten in seven starts over fences and was sent off the 5-6 favourite to once again triumph over Energumene, after the pair produced an epic battle at Ascot in January.

However, Henderson’s runner never appeared to be travelling in the two-mile feature, with Nico de Boinville pulling him up after the eighth fence.

Heavy rain on top of overnight watering saw the ground switch from good, good to soft in places in the morning to soft by the time racing got under way, and to heavy after the Champion Chase – a factor Henderson thought proved crucial.

He said: “The plan was to pop out and be up there over the first and settle in wherever.

“It was different tactics from Energumene, but we couldn’t get out of the ground going to the first fence, let alone anything else.

“Nico was dead right to pull him up. There was no point in subjecting him to any more of that.

“You either do or you don’t (handle this ground), it’s as simple as that – and when it’s like this, you’re into the real extremes.

Nico de Boinville returns after Shishkin's disappointment
Nico de Boinville returns after Shishkin’s disappointment (Ashley Iveson/PA)

“You never know until you run them what they can cope with, but I could honestly tell going to the first fence he wasn’t happy because I knew where he wanted to line up, but he couldn’t get there.

“Yes they went quick, but he can go quick too. He just can’t get out of that ground.

“We’ve always thought this wasn’t his game, but what do you do? You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

“If I take him out I know what happens, and if I run him I probably knew what was going to happen as well.”

Henderson understood why Cheltenham clerk of the course Jon Pullin felt the need to water on Tuesday evening and raised the possibility of Shishkin seeking consolation at Aintree next month in the Melling Chase.

He added: “I can understand why they watered. I know the boys (jockeys) and everybody were saying it was getting quick last night and we don’t want fast ground here.

“I understand their predicament. He (Pullin) has got loads of forecasts that said this wasn’t going to happen.

“I’m not blaming them. It was going to be soft anyway with this rain. I walked round on Sunday and it would have been soft after this rain with or without watering.

“The horse seems to be perfectly OK. Nico pulled him up in good time. Most of these horses won’t go to Aintree, but there’s nothing to say that he couldn’t go there and run over two and a half miles.

“That performance today is completely ground related. Full stop.”

Shishkin pulled up as Energumene takes Champion Chase gold

The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase was billed as round two of heavyweight two-mile chasers Shishkin and Energumene, but in the end, there was only one horse in it.

Shishkin got the better of their first meeting in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, winning by a length and taking his unbeaten record over fences to seven.

But in a dramatic rematch, the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin never travelled with any fluency at the back of the pack and was pulled up by Nico de Boinville after jumping the sixth from home.

Energumene (5-2) was always travelling well, despite the very soft ground, and once Chacun Pour Soi had exited when going well toward the head of affairs at the fifth last, Paul Townend’s job appeared much simpler.

Energumene, who had lost his unbeaten record at Ascot, had last year’s winner Put The Kettle on in his sights and turning in, had beaten off the mare.

He picked off Envoi Allen and once setting sail two out, it was Funambule Sivola (40-1) who gave vain chase in second, although he was soon in Townend’s rear-view mirror.

The eight-year-old went on to beat his six rivals by eight and a half lengths, with Envoi Allen a further four and a half lengths back in third.

Willie Mullins – winning the race for the first time – said: “We just thought we got the tactics completely wrong at Ascot so the plan today was to follow Shishkin.

“The problem Paul then had was you could see after two fences Shishkin wasn’t handling the ground so it then became a case of when was Paul going to forget about Shishkin and ride the race. Nico was wise in pulling Shishkin up, you could clearly see he hated the ground.

“I was very disappointed to see Chacun Pour Soi go out of the race when he did. I was gutted for Patrick (Mullins) because he appeared to be loving it. He might have given him a race.

“At every stage, though, Energumene seemed to be cantering and these extreme conditions suit him.

“He probably has more speed than we thought, at Ascot we felt after the race we should have waited rather than make all.

“That was the only plan I could come up with to turn the tables on Shishkin.

“It was a bit of an anti-climax for the neutrals but it was more nerve-wracking for me because you could see he was travelling the whole way.”

A jubilant Paul Townend
A jubilant Paul Townend (Mike Egerton/PA)

He added: “It’s great to finally win it, it’s great for Paul and great for Tony Bloom (owner). When the rain came he began to get very confident.”

Townend said: “I was on a very good horse and you can make it look easy then. He’d won on very heavy ground in Ireland so that wasn’t going to worry us.

“It didn’t work in Ascot and the tactics kind of went out the window early on (here) as well, he was enjoying himself. I let him jump up there and just kept holding on to him.”

Bloom, who is the owner of Brighton & Hove Albion football club, said: “I did believe, I believe in Willie and in Paul Townend, who rode a magnificent race. The rain really helped us, we were praying for rain and were all getting really wet, but we’re delighted to be wet.

“He’s an amazing horse and we were confident going in, he’s won the Champion Chase and it’s brilliant.

“We were very excited, four or five out we were getting very confident. Obviously Shishkin pulled up and that made it a lot easier for us, but full credit to Energumene. A brilliant horse, we’re having a great time.”

The Princess Royal presents with Willie Mullins at the presentation ceremony
The Princess Royal presents with Willie Mullins at the presentation ceremony (David Davies/PA)

Of Shiskin’s run, Henderson said: “He wasn’t where he wanted to be and I knew why, he just couldn’t get out of it (the ground).

“We’re in very extreme ground, yes he’s won on soft ground but you’re going round in heavy ground.

“That is not his scene, obviously.”

Henry de Bromhead said of Envoi Allen and Put The Kettle on: “I thought Envoi ran a cracker, I wouldn’t have mind seeing him on better ground.

“His wind just catches him out, especially on that ground, but I thought he ran a blinder, he jumped really well.

“The mare (Put The Kettle On) was a little bit disappointing.”

Politologue, winner of the race in 2020, finished fourth for Paul Nicholls in what was the final start of a lengthy and successful career that also yielded two Tingle Creeks and a Melling Chase. He enjoyed an enthusiastic reception as he took a lap of honour in the parade ring.

Nicholls said: “I’m really emotional to hear that applause from the crowd for him, it just shows what a wonderful horse he’s been and it’s great to see people have enjoyed him.

“It was a special day when he won the Champion Chase here, but he’s also won two Tingle Creeks and a Grade One at Aintree so he’s been a smashing horse for the Hales family.

“He goes out at the top and he’ll join Big Bucks in retirement. He’s going to have a wonderful home.”

Henderson relishing Energumene rematch with Shishkin in Champion Chase

Nicky Henderson will bid for a record seventh Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase feeling that Shishkin has the edge over Energumene in their eagerly-awaited rematch.

The pair served up a thrilling duel in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January, with Shishkin just holding the edge over the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene in one of the races of the season.

Shishkin is the odds-on favourite to maintain his unbeaten record over fences, while Mullins also fields Energumene’s stablemate Chacun Pour Soi, who finished third when a hot favourite for last year’s renewal, in the eight-runner line-up.

Henderson believes Shishkin, who won the Arkle Trophy Chase at last year’s Festival, has taken a pulsating first scrap in his stride and that racing left-handed at Cheltenham will play to his strengths.

“Ascot doesn’t seem to have left a mark on him, he seems in very good form,” said Henderson.

“The way he races means he doesn’t give himself a hard time. He’ll follow anybody. I’d expect the same sort of tactics at Cheltenham, unless Willie does something different, but I’m sure there’ll be a good pace on.

“You’d like to think the Cheltenham hill would be in our favour looking at the Ascot race – turning in he looked in trouble, but then his stamina kicked in. They’d gone a good gallop and that is his strength.

“You’d be pretty sure he’d get two and a half miles but there’s no rush, the Champion Chase is the Champion Chase and that is the one we want.

“Willie did say he didn’t know how he was going to turn the tables, but I also think he’s looking forward to having another crack. I think the rematch is the interesting part of the race.

“There was only a length between them so anything could happen. This will be two months later and going the other way around which possibly helps us, but there’s not much in it – a length is not a lot.

“Energumene didn’t make the Arkle last year, you can’t hold that against him, and we’ve come up the hill a couple of times before. It didn’t look like Chacun Pour Soi did last year, but Willie will know what he’s doing.”

Chacun Pour Soi bids for a seventh Grade One win over fences
Chacun Pour Soi bids for a seventh Grade One win over fences (Niall Carson/PA)

Chacun Por Soi was beaten a length and a half by Put The Kettle On and Nube Negra when third last year. Both horses reoppose in a strong renewal of the two-mile showpiece.

“It’s going to be a hell of a race,” said Mullins. “You’ve got Chacun Pour Soi, Energumene and Shishkin and a few others.

“I think Chacun Pour Soi has it in him. He’s the one I’d love to see winning in Cheltenham.

“I think the world of Chacun Pour Soi and a lot of people are saying that he can’t face the hill at Cheltenham, but he’s a horse I’d love to see get a fair chance over there – which I don’t think he’s had yet.

“Maybe he’s a horse that runs better fresh, especially when you take the travelling into account. People are saying we should fly him, but I don’t think that’s the solution as it brings a whole new thing into it. I think he’ll be fine going over the way we do – we used to fly and there wasn’t much in it, plus the cost was high.

“When we went to Cheltenham in the early days, all the horses flew. Since ferries and roads have improved, we can get to Cheltenham about two or three hours longer than we would when we fly, plus there’s so much waiting around when you do that. There’s a plus and minus to everything – we need our own plane and runway!”

Chacun Pour Soi travelled strongly 12 months ago when held up behind the leaders and was shaken up to lead at the last, but found little on the run-in.

“At the time I thought we should have made more use of Chacun Pour Soi pace-wise last year, but this year is a different race,” added the Closutton trainer.

Paul Townend and Energumene could set the pace again
Paul Townend and Energumene could set the pace again (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Him and Energumene are completely different horses. Energumene is a young horse coming into this and Chacun has done a lot of stuff, so we give him the respect he’s due, I think.

“Energumene ran a terrific race in a brilliant day to be involved in at Ascot and we look forward to the rematch.

“We know he’s not far away from wherever Shishkin is but, as I said on the day, it’s going to be hard to turn that form around.

“Shishkin made two mistakes and we can probably change things a little bit and it’s going to be very tough to win, but we’ll see.

“I never worry or think about ground when I go to Cheltenham. I think possibly nicer ground would suit Chacun more and the way he faded at Sandown (in the Tingle Creek) might suggest that better ground may suit. I think Energumene will go on any ground.”

Put The Kettle On has not won in three starts since landing the race last year but trainer Henry de Bromhead feels that she will be a different proposition in defence of her crown.

“I couldn’t tell you why Cheltenham seems to bring out the best in her, but she seems to love it over there,” he said. “Her form is really good and she really comes into herself when she’s there.

Put The Kettle On and Aidan Coleman on their way to winning the Champion Chase last season
Put The Kettle On and Aidan Coleman on their way to winning the Champion Chase last season (Tim Goode/PA)

“She’s often underestimated when she goes there and she’s been a pretty good price when winning the Arkle and the Champion Chase. She loves it around there and let’s see. She seems to be really coming to herself now.”

De Bromhead is also represented by Envoi Allen, who was odds-on to win last season’s Marsh Novices’ Chase, but fell at the fourth. He started the season with a Grade Two success over an extended two miles and three furlongs and took a second Grade One over fences when scoring in a three-runner affair at Leopardstown over Christmas.

De Bromhead added: “He has the pace for the race. Whether he has the experience of jumping at that speed is another thing. They went quickly enough at Leopardstown, so I would think he will.”

The 2020 scorer Politologue and Newbury’s Game Spirit Chase winner Funambule Sivola add depth to a star-studded line-up, in which Dan Skelton hopes Nube Negra can go one better than when beaten half a length last year.

Nube Negra bids to go one better in a strong renewal
Nube Negra bids to go one better in a strong renewal (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Skelton said: “We’ve got a very fast horse who handles the track. We’ve got to have him fresh and he is that.

“In a two-mile race you jump off and go. Tactically you’ve got to be aware and if any of the top contenders makes a mistake, it’s going to tell on them.

“We know it’s going to be hard, but anyone can see why we’re positive about him.

“I hope we go there and win it on merit and I don’t think it’s a million to one that we could.”

Shishkin and Energumene set for Queen Mother rematch

Shishkin and Energumene are on course for a mouth-watering rematch at Cheltenham on Wednesday with the pair among eight runners declared for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The top-class duo served up one of the races of the season in January’s Clarence House Chase at Ascot when the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin narrowly got the better of a pulsating scrap.

Willie Mullins will also run Energumene’s stablemate Chacun Pour Soi, who finished third when a hot favourite for last year’s renewal.

Chacun Pour Soi was bitterly disappointing in the Tingle Creek at Sandown earlier in the season, but has since bounced back to winning ways at Leopardstown and connections will be hoping he can finally replicate his top-class Irish form on British soil.

Last year’s winner Put The Kettle On bids to hold on to her crown, while last year’s runner-up, the Dan Skelton-trained Nube Negra also returns, alongside 2020 scorer Politologue

Dual Grade One-winning chaser Envoi Allen will also line up, along with the Venetia Williams-trained Funambule Sivola, who won the Grade Two Game Spirit Chase at Newbury last month.

Big guns stand ground in Champion Chase for the ages

Shishkin, Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi remain on course for a mouthwatering showdown in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The trio all feature in 10 confirmations for the two-mile showpiece at Cheltenham on Wednesday next week.

It will mean a rematch from the Clarence House Chase for Shishkin and Energumene – a race that will live long in the memory.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin will be bidding for a third Festival success, having already taken the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle Trophy.

Like Energumene trained by Willie Mullins, Chacun Pour Soi has yet to win outside of Ireland but appeared back to his brilliant best at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Nube Negra (Dan Skelton) was runner-up to Henry de Bromhead’s Put The Kettle On 12 months ago and will renew rivalry. De Bromhead could also run Envoi Allen.

The Venetia Williams-trained Funambule Sivola is an interesting contender on the back of his victory in the Game Spirit Chase.

Gary Moore’s Editeur Du Gite had to miss the Game Spirit after a late setback but does have two Cheltenham wins to his name this season.

Politologue is set for what could be the final outing of his career, as he looks to regain his crown from 2020, while Gordon Elliott’s Battleoverdoyen completes the list.

Willie Mullins ‘very pleased’ with Energumene progress

Energumene appears firmly on course for Cheltenham after emerging in good shape from a schooling session at Navan on Saturday.

Much attention had surrounded the Willie Mullins-trained gelding earlier in the week, with a marked drift on the betting exchanges sparking concern over his well-being.

It transpired he had suffered a stone bruise, but fears he may not make his eagerly-awaited rematch with Shishkin in the Queen Mother Champion Chase were played down by connections, and his effort after racing at Navan – and subsequent upbeat report on Sunday from Mullins – indicates the big clash remains very much on.

Mullins said: “Energumene pulled out well this morning. He did a canter and I was very pleased.”

Dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo was another in action at Navan, as was Stayers’ Hurdle contender Klassical Dream.

Mullins added: “All the other horses (that worked at Navan) are well also.”

Energumene is a best-priced 4-1 chance for the Champion Chase behind the odds-on Shishkin, with the latter having come out on top by a length in an epic duel for the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January.

Henderson not taking anything for granted with Shishkin in eagerly-awaited rematch

Nicky Henderson does not see Shishkin as “banker” material in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – despite last year’s Arkle winner trading as the odds-on favourite.

Having missed the Tingle Creek earlier in the season and with the strength of the challenge from across the Irish Sea, a few months ago Shishkin still had a bit to prove.

However, a comfortable victory at Kempton Park over Christmas from Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen set him up for a mouthwatering clash with Willie Mullins’ Energumene in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

That race lived up to all expectations, with Shishkin looking beaten early in the straight only to wear down the front-running Energumene to prevail by a length.

Nicky Henderson and Shishkin at Seven Barrows on Monday
Nicky Henderson and Shishkin at Seven Barrows on Monday (Tim Goode/PA)

With Energumene not having much ground to make up and last year’s beaten odds-on favourite Chacun Pour Soi also back to his best last time out, Shishkin will be lining up in one of the deepest Champion Chase fields for years.

“There’s no way he can be a banker,” said Henderson.

“That was a fantastic race at Ascot and everybody loved it, bar Willie and myself as one of us knew sadly that we were going to go down.

“Obviously it was great we came out in front and it looked as if he had us in trouble but he’s a tough horse, ours.

“When you throw Chacun Pour Soi in as well – I know people can say he doesn’t travel over well but he could still be a real player.

“There was only a length between them at Ascot so anything could happen. This will be two months later and going the other way around which possibly helps us, but there’s not much in it – a length is not a lot.”

Henderson has trained some of the best two-mile chasers in the history of the sport. Remittance Man and Travado in the 1990s and more recently Sprinter Sacre and Altior totally dominated the division.

Shishkin, though, is a far more undemonstrative type.

“Shishkin has a different style of jumping to the others, he doesn’t have the exuberance of an Altior or a Sprinter, he doesn’t stand off his fences as much,” said the Seven Barrows handler.

“You hardly notice he leaves the ground, he’s very quick from A to B but you don’t notice him leave the ground. Altior could throw some massive leaps in, there’s a great picture of him jumping the ditch at Sandown, it was ridiculous. This lad crosses a fence in a very different manner, he’s very efficient.

“I don’t think he’s a banker. In their eras they probably were bankers, but we’ve definitely got a fight on our hands this year. In Altior’s and Sprinter’s years they were close to bankers, but I don’t think this is.”

Nicky Henderson is looking forward to Shishkin's rematch with Energumene
Nicky Henderson is looking forward to Shishkin’s rematch with Energumene (Tim Goode/PA)

While Henderson admits he would have preferred Shishkin to have run out an easy winner at Ascot, the sportsman in him is looking forward to the rematch.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’d have loved to have won by 20 lengths but it was a great race, everyone got what they wanted and it hasn’t spoiled the Champion Chase because there was only a length between them, there’s room for round two,” he said.

“Energumene didn’t make the Arkle last year, you can’t hold that against him, and we’ve come up the hill a couple of times before, it didn’t look like Chacun did last year but Willie will know what he’s doing.”

Shishkin poised to begin Champion Chase build up

Nicky Henderson is planning to give Shishkin a gallop on Saturday, for what will be his first serious piece of work since his epic Ascot victory over Energumene.

The eight-year-old clashed with Willie Mullins’ star in the Clarence House Chase last month, with the pair duelling up the Ascot straight before Shishkin just edged in front in the shadow of the post.

Shishkin and Energumene are set to renew rivalry in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and Henderson reports his charge to have recovered well from a race that will live long in the memory.

He told Tattersalls Cheltenham: “It was a tough race, and you would expect them to have a little after effect, but he was bright and breezy straight away. He looked well, ate up and has been very straightforward.

“He’s had a couple of quiet weeks after the race and is now back in pre-Cheltenham build up. He did a little bit of work yesterday (Wednesday) and will have his first serious gallop since Ascot on Saturday. He will then do three bits of work in between and a couple of schools.”

Unbeaten in seven chase starts, last year’s Arkle victor is favourite to confirm the Ascot form next month in the two-mile Cheltenham highlight.

While he remains at the minimum trip for now, Henderson would not rule out a future step up in distance.

He added: “I’m not in a rush to go two and a half miles, but I have no doubt that he would get it if we ever had to ask him. If that’s what he says at the end of the day, that he needs to go another half a mile, then we will move him up.”

A graduate of the 2018 Tattersalls Cheltenham December Sale, Shishkin was purchased by David Minton and Anthony Bromley’s Highflyer Bloodstock for owner Joe Donnelly for £170,000 from Virginia Considine.

Henderson said: “He was at the Tattersalls Point-to-Point Sale and we were looking for a horse for Joe. You don’t need to look at a horse for long, you either like it or you don’t like it.

“When you see something that you really like you know straight away, unless it turns out to have faults you can’t forgive. He was a grand individual – he’d won his point-to-point and was impressive doing that.

“I said to Minty straight away, that’s the one we want.”

Monday Musings: A Rare Weekend Indeed

Rather more than fifty years ago, when I was serving my mercurial time at the Press Association in Fleet Street, if you had suggested staging a big-money jumps card at Lingfield in late January, they would have been sending the idea’s originators to the nearest psychiatric ward, writes Tony Stafford.

In those days the PA was the principal provider of all the information on racecourse going reports, jockey and trainers’ plans and the technological developments we all take for granted were still decades away. So we dozen or so on the in-house team, bolstered by at least as many outside reporters, would get all the information first.

It was quite handy in the days of Jockey Pools when some of the more unscrupulous members would withhold jockey changes to the newspapers, their principal clients, on a Friday night until James Lambie could get the teams’  last-minute coupons down to Euston station in time for the final permitted mail delivery for Liverpool.

We used to collect almost every week and sometimes for a nice few bob. In those days the office was split between journalists (so-called) and clerical staff, but it was we journos who master-minded the selections while generally the much bigger clerical team would simply spy and feast on them.

After seven or eight winning weeks in a row, one Sunday morning, one of their contingent came over to our desk and said: “How did we miss Edward Hide?” Cheeky bugger!

I just recalled that portion of those days when the biggest joke was about Lingfield. In the era either side of World War 2, and presumably before that, the minimum requirement for a clerk of the course was an army commission and Major was the most common.

Peter Beckwith-Smith at Lingfield had carried that rank during the war years and, as was also the tradition, into his civvy street activities for ever afterwards. He was one of the more optimistic of clerks.

The joke was that when going out on a boat to assess the prospects of racing a couple of days ahead of a Lingfield fixture, he took out his stick, leant precariously over the edge and searched for the bottom. Later in his bulletin to our office he pronounced without a hint of irony: “Underneath the water the going is good to soft”!

That’s just a flavour of how absurd it would have been in those days to schedule any meaningful meeting in January. They sometimes used to get away with the late December meeting which included one of the first informative juvenile tests of the year, but January was usually a write-off or, rather, a wash-out.

Drainage improvements have meant the abandonments are much fewer, but to say the course has been fortunate to go unscathed through their inaugural three-day (one all-weather) Winter Million bonanza is an understatement.

After about ten dry days the ground was still heavy with soft patches. Just one or two wet days would have been enough to scupper their ambitious, perhaps foolhardy, plan. I wouldn’t mind betting they might not be so lucky if they persevere with the deal next January. I hasten to add their bravery deserves to have paid off and friends who have been there all weekend have enjoyed the innovation.

It helped that ITV 4 were there as they were at Ascot on Saturday, otherwise I would have missed the best of the two tracks but most importantly the fantastic preliminary skirmish between the two Queen Mother Champion Chase contenders, Shishkin and Energumene, in Saturday’s Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

That Willie Mullins is a clever chap, sending over Energumene and asking Paul Townend to send him on from the start. That tactic surprised a few, expecting the only other serious opponent First Flow to set the pace. Rather shrewdly Luke Harvey suggested First Flow would not be quick enough and was entirely correct. But last year’s winner did figure for much of the middle part of the two miles when all three horses were in close formation.

Turning for home, though, it became a match and, with Energumene making no semblance of an error, racing close to the rails and not losing a millimetre, he was almost metronomic from start to finish.

It would clearly require a champion to beat him and with Shishkin not as fluent as his Irish rival and the occasional jump to the left losing a little ground, surely he had met his Waterloo (or at least Clapham Junction, as the final destination will not occur for another seven weeks). But Nico De Boinville still had time coming to the last to change his whip, settle the horse momentarily and then drive him to pick up and pass his rival with the characteristic flying finish he always contrives.

Meanwhile, the doughty First Flow was picking up the far from negligible third prize of sixteen grand which would have satisfied Kim Bailey even if 18 lengths adrift of the second and 19 from the winner. Amoola Gold, never mentioned before here or in the race either except as an onlooker from the rear as an 80-1 shot for the Skeltons, plotted his way home safely.

It made for a remunerative schooling round and his owners, the Pinks, had the excitement of sharing the paddock with, as Kim said beforehand, “Two of the racing Gods” and hopefully took advantage of the wonderful lunch available in the Ascot Owners’ Suite. After their race it would have been the ideal time for afternoon tea before going home.

I would not be shocked if that old shrewdie Dan hasn’t already sorted out a Festival target for Amoola Gold and his respectful distance adrift the top two and equally First Flow should not lead to a significant alteration to his tasty 151 rating. He’s the first contender on my list for one of the valuable handicaps.

The Clarence House, as befits a Grade 1, was worth £85,000 to the brilliant winner. Nicky Henderson is entitled to believe he has the boxes ticked for the big day but equally Willie Mullins will know more about how possibly to attack Shishkin. If Shishkin’s less secure or, rather, less accurate jumping is ironed out, there is probably no way back for the Irish but maybe a few more jumps upside him might make him uneasy. They need to try something, but whatever they come up with, the re-match promises to be the race of the week.

Yesterday’s Fleur De Lys Chase over two and three-quarter miles and worth £78,000 to the winner despite being ungraded, was another thriller, if one laced with regret as Master Tommytucker, having been smuggled into the race from a long way back by Harry Cobden, suffered a fatal injury when falling heavily at the third-last fence.

At this point Dashel Drasher, having been hounded for the lead by Lieutenant Rocco, now had to contend with Kim Bailey’s Two For Gold and old-timer Bristol De Mai, away from his Haydock comfort zone.

In a finish of swaying fortunes, the last thrust came from Two For Gold and David Bass just edging out the gallant but unfortunate Dashel Drasher and Rex Dingle, with Bristol De Mai just behind. A thriller indeed.

My favourite moment of the weekend was the opening bumper win yesterday of Hughie Morrison’s Our Jester, now a six-year-old, who followed his impressive Ascot bumper win last October with a spectacular eased-down success on the all-weather.

Hughie confessed beforehand that the owners have been keeping this excessive prize as far as bumpers are concerned in mind to brighten their January and he obliged in style under Tom O’Brien. They got £2,700 or so for Ascot but eight times as much – £21k yesterday!

Although a half-brother to the smart bumper but then Flat-race winner Urban Artist and out of bumper winning but then Royal Ascot heroine Cill Rialaig, there is one unique element to his career to date and one that strikes pertinently at my heart.

I was a great proponent of Our Jester’s sire, Garswood, in his early years at stud. Unfortunately, the former high-class sprinter-miler for Richard Fahey has long been disregarded by the never-forgiving breeding industry, consigning him to exile from Cheveley Park to a little-known nursery in France.

Trainers loved his first crop, almost to a man (or woman) big and strong, but they did not carry their physique meaningfully into battle. I mentioned a rarity with Our Jester and indeed it is. He is the only winning bumper horse (of six to try) by Garswood. I suggested to Hughie recently that maybe everyone got it wrong and despite his own speed, he should have been treated as a jumps stallion.

Knowing what his relatives have done, it could easily be that Our Jester might ply his trade later as a flat-racer; his two bumper wins will count as jumps successes but none of the other 15 Garswoods to go jumping, including those five bumper non-winners, have yet to pick up a single National Hunt race. Brave Hughie, as I’ve said before, is some trainer! He trains what he sees, not what people tell him to expect.

 - TS

How to solve a problem like Shishkin is the question for Mullins

Willie Mullins is pondering how to get the better of Shishkin after Energumene’s valiant effort in defeat in the SBK Clarence House Chase.

The eight-year-old was involved in a tremendous battle for the Grade One event at Ascot on Saturday, locking horns with Nicky Henderson’s runner and going down by just a length in what many predict will be the race of the season.

Energumene was greatly praised for his valiant effort in defeat and his trainer is now left to consider how to reverse his fortunes come the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.

“It was a tremendous performance from horses and riders and our fella arrived back sound and well this morning,” Mullins said on Sunday afternoon.

“We live to fight another day and I’m not so sure about looking forward to a rematch, but we are going to have to find a different way of beating him.”

Energumene set out to make all of the running at Ascot and looked poised for victory until Shishkin clawed back the deficit and caught him in the final strides, prevailing by a length.

“Yesterday’s race, it looked like we had him (Shishkin) beaten everywhere until the last 100 yards,” Mullins said.

“Maybe going left-handed around Cheltenham might suit our horse better, but I don’t know, and Shishkin has been there and done it.

“It’s still there and there is only a length between us, so he has every chance.

“It was a very good crowd and Energumene got a huge welcome back into the enclosure and a lot of people in Ascot said they had never seen such a welcome back for the winner and the second horse.

“I think everyone appreciated it.”

Bookmakers hail Clarence House Chase as ‘fantastic advert for the sport’

Bookmakers picked up the positive points for racing from the sensational clash between Shishkin and Energumene at Ascot on Saturday, even though it may not been the best result for all layers.

The SBK Clarence House Chase lived up to the pre-race billing and more, with Shishkin coming out on top when getting up close home to deny the front-running Irish raider Energumene.

For William Hill it was a bad result, with the 5-6 favourite obliging, but losses were tempered by what a great advert the much-hyped showdown was for the sport.

“Everybody sided with Shishkin. It was a terrible result for us but, having said that, it was quite a short price comparative to other races on the day, so it could have been a lot worse,” said William Hill’s Rupert Adams.

“Most of the big races on television went the way of the favourites. It was just one of those bad, terrible days in the office,” he said.

“You don’t need a huge number of horses in a race to make it exciting.

“I would suggest in the lead up to the Champion Chase in the UK about 85 per cent will be for Shishkin and 15 per cent elsewhere.

“It was a fantastic advert for the sport. All week it was building up to it and I would like to think the gate at Ascot was pretty impressive based on the big showdown. We just need to make the best of it in the lead up to Cheltenham to show people how exciting the sport can be.”

David Stevens, of Coral, felt it gave racing a much-needed shot in the arm.

“It was absolutely fantastic because for once it lived up to the pre-race billing. It was the sort of race we had been crying out for. We all wanted to see a clash like that away from the Cheltenham Festival and I think people would agree we need more of it,” he said.

“As an advert for the sport it was great and for it to live up to it and provide this fantastic spectacle – it’s the best way of selling the sport when you get races like that. It is a race that will be talked about for weeks, months and years to come. From that point of view, the publicity for the sport and the knock-on effect for bookmakers is priceless.”

Having just the four runners did not diminish from the race’s excitement, according to Stevens.

“It would be churlish to complain there were only four runners when you’ve got the big two we all wanted to see,” he said.

“It wasn’t the biggest betting heat of the day, but that doesn’t matter because it offered so much more. It was a race that offered everything and it delivered, which happens so rarely, and it is something we can all celebrate.

“It’s greedy, of course, but it has now whet the appetite for round two.”

Electric Ascot atmosphere the only part Henderson missed out on in race for the ages

If Nicky Henderson had one thing he would do differently were the SBK Clarence House Chase to be run again, it would be to watch it out on the track.

The Seven Barrows trainer felt he might have missed out on the electric atmosphere produced by the Ascot crowd on Saturday as Shishkin and Energumene served up one of the most exciting races in decades.

By having his eyes on a television inside the grandstand, he could not quite appreciate what the battle meant to enthralled racegoers glued to the spectacle.

“There were moments when I thought we were in trouble and then luckily they didn’t last,” he said.

“I actually rather regret it. I watched it on a television inside the grandstand and probably lost a little bit of the atmosphere because everybody said it was incredible – the noise, the crowd – and I was actually inside, rather than outside, which was a shame because I probably missed what was the best part of it.

“The best part was the race itself. It had its moments. You’ve got to say, turning in and going to the second-last, we looked in quite a lot of trouble. Halfway to the last Nico (de Noinville) said he picked up and he thought he’d get him. I was glad he was confident, because I was not that confident until halfway up the run-in when you could see the gap was closing quick enough.

“But they had gone very hard, because they were going very hard all the way. The only sad part of the race was there had to be a loser. I was obviously glad it wasn’t us, but Willie (Mullins) is a great mate. We have one thing in common – we are the only two trainers with a trilby on our heads.”

Henderson is now focusing on the rematch in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

He said: “The great thing was that one of them didn’t win by 10 lengths, which would actually take the gloss off the Champion Chase. It is just a rematch. There is nothing in it. It is a different track, it is another way round and there are all sorts of conundrums that come into it.

“We have both got to get there and I think, as we have said it time and again, that’s the most crucial thing. Anything can go wrong, even at the last minute.

“Shishkin corrects himself left-handed, so if he is going to do anything, he is going to go left. It didn’t make any difference. That was my only concern before the race yesterday. We have seen quite a lot of horses coming up that hill at Ascot go quite violently left-handed and that was the one thing.

“Nico was so good on him. He had him in his hands the whole way. It was hard work, hard-work ground. They were brave horses.

“He was 523 to 509 kilos from Kempton to Ascot. That is why I was more relaxed than people imagined. Everything had gone right. We had our prep race, his work had been great, Nico had given him one gallop the previous Saturday and said he felt wonderful.

“He jumped five fences on Thursday and he was brilliant. I could not have had him any better than we had him yesterday.”
 

Before Shishkin and Energumene faced off, Henderson had all eyes on Haydock, where Jonbon had his latest assignment.

Douvan’s full-brother was not quite as spectacular as he has been, but in beating Richmond Lake by three lengths in the Grade Two Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle he maintained his unbeaten record and stayed on track for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Henderson was in fact particularly pleased with what he saw from Aidan Coleman’s mount.

“Jonbon was good. It was a fantastic run – it is a good horse who can quicken twice and that is what he did,” he said.

“He quickened from three out to two out, and then he quickened after the last. That was all he needed. That was was just what he needed and Aidan said he was very happy with him.

“They are both great this morning and we couldn’t be happier with them. I felt, from Jonbon’s point of view, it was a great run at Haydock on ground that did not look to be ideal.”