Shishkin made a winning start to his Cheltenham Festival career last season by triumphing in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Nicky Henderson’s charge will now return to the event in the attempt to add the Arkle Chase crown to his list of accomplishments.
The seven-year-old is the leading contender in the Cheltenham odds on Betfair Exchange, and has been dominant over the course of the current campaign. There are strong contenders in the field, including Allmankind, but Shishkin has a special talent and it will take an incredible effort on the day to overhaul the Irish thoroughbred.
Shishkin has only had one blemish on his career to date, falling in December 2019 at Newbury. However, he quickly bounced back with successive victories at Newbury and Huntingdon before making his bow at Cheltenham.
Willie Mullins’ Asterion Forlonge was the favourite for the race with Paul Townend in the saddle, carrying an impressive record and a win at the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown into the contest.
However, Shishkin rose to the occasion after a sluggish start. He found his stride at the right moment and Nico de Boinville was able to guide his charge over the line by a head, defeating Abacadabras on the line to take his place in the most prestigious of winners’ circles.
Henderson waited eight months before sending Shishkin back out on to the track. The seven-year-old began his chasing career at Kempton Park in the Beginners’ Chase. He was the overwhelming favourite for the contest and did not disappoint with a dominant outing, finishing 23 lengths ahead of his nearest challenger Mick Pastor.
Shishkin wins the Wayward Lad with contempt! pic.twitter.com/GT0j2ZQU0W
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) December 27, 2020
Shishkin returned to action at the end of December in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton. The field was not overly competitive and the seven-year-old was priced at 1/3 to claim the win. De Boinville got another accomplished performance out of his charge, crushing the competition to triumph by 13 lengths.
Henderson faces a decision whether to put Shishkin forward for another race ahead of the Arkle. The Irish thoroughbred has not been tested in his last two races, which could be a cause for concern when he does face elite competition at Cheltenham.
Allmankind has won his last two races, including a solid victory in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park. Coeur Sublime has been disappointing in his career to date, but could spring a surprise given his potential out of Gearoid O’Loughlin’s yard.
Envoi Allen has definite pedigree at Cheltenham Festival, winning the Champion Bumper and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Whether he can rise to the challenge of toppling Shishkin remains to be seen, although Gordon Elliott’s charge has been extremely impressive of late, notching a victory at the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.
Henderson’s charge is a special competitor and has momentum on his side. However, Shishkin is not infallible and there will be a challenge on his hands amid a talented field to claim the Arkle even if he is the overwhelming favourite in the minds of the bookmakers.