‘If he’s going to go onto better things, he’s got to be very very good here’ - Shishkin out to book Gold Cup ticket in Denman Chase

Shishkin will be hoping to book his ticket to the Cheltenham Festival Blue Riband event by landing the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday.

SHISHKIN winning the Ascot Chase in England.
SHISHKIN winning the Ascot Chase in England. Picture: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

A week on from Willie Mullins conquering all eight Grade 1's at the Dublin Racing Festival, Nicky Henderson, who was present at Leopardstown to watch his Irish challenger produce the clean sweep, will hoping for an all-conquering weekend himself as he sends a strong team of horses to Newbury on Saturday.

One of whom, Shishkin, will be looking to get his season back on the right tracks and lay down a stern marker in the Denman Chase this weekend. You could say the Donnelly-owned ten-year-old has had something of an interrupted preparation this season, having refused to race in the 1965 Chase at Ascot in November before heavy ground saw Henderson withdraw Shishkin from a reappearance outing over hurdles in the rearranged Fighting Fifth at Sandown a month later.

The six-time Grade 1 winner would therefore be forced to make his first start of the season in the King George Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and although Henderson was understandably concerned heading into the three-mile Christmas feature, everything looked to be going smoothly until two fences from home. A stumble on landing would see regular rider Nico de Boinville unshipped when holding a length advantage and while it was up to debate would have happened from there on in, Henderson believed his charge "certainly wasn't getting tired at the time".

Shishkin, a 7/1 chance with Paddy Power, remains the shortest of the British contenders for the Cheltenham Gold Cup next March, although Henderson admits it does appear tough to look past defending champion Galopin Des Champs, who since Shishkin's King George calamity, has strengthened his credentials at the top of the market with impressive victories in the Grade 1 Savills Chase and Irish Gold Cup.

The dual Gold Cup-winning trainer said: "It's a tall order. Galopin Des Champs is very good and a proven Gold Cup winner. He's a very clinically professional horse – he gets out there and gets the job done.

"He doesn't strike me as particularly flashy but he's always there and is tough. He was very good at Leopardstown, and you can find little fault in what he has done.

"He's the one they all have to beat in the Gold Cup but I'm just thinking, and hoping, that he's not unbeatable.

"He could be beatable, possibly, and I was hoping we were about to see something quite good from Shishkin in the King George before all of a sudden, the lights went out. It was horrific to watch – it felt like the race was grabbed away from us – but he's in good shape now."

While the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Arkle Chase winner didn't appear to be stopping over the three-mile trip at Kempton, Henderson admits there is an element of "guesswork" around whether his Gold Cup contender will stay the additional quarter mile at Prestbury Park come March.

The Seven Barrows maestro said: "It's going to be guesswork because he's not been that far. He's not even in the Ryanair, so I assume we think he must stay something otherwise he won't be going anywhere.

"I would be pretty confident about that, and I know it is difficult to say. I know if you get three miles around Kempton it doesn't mean anything, but what do you do? There's a good race at Aintree, yes, but if he gets home at Newbury and he does well then you have to go (to the Gold Cup), don't you."

Shishkin will face a maximum of four rivals in Saturday's Denman Chase at Newbury and is currently a general 8/15 chance to beat 2022 Betfair Chase winner Protektorat, last year's second Hitman, Does He Know and Sam Brown.

When questioned what type of performance he would be satisfied with by Shishkin come Saturday, Henderson said: "That was his first run of the year at Kempton (King George) you'd have had to be worried that he would have needed the run but that certainly didn't appear to be the case. I think he was galloping away pretty merrily at the time, and I don't see any reason why he would have stopped. It was going to be a good performance, so you hope he if builds on that he has to have a pretty good chance here."

"If he's going to go on to better things, he's virtually got to be very very good at Newbury."

Racing and Sports

today's racing

Error occured
{{course.CountryName || course.Country}}