Shiskin produced what jockey Nico de Boinville described as a “phenomenal” performance to blow away his rivals in the Grade Two Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase – his first appearace on a racecourse for 261 days.
The seven year old showed just why he is the favourite for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March with a foot perfect round of jumping to defeat this month’s Betfair Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen by 10 lengths.
Shishkin, who is now unbeaten in six races over fences including last season’s Sporting Life Arkle Novice’s Chase, had been due to run in the Tingle Creek at Sandown Park just over three weeks ago himself. However, trainer Nicky Henderson pulled him out of the race citing a lack of “spark” at the time.
But today’s 4-9 favourite rewarded Henderson’s patience and gave the Seven Barrows handler a fifth win in the Desert Orchid Chase in the last 12 runnings, following in the footsteps of Petit Robin (2009), Finian’s Rainbow (2011), Sprinter Sacre (2015) and Altior (2018).
In an interview on ITV Racing, jockey de Boinville, who was also on board for Sprinter Sacre and Altior’s victories in this two mile contest, said of Shishkin: “That was pretty phenomenal from him.
“We have been having our struggles with him and even there he’s taken a really good blow going into the last, so I’ve just had to look after him going into that.
“Jayden rides him every day and he’s done a fantastic job. But we’ve taken a bit of a chance today. If ever we were going to take a chance then today was going to be it but his class shone through.”
Asked whether those who criticised trainer Henderson’s decision to skip the Tingle Creek had now been put in their place, de Boinville added: “Well I thought Champ (who won the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on December 18th) did that. He silenced all the doubters, so for this lad to come and do that … Patience is a virtue.”
Shishkin is now a general 5-4 favourite for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March. Asked whether the Irish should fear his superstar, de Boinville went on: “I think he sets the standard. I’m hoping that Energumene comes back and we have a good set to at Cheltenham.”
Speaking later, de Boinville went on: “The boss and everyone at home have been very patient with him and the patience has paid off. The boss made me understand if we were going to get beaten today it was possibly going to be today just because we didn’t quite know where he was.
“I think he has allayed all our fears and it was nice to see him do that and just get back on the track and get a nice blow into him, so on we go.
“Literally in the last couple of weeks his bits of work have suddenly turned a corner. We felt he was in too good an order so we had to come here and take our chance. It was great to see him do that today. It was the same as normal (coming to the track today). I just had to try not to get too excited and do my job.”
Trainer Henderson admitted to feeling “thrilled” but also relieved after the victory and also revealed he hopes to run him once more before the Cheltenham Festival.
He said: “I think there’s a bit of relief but it’s more than that as I am really genuinely thrilled with him. Yes it’s a relief because I was nervous. We weren’t really there, but we had to come out and when I looked at the ground yesterday I thought ‘do we not go and wait for the Clarence House?’, so I was nervous.
“He was in a bad place for three weeks, which is why he didn’t run in the Tingle Creek and his tracheal wash backed that up. He didn’t run in the Tingle Creek because he was all wrong and he was just as flat as a pancake and then 10 days after that his tracheal wash was horrible – it’s like when we get the flu, it comes out in you.
“I had no worries about it at all though, because the horse comes first and if he’s not right he’s not going to run. We have a wonderful owner and he would never disagree with me.
“He would say ‘do what you think is right’ – and that’s why we get them back, with that sort of support it’s easy. I couldn’t have run him in a Tingle Creek as I’d have wrecked him, but as you can see he’s back now and hopefully he can push on. He comes alive on a racecourse, but he wouldn’t have come alive if I’d have run him at Sandown. He’d have been in his box sulking.
“The temptation was to wait for Ascot because it gave us another couple of weeks but we’ve just got him back in time for this and I was pretty keen to get out here and get a run into him. He’s not flashy at home and Nico has been in and ridden him three or four times in the last week and said he’s good, so he’s got to be the judge.
“It’s great though because he’s proven that he’s as good as ever and class is everything. The way he crossed fences is extraordinary, sometimes you don’t even think he’s left the ground as he’s just out the other side and gone. He’s had a good blow and I’d like to have another run before Cheltenham.
“The trouble is you’ve got the Clarence House which comes quickly after this, while the Game Spirit is rather close to The Festival and you haven’t got a lot in-between, but we’ll find something for him.”
Meanwhile trainer Paul Nicholls said of runner-up Greaneteen: “Bryony said he just hated the ground - end of story. She said, ‘I don’t need to say anything else’. We were going to go to Ascot for the Clarence House but she (Bryony) said, ‘leave him to the spring ground’.
“We will perhaps go to the Game Spirit, then the Champion Chase, then Sandown (Celebration Chase). The 3lbs he was giving away made no difference and you have got to run in these type of races. I thought last week the ground was going to be decent like it was, then all this rain came and it has gone soft and that is the first time he has run on ground like that for a while.
“He has run a super race. I’d say watching all the horses I’ve seen, that (Shishkin) will win the Champion Chase. That will be the one to beat in the Champion Chase without shadow of a doubt.
“We will go there (Champion Chase) as you never know what will happen. Two miles is his trip as he has got plenty of boot. If we can go back to Sandown at the end of the season and get back there next season then that is good enough.
“Two years ago he won off 132 at Ascot and look where he is now so he has done really well. He will have a break now and he will probably go to the Game Spirit.”
Earlier Emmpressive Lady had run out the five and a half length winner of the Play Ladbrokes 5-A-Side On Football Mares’ Handicap Hurdle for trainer Sue Gardner and jockey Sean Houlihan.
The 3-1 joint favourite had tussled with the Fergal O’Brien trained Tequila Blaze from the turn for home, but with two flights left to jump pressed home her advantage to secure a comfortable victory, with Coded Message back in third.
Afterwards trainer Gardner said: “We came here with a lot of confidence today. When she was second here last year she went to Haydock Park on ground that was too quick and over a trip that was too short, so we probably shouldn’t have gone.
“She’d had one run so far this season and was jumping out of her skin at home and I knew she’d improved a bit as the horse she beat at Sandown (Whitehotchillifili) was a good horse – so she only had to find a bit of her form and she’d be a winner. She’s got a massive heart, I ride her every day and she has to carry me so she needs a lot of heart!
“She’s an out and out stayer and loves this ground - what she’ll do is keep going when the others can’t so you don’t want to find somewhere that’s too quick for her.
“If we can find the right ground on the right day there is a bit more to come. Her owner wants to get a little bit of black type with her because he wants to breed from her. This ground takes it out of her, so we’ll have a look and see if we can find something."