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Press Release 26th December 2023 Kempton Park

Hewick, the horse who only cost his owner TJ McDonald only €850 (around £800) won the fourth big race of his career and took his earnings to over a half a million pounds with a never say die performance to win the Boxing Day highlight at Kempton Park today – the Grade One Ladbrokes King George VI Chase.

Partnered for the first time today by Gavin Sheehan, the eight-year-old was outpaced in the early stages of the three-mile test and was still well off the pace as the field entered the straight for the final time to face up to the final three fences.

The departure of leader Shishkin two fences from home looked to have made the contest a match between Bravemansgame and Allaho but Hewick was delivered by Sheehan with a tremendous late run to take the lead on the run in. He went on to secure the honours by a length and a half from 2022 winner Bravemansgame (9-4) with another head back to Allaho (13-8 Favourite) in third. 

Hewick had previously recorded big-race wins in the 2022 Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park, the 2022 Galway Plate and the 2022 Grand National Hurdle Stakes at Far Hills, USA.

Winning trainer John “Shark” Hanlon, who is based in County Carlow, said: “Turning out of the back I said we will still be in the first three. It was some ride. I thought the game was up, but he has such a heart. He is a small horse. When he was walking around the ring, and you see all the big horses, and he is 16 hands, he is like what am I doing here. He has speed, but we know he stays as he won over three miles five.

“Probably the race for him in the future is the Grand National, but now when you are here you have to go for a Gold Cup. I said he was getting one run (before the Gold Cup) and he was coming here for that. Cheltenham will suit this horse a lot better as it is a tougher three and a quarter miles there. There was a lot of the other horses that had problems, and we came here fresh and we had a great man on board and that was it.

“He cost £800. I was looking at a programme in the week and Ruby (Walsh) knocked him. I said we are flying now as every time Ruby knocks him he wins! He will go straight to Cheltenham now. It is probably the wrong race as the Grand National is probably the right race for him, but there is only one Gold Cup.

“He definitely needs better ground. He is a better horse on good ground. The ground today was lovely. I feel very sorry for Jordan Gainford as he made this horse. He minded him when he had to be minded. Jordan will be back for Cheltenham, but if he is not we have a good man to take his place.

“Everywhere last season where I went was too soft, bar America where the ground was perfect for him. There was six runners today and I never thought he should be 12-1. It doesn’t usually happen like this when you buy an £800 horse, but we made it work with Skyace and we have made it work with him. He is as tough a horse in England or Ireland you will find. The people of Ireland and England love him as well. If you are not in a horse you can’t win and he has shown that anything is possible. It is quite possible (he will go to the pub)!”

Hewick becomes the ninth Irish-trained winner of the King George following Cottage Rake (1948), Arkle (1965), Captain Christy (1974, 1975), Florida Pearl (2001), Kicking King (2004, 2005) and Tornado Flyer (2021).

Gavin Sheehan said to ITV Racing: “Put it this way – if it wasn’t the King George I probably would have pulled up!

“I knew that he stays and stays and I just wasn’t able to get going. There are only so many questions you can ask them and if they are not responding you can’t ask.

“Shark said before I got on him he’s is the smallest horse here but he has got the biggest heart and that perfectly sums him up.

“I was delighted to get the call up for the ride and to go and win it like that was just amazing. I’m gobsmacked to have won the King George.”


Trainer Paul Nicholls said of the runner-up Bravemansgame: “Harry (Cobden) said he was getting a bit of toe from the other horse (Shishkin) for as long as he could then the other horse had an unfortunate incident, and that interfered with him and that stopped him dead and cost him any chance then.

“He has run a good solid race. It is a case of ifs and buts. He was staying on strongly again and picked up the crumbs. I’ve never doubted that he stays. He is better on better ground. We will get him fresh and well now and go to Cheltenham.

“I don’t think he needs to go to Newbury as he has had three hard races. Unfortunately, he got stopped dead in his tracks today, but you can’t make excuses as incidents happen and he wasn’t good enough on the day.”

Patrick Neville, trainer of The Real Whacker (4th) said:“He travelled well and jumped well for his first time in open company. He stayed on really well at the end, which I was happy with. He missed the start for some reason today, and we were always chasing after that.

“I like the way he stayed on at the end and the Gold Cup is still on the agenda. Cheltenham is a place that he likes. I think we might go straight to the Gold Cup.

“Sam (Twiston-Davies) said he was always on the backfoot, but he just missed the start. There was no one to blame. It was a good run and I’m happy. He has come out of the race well. Fair play to the winner, and I‘d take finishing fourth in a King George any day.”

Jockey Bryony Frost said of the 2020 King George VI Chase winner Frodon (5th): “He’s phenomenal. That was awesome.

“Shishkin took us on and we haven’t got the legs of those young horses any more but the way he jumped and travelled on that ground today was much more like him.

“He went and got the lead and just midway down the back the pressure came so we just looked after him.”


After the race Nicky Henderson insisted he still plans to send Shishkin to the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

Speaking after their bid to win the King George was foiled after the nine-year-old dramatically unseated rider Nico de Boinville just a few strides after the penultimate fence, the Seven Barrows trainer said: “I think they say - ‘that’s racing!’

“I was delighted with him until then. To be fair Nico and I had discussed the start (of the race) at length but we hadn’t really discussed the rest of the race. But he was having a good time, he was jumping great.

“There was all this talk of having to put cheek pieces on him and things – we took them off because it was the obvious thing to do. I think a lot of people thought it might help him but he didn’t look as if he needed them there did he?”

Asked what jockey de Boinville had said afterwards, Henderson continued: “It appears, and those that have watched the replay have said, that he didn’t do anything wrong. He just sort of stumbled and forgot to get the foot out.”

On future plans for Shishkin, he went on: “He’s got to go for the Gold Cup hasn’t he, because that’s the obvious race? He’s not going to come back in trip I wouldn’t have thought. I suppose that’s what we’ll have to do.”

Shishkin’s jockey de Boinville described the way their race ended as “cruel”.

He said: “I’m very proud of the horse but these things happen. I think it happened about three strides after the fence, I don’t know why. Racing can be cruel but it can be wonderful at the same time. He was very good today.” 


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