Nicky Henderson believes it would be “unfair” to judge Shishkin on his performance in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day (Tuesday 26th December) but still expects him to run well after describing him as the “forgotten person” in the race.
The talented nine-year-old, who is one of eight going forward for the Grade One feature race following today’s five-day confirmation stage, made headlines for all the wrong reasons on his intended comeback in last month’s 1965 Chase at Ascot after planting himself at the start and refusing to race in the Grade Two prize.
An outing in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle was supposed to be the Sholokhov’s gelding next port of call, but those plans were scuppered after the meeting fell victim to the weather, which led to connections turning to the rearranged Fighting Fifth Hurdle, which was salvaged from the same card.
However, testing conditions at Sandown Park resulted in that appearance being shelved, with Shishkin declared a non-runner on the day of the meeting to leave him entering the £250,000 contest without having had a prep run.
And although Henderson feels the lack of a recent run could cost Shishkin his chances of success, he is optimistic that the Joe and Marie Donnelly-owned gelding will still acquit himself well in the three mile test after impressing in a recent schooling session.
Henderson said: “I’ve been saying all along I don’t see how you can win a King George without a race and the answer is you can’t. On the other hand, we have got nowhere else to go as there isn’t another race until the Cotswold Chase.
“If I ran him at Sandown I would have bottomed him and he wouldn’t go to the King George, so therefore I had to take him home and run him straight in this.
“Having said that he has been going, for him, really well, and his schooling the other morning was fantastic. I’m not going to sit here and tell you he can win a King George, but I do think he can run very well.
“He is the sort of forgotten person in the race, and no one has mentioned him. The only thing I would say is don’t judge him on this because I think it is very unfair coming into a race like this without a run.
“It doesn’t mean there aren’t bigger and better things to come. He might run very well and not quite get home (in front).”
While nothing is guaranteed in racing Henderson is confident there will be no repeat of his Ascot antics down at the start of the King George after taking steps to ensure a similar scenario will not occur.
Henderson added: “George (Daly, assistant trainer) will go down to the start with him as he knows him really well. We can’t do anything else.
“Charlie Brooks mentioned a hunting horn, but Barney (Clifford, Clerk of the Course at Kempton Park) won’t let me get up a tree and blow it!”
In addition to his regular work on the Seven Barrows handler’s gallops Shishkin has also benefited from a spell with 2012 London Olympics team eventing silver medallist, and Cheltenham Racecourse committee member, Zara Tindall.
Henderson added: “Constitution Hill is the A,B,C of training horses and you point him in the right direction. He is very straightforward as he has got a very good temperament. Shishkin is very straightforward, but the early part of the season with him is probably the most difficult.
“That was a bit to do with what happened at Ascot. When he is fresh he is a bit of a plonker.
“I sent him to Zara Tindall to go and do some work with her. It was good conditioning and dressage work to get some manners on him and get the basics done. He really enjoyed it.
“That first month we sent him to Zara and that was going back into August. She did a great job and I think she enjoyed having him.”
Relatively few winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival go on to establish themselves as staying chasers, but Shishkin proved he is exactly that in the Grade One Aintree Bowl over 3m 1f on his final start last season.
And with no stamina concerns, Henderson expects Shishkin to cope fine with the demands he will face in the King George, despite the lack of a run so far this term.
He went on: “The trouble with Kempton Park is that some people think it is an easy three miles because it is flat and fast.
“It is not a stamina track, except in the King George you have got to stay and be fit, because this is the one race where there is no hiding place.
“There isn’t a place where they can take a blow or have a breather. You jump, jump, jump, then go flat out around a bend then go jump, jump, jump.
“It is all go, go, go. I remember when we ran Remittance Man in it. I think Jamie Osborne would probably say we rode him wrong as he took it up too soon and he didn’t really stay.
“When he (Shishkin) won the Supreme (in 2020) he was a very good horse, and he is still a very good horse.
“It has taken us a bit longer than it should have done to make us realise he is a three miler and not a two miler, but if you win the Supreme not surprisingly you are thinking along the two mile route, not three. He has proven what he can do over three so let’s stick to it now.”