Nicky Henderson Banking on Shishkin to Reign Supreme

Cheltenham Racecourse view from above. Nicky Henderson post for 2020

Nicky Henderson Banking on Shishkin to Reign Supreme

The Supreme Novice Hurdle is one of the most anticipated races of the Cheltenham Festival. The Grade 1 hurdle race for four-year-olds and over covers a distance of 2m 87y (3,298 metres). It has been won by many famous horses including Flyingbolt, L’Escargot, Douvan and Altior.

As the opening race of the four-day extravaganza, the start of the Supreme Novice Hurdle is accompanied by the famous “Cheltenham Roar” as the combined voices of thousands of racegoers greet the first action of the week.

Mullins dominant

Over the past few years, the race has been dominated by Willie Mullins who has trained four out of the last seven winners including the 2019 champion Klassical Dream and six winners overall. All four of those winners were ridden by Ruby Walsh, who is the leading jockey with six wins.

Can Henderson land a second winner?

One trainer who has enjoyed little success at the race considering his overall record in the sport is Nicky Henderson. After 24 years without a winner, he was finally able to celebrate when Altior romped home in 2016. Yet that remains his only victory in the race.

Despite his lack of winners in this event, many believe that Henderson can win again in 2020 with Shishkin. Anyone who keeps an eye on the latest racing results will have noticed the six-year-old’s recent 11-length win in the Sidney Banks Memorial Hurdle at Huntingdon in February. That followed victory in the British Racing Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury in January. As a result, he has been cut to 3/1 in the betting and will interest those looking to place a bet on Cheltenham Festival 2020.

He has now won three of his last four races – he fell at the second hurdle while tracking the leader in the other – with Nico de Boinville on board. Significantly, the jockey seemed to have very little to do as he powered to victory, suggesting there is plenty more in the tank.

Henderson seemed to confirm this when he stated after the race that Shishkin has a lot of gears but only used first. He will not run again before Cheltenham but already looks the pick of the contenders for the Supreme. His profile has drawn comparisons with Altior but that will need backing up with top-level wins.

Other contenders

The Gordon Elliott-trained Abacadabras looks the most likely to challenge Shishkin after impressing at the December meeting at Leopardstown. Earlier in the month, he finished second behind Envoi Allen, who will run in the Ballymore Novices’ hurdle, and prior to that, he beat Latest Exhibition by three lengths at Navan. He could get the Irish off to flying start if he hits top form on the day. He is currently priced at 11/2 and is attracting plenty of interest.

Another contender could be Fiddlerontheroof who staked his claim with a storming performance in the Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown. The Colin Tizzard-trained six-year-old is highly rated by his stable and could stand a chance if the conditions are too his liking. His previous wins have all come on softer ground. He is currently available at the best price of 5/1 but that is likely to shorten as we approach race day.

You could make a case for all three horses but Shishkin looks the most capable of unleashing that extra turn of pace required on the big stage.

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