Will Shishkin follow in the footsteps of Cheltenham legend Altior?
Shishkin was truly dominant during the 2020/21 National Hunt season and ended his campaign with a dominant run at Cheltenham Festival to secure the Arkle Chase crown.
Shiskin takes the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) March 16, 2021
Nicky Henderson’s charge now has the challenge of emulating the feats of his former stable-mate Altior in becoming a horse racing legend. Altior was not short of sensational over the course of his career before Henderson retired the 11-year-old at the end of the last campaign.
At the peak of his powers, Altior won 18 races on the bounce, including four in a row at Cheltenham Festival by winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Arkle Chase and two Champion Chases. Few horses dominated the track like the bay gelding, but Shishkin has the talent to live up to the standard and perhaps even create a greater legacy than Altior by chasing the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Shishkin had to grow into his stride with Nico de Boinville in the saddle after a disappointing outing at the start of the 2019/20 season when he fell in the Prodec Networks Maiden Hurdle at Newbury, despite being the overwhelming favourite in the horse racing betting odds for the event.
The response from the horse and De Boinville was emphatic dominated in his next two races to take momentum into his bow at Cheltenham Festival. Asterion Forlonge was considered the favourite for the crown, but Henderson’s charge was involved in a furious battle with Abacadabas for the win. He just had the pace down the stretch to beat out his rival by a head on the line.
Shishkin carried that form forward into the new campaign in his chasing debut, reeling off three outstanding performances to set the tone. He arrived at Cheltenham Festival with a swagger and duly delivered in the Arkle with another brilliant run to beat out his nearest rival Eldorado Allen by 12 lengths. Henderson’s charge ended the campaign with his eighth win on the bounce by easing to another triumph at the Aintree Festival to clinch the Maghull Novices’ Chase title.
Now Henderson has a curious choice ahead of him regarding which path to place Shishkin on as he gears towards a third successive victory at Cheltenham Festival. The trainer could place him on the same road as Altior for the Champion Chase, where has he has already been installed as the overwhelming favourite in the ante-post betting odds for the victory.
Henderson has dominated the race at Cheltenham with Sprinter Sacre and Altior notching four of his six victories. He is tied with Paul Nicholls and Tom Dreaper as the all-time leader in the Champion Chase, therefore, he might be tempted to put the French thoroughbred into the contest to assume the outright lead.
However, he might believe that Shishkin can display the endurance required to take on the additional distance of the Gold Cup. It would take the horse out of its comfort zone, pitting it against top-quality competitors such as Minella Indo and A Plus Tard. Henderson will already have a top contender in the race if Chantry House competes, which may hold Shishkin back for now, but he certainly has the credentials to become a Gold Cup contender a legend of the Cotswolds.