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Gutsy display by Shishkin in Denman Chase

The post-race debrief from Nico de Boinville to Marie Donnelly included advice on a bit of equipment to help heal her broken hand, but Shishkin's owner had already received a tonic thanks to a professional display from her charismatic star in the Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday.

Trained in Lambourn by Nicky Henderson, Shishkin is often talked about and that was even more the case after he refused to race at Ascot in November.

Blessed with a huge amount of talent, the ten-year-old then headed to the King George VI Chase and might have won the festive feature but for unseating De Boinville late on.

However, he did exactly what was expected of him in the Denman Chase, a Grade 2 contest which often serves as a pointer to the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup at next month's festival. 

With victories in the Supreme and Arkle already to his name from that particular jamboree, Shishkin was left at 8-1 for the Gold Cup by Betfair, while Paddy Power remained at 7-1, but price changes were not at the forefront of Henderson's mind. 

"I think that's probably relief," the trainer said. "It's not always been his fault, although I suppose you have to say Ascot was. The King George certainly wasn't his fault and he had a good blow there, which Nico thought would do him a lot of good. He missed one, otherwise he jumped great and he needed it more than anything else."

Protektorat, who was third and fifth in the last two Gold Cups, could manage only third with Hitman splitting him and Shishkin, whose main opponent on paper next month is reigning festival winner Galopin Des Champs.

"I think the Gold Cup has to be the objective," Henderson said. "I don't think three and a quarter miles will frighten him and hopefully we've got the starting bug out of his head. He was faultless there, better than at Kempton. We're in control of him now, which is the great thing and he's behaving our way, not his.

"We have to crack on and give the Gold Cup a go. Shishkin has a chance and I don't see any point in not running. I went to Ireland last weekend and I've been impressed with Galopin Des Champs, but after that I think there's an opening, and it's the Gold Cup – you've got to give it a go."

Two Gold Cup victories – with Long Run in 2011 and Bobs Worth two years later – feature on the CV of Henderson, who added: "It looked like he might have won the King George, which would have put him in the picture, but this has put him in the picture now. I think everyone is nervous in these situations and it's a big test to pass, especially after the season he's had.

"He's a character, like all good horses and probably people as well, but you've got to have that about you. He's enjoyed that and Nico said he was really up for it." 

Shishkin looked in rude health pre-race but was perhaps not fluent at a couple of fences when jumping left on occasions, but De Boinville found few faults with his mount's effort.

He said: "He was wanting to go forward and jump into the bridle. He's been in really good order at home and was none the worse for Kempton. That will bring him on, so I'm looking forward to the Gold Cup."

De Boinville, Henderson and Donnelly, who owns Shishkin with husband Joe, will surely not be the only ones thinking that.

 

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