Matt Chapman looks ahead to Doncaster as 'the most exciting jumper in the UK' Shishkin faces a stiff test
“HOLY aeroplane Batman, Shishkin’s back”!
That’s how excited one superhero duo would be today ahead of the return of the most exciting jumper in the UK.
Yes, Cheltenham may be off, but who cares? Much more importantly, Doncaster is on, and Shishkin will be long odds on for the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase. I’m so lucky to be covering the meeting for ITV. I can’t wait.
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I truly believe the seven-year-old is exceptional, and while many will say there’s nothing original about that, it does nothing to prevent me from being as jiggy as a jiggy thing for this afternoon’s extended two-mile event.
Shishkin is already odds-on for the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham, and if he were to line up in the Champion Chase he’d be the fancy of many shrewd judges. But Nicky Henderson is very unlikely to throw him in at the deep end.
The winner of six of his seven starts under Rules – his only defeat when he fell at Newbury – Shishkin was as an extraordinary winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival last year.
Having raced in mid-division in the Grade 1 under the excellent Nico de Boinville, Shishkin got squeezed after the third hurdle, was in fifth when lucky to avoid a faller and hampered two out, before battling on strongly to deny Abacadabras.
Since then, Shishkin has been over fences twice, hacking up both times at Kempton and jumping like an absolute natural. He’s a ‘Holy aeroplane Batman’.
I asked De Boinville what it’s like to ride Shishkin, and he gave me an exclusive insight. “The horse you have at home is very different to the horse you see on the track," he said.
“At home he’s incredibly laid back, relaxed and does just enough. He wouldn’t be overly impressive at home.
“But he really does seem to come alive on the track and that’s when you see him really shining. He’s a very good jumper and he’s what all the best horses have to be which is intelligent.
"He knows where to put his feet and where he can help himself out. He really showed that when jumping the fourth last at Kempton when the sun was very low and I couldn’t really see the fence. I sat still and left it to him.
“He also stays very well even though he’s over the minimum trip of two miles he gets two and a half as he did in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon last year over hurdles.”
De Boinville added: “I’m very much looking forward to riding him at Doncaster. It’s quite a stiff task and he’s facing opposition he hasn’t faced before and I’m sure they will serve it up to him as best they can. It’s no gimme and he’s going to have to be very good.”
The beauty of today’s contest is that, although every racing fan will expect Shishkin to win, he’s not up against mugs. Eldorado Allen is rated 149. He’s decent, and beat Quel Destin in a novice chase at Cheltenham this season when Gumball fell in the closing stages.
Cheddleton also has a mark of 149 and has won his last two starts over fences for Jennie Candlish, while Fast Buck goes for Paul Nicholls after a second at this course last time.
If Shishkin slams this lot – as I so hope he does – then Henderson might just have another Travado or Remittance Man on his hands. He could even have a two-miler to match Altior and Sprinter Sacre. So this is really exciting.
Last weekend it was another novice who took centre stage in Royale Pagaille, who blitzed the field for Rich Ricci in the Peter Marsh at Haydock. Having finished last on his first two starts for Venetia Williams, he’s now looking a real machine for.
It’s not surprising that when I asked Ricci which horse in his family colours he’s most excited about at the moment, he told me: “That’s a hard one as so many of our younger stock are on the sidelines.
"That said it would have to be either Royale Pagaille or Monkfish. The former because he could be anything and the latter for what he has shown.”
That’s the pulsating thing about Shishkin. He’s done much – but could be on the verge of much much more.
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