Nicky Henderson does not see Shishkin as “banker” material in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – despite last year’s Arkle winner trading as the odds-on favourite.
Having missed the Tingle Creek earlier in the season and with the strength of the challenge from across the Irish Sea, a few months ago Shishkin still had a bit to prove.
However, a comfortable victory at Kempton Park over Christmas from Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen set him up for a mouthwatering clash with Willie Mullins’ Energumene in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
That race lived up to all expectations, with Shishkin looking beaten early in the straight only to wear down the front-running Energumene to prevail by a length.
With Energumene not having much ground to make up and last year’s beaten odds-on favourite Chacun Pour Soi also back to his best last time out, Shishkin will be lining up in one of the deepest Champion Chase fields for years.
“There’s no way he can be a banker,” said Henderson.
“That was a fantastic race at Ascot and everybody loved it, bar Willie and myself as one of us knew sadly that we were going to go down.
“Obviously it was great we came out in front and it looked as if he had us in trouble but he’s a tough horse, ours.
“When you throw Chacun Pour Soi in as well – I know people can say he doesn’t travel over well but he could still be a real player.
“There was only a length between them at Ascot so anything could happen. This will be two months later and going the other way around which possibly helps us, but there’s not much in it – a length is not a lot.”
Henderson has trained some of the best two-mile chasers in the history of the sport. Remittance Man and Travado in the 1990s and more recently Sprinter Sacre and Altior totally dominated the division.
Shishkin, though, is a far more undemonstrative type.
“Shishkin has a different style of jumping to the others, he doesn’t have the exuberance of an Altior or a Sprinter, he doesn’t stand off his fences as much,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“You hardly notice he leaves the ground, he’s very quick from A to B but you don’t notice him leave the ground. Altior could throw some massive leaps in, there’s a great picture of him jumping the ditch at Sandown, it was ridiculous. This lad crosses a fence in a very different manner, he’s very efficient.
“I don’t think he’s a banker. In their eras they probably were bankers, but we’ve definitely got a fight on our hands this year. In Altior’s and Sprinter’s years they were close to bankers, but I don’t think this is.”
While Henderson admits he would have preferred Shishkin to have run out an easy winner at Ascot, the sportsman in him is looking forward to the rematch.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’d have loved to have won by 20 lengths but it was a great race, everyone got what they wanted and it hasn’t spoiled the Champion Chase because there was only a length between them, there’s room for round two,” he said.
“Energumene didn’t make the Arkle last year, you can’t hold that against him, and we’ve come up the hill a couple of times before, it didn’t look like Chacun did last year but Willie will know what he’s doing.”