Master trainer Henderson delighted by the Shishkin renaissance.
When a horse seemed to have lost its way, wise people used to say, “They never come back.” However, Nicky Henderson is on a one-man mission to make history as Shishkin became the latest Seven Barrows inmate to return to the top.
Legendary are Henderson’s exploits with Sprinter Sacre. The greatest two-mile chaser of his time got lost due to ailments and injuries, but he came back to win a second Champion Chase.
Shishkin’s situation was not quite as bad as it had been a year prior, when he defeated Energumene in the Clarence House Chase, widely regarded as the race of the season.
But he was pulled up early in the Champion Chase, and it turned out that he had a rare bone condition. When he came back to the Tingle Creek, he was a one-paced third, and he had a wind operation after that.
Henderson was as sure as he could be that he still had the ability, but the only place to find out is on the racetrack.
He was imposing as he traveled up to two miles and five furlongs against two experts at that trip, Pic D’Orhy and Fakir D’Oudairies. He traveled smoothly throughout and was 16 lengths ahead.
He is now a 11-10 underdog to win the Ryanair flight next month.
“I think we’ve got the old Shishkin back, thank goodness,” said Henderson.
“It’s been a big effort from a lot of people and the Donnellys have been amazing. They were supposed to be here, Joe had a plane booked but for the wrong day, apparently. But I’ve just spoken to him in Switzerland and he’s delighted.
“He has always just said ‘do what you think is the right thing’ so we’ve changed a lot of things, but today was the crossroads to see if he still had a future at the top table.”
Henderson went on: “He was a hero but we’ve seen it before where they fall off the top, but everybody has done their bit. The vets have been brilliant. He had his bone problem, then a wind issue but the most important thing was upping the trip.
“That was the one thing in my own mind I was confident about. In the Clarence House last year he was flat out the whole way and was beaten two out, he won that day because he stayed. After the Tingle Creek there was only one thing to do.
“By slowing the pace, he can then race on the bridle. He’s not a brilliant work horse so he’s hard to assess that way, I think he’ll improve for the run because he’s had a good blow – it’s been a while since the Tingle Creek.
“This was always the race, we’ve got it done and I can’t tell you what I relief it is. We’re very lucky to get these good horses and it’s very sad if they fall off the table. When it does go right, if you get them back, it is extra special.”
Of the chances of Shishkin taking up his Gold Cup entry, Henderson added: “I would have thought it would be pretty stupid, but I’ve done some stupid things in my time so far!
“He’s not in the Champion Chase and he’s not coming into it, at least I can say he’s in the other two. I would have thought the most likely has got to be the Ryanair, it’s the sensible one.”
Nico De Boinville, who also played his part in Sprinter Sacre’s renaissance, said: “He felt a different horse. He was doing everything right at home and that wind op has definitely helped a whole load.
“I said to the guv’nor we’d know our fate after the first two and so it proved.
“When you are dealing with horses like that, you have to believe in them. I felt from the way he was at home that he retained his ability, it was just a question of finding his way back and the guv’nor is a master at doing that with these horses.
“I think the Ryanair is the right race. Where else do you go after a race like that? You certainly don’t drop him back to two miles and you’d be very brave to step him up to three-two in the Gold Cup, so I think two-five in the Ryanair is about right for him.
“It was just hands and heels and he’ll come on for that run, I’ve no doubt.”
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