Shishkin looked like he wanted Gold Cup trip, says Henderson.
After Shishkin finished second to Envoi Allen in the Ryanair Chase, Nicky Henderson was left wondering if he was right to run him in the Cheltenham Gold Cup instead.
The former Supreme and Arkle champion was odds-on for last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, but he never traveled on soft ground and was pulled up early by Nico de Boinville, who was hoping for a third Festival victory.
He was slowly brought back after being diagnosed with a rare bone condition. After finishing second to Edwardstone by 15 lengths in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, he was stepped up in trip and won the Ascot Chase by 16 lengths.
However, he did not quite look himself over the Ryanair’s same two miles and five furlongs, jumping left on occasion and making an error at a crucial point that briefly halted momentum.
Envoi Allen, whose two-and-a-quarter-length victory was a third at the Festival following victories in the 2019 Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle a year later, never caught him, even though he stayed on well past the finish.
Henderson said: “He wasn’t really travelling like we hoped he would. Early on, he wasn’t looking that happy about it, but he’s done bloody well to finish where he has.
“Maybe I should have listened to those people who said we should have gone three and a quarter (mile, in the Gold Cup) – it looked as if that’s what he wanted.”
Asked to put his finger on why Shishkin ran so inconsistently, Henderson added: “I don’t know, it’s unlike him to go left like that – and he was going markedly left.
“He ran at Ascot last time and if you go left round Ascot, you finish up in Windsor Castle and that’s that!
“He schooled on Monday and you’ve never seen a horse jump five fences straighter and quicker, so we’ll have to take him apart and tighten a few nuts and bolts.
“He made one bad mistake coming down the hill, but look at how well he’s finished. I was a bit worried over the first two fences because he looked outpaced again, but he got back there – he’s determined if nothing else.
“Envoi Allen was going to be the next coming when he was young and they’ve done very well, they’ve got him back to his very best.
“You could say it came too soon after Ascot for us, it was a bit of a rush but I certainly want to run him in four weeks’ time over three miles at Aintree – that’s the obvious thing to do.”
According to De Boinville, Shishkin never gave him the same support as he had when he scored so well at Ascot.
“It never really went right from when the tapes went up. Even down at the start he was curling up on me a bit and sitting back on his haunches a bit,” said the jockey.
“Over the first two fences he wasn’t taking me anywhere, whereas at Ascot I was able to travel and jump and dictate where I wanted to be. This time I was pushed here there and everywhere.
“He was hanging a bit left and wasn’t the same horse that we saw at Ascot, but we know what he can do, so we’ll get him home and get him absolutely spot-on, and I’m sure he’ll be going three miles at Aintree.
“Over the first two fences it did feel a bit like last year and I was thinking, ‘Oh God’, but all credit to the horse – he’s very genuine, he made an error down the hill and has managed to get back for second when he had every right to be pulled up or tailed off.
“We know what he can do on his good days and there’ll be plenty more good days to come.”
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