The Shishkin Puzzle - Cheltenham Gold Cup?

Nicky Henderson Weighs the Odds as Shishkin Prepares for the Ultimate Test at Cheltenham

Can Shishkin handle the distance of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Can Shishkin handle the distance of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Nicky Henderson's sort of scratching his head about Shishkin tackling the Cheltenham Gold Cup distance. He’s like, “It’s guesswork” when it comes to figuring out. But hey, if Shishkin smashes it at the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury this Saturday, the Gold Cup is the next stop on the adventure. However, Shishkin has great competition in Protektorat, who could well take the Gold Cup crown too!

Shishkin, at 10 years old, already showed he’s not just messing around by bagging a win at the Aintree Bowl, and he was giving it his all in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day before he decided Nico de Boinville didn’t need to stay on two from the end. But as Henderson puts it, the Gold Cup's extra quarter-mile is a whole different beast, and it's snagged many a solid chaser over the years. Henderson admits, “It is a question that will only be answered on the day itself,” even though he’s kinda confident Shishkin can pull it off.

Diving into the strategy, Henderson says, “It’s going to be guesswork because he’s not been that far. He’s not even in the Ryanair, so I assume we think he must stay something otherwise he won’t be going anywhere.” And he's pretty upfront about leaning towards the Gold Cup, “I would be pretty confident about that and I know it is difficult to say...but if he gets home at Newbury and he does well then you have to go (to the Gold Cup), don’t you.”

Reflecting on Shishkin's journey, Henderson shares some surprise at the shift from being a champion at two miles to eyeing the Gold Cup. “No you didn’t really dream (of Shishkin being a Gold Cup horse), because not surprisingly, after Supremes and Arkles you think he is a two-miler.” Yet, after stretching to longer distances, it became clear Shishkin could go the distance, especially after his performance at Aintree.

Henderson also touches on the ups and downs, including an “Ascot fiasco” and how Shishkin had to head into the King George without a warm-up race, which was a bit nerve-wracking. But Shishkin showed his mettle, “To be fair it didn’t make a great difference and he ran a great race no matter what the result might have been.”

Talking about Nico de Boinville, Shishkin's regular rider who got dumped in the King George, Henderson shares the ups and downs of injuries but remains hopeful for a strong return. “We had a little comeback about 10 days ago and he wasn’t quite ready, but he has been riding out since Saturday...He’s in good form, I just want him to have a couple of rides to be ready for Saturday, I hope.”

So, it’s a mix of excitement, a bit of uncertainty, and a whole lot of hope as Team Henderson eyes the Gold Cup with Shishkin.