Nicky Henderson was in high spirits about his stable star Shishkin on Monday with the handler excited for the rematch with Energumene, giving a very positive update on last year's Arkle winner.
The eight year old since falling on his hurdles debut has shown bundles and bundles of ability and plenty of gears when it comes to finishing his races which has seen him land nine events in a row.
His win in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival was one of most noticeable victories as a novice hurdler, finding plenty up the hill to narrowly see off Abacadabras.
Shishkin could not be upstaged and on his first start over fences in November as he showed the racing world just how good he is by pinging every fence and showing a startling turn of foot.
On his second start over fences he kept his outstanding unbeaten run going with another faultless round of jumping in the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novices' Chase at Kempton over Christmas, seeing off Tamaroc Du Mathan by 13 lengths.
Henderson's superstar next time out took his unbeaten record to three races over fences at Doncaster landing the Grade Two Lightning Novices' Chase.
He was then sent to the Cheltenham festival where he landed the Grade One Arkle Challenge Trophy with ease and to round the season off he went to Aintree where he again landed a Grade One contest in workmanlike fashion.
Having not been right for his seasonal debut in the Tingle Creek, he was rerouted to the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase over Christmas and on his first start in open company he saw off the Tingle Creek winner by 10 lengths.
Last seen landing arguably the race of the season to date at Ascot in the Grade One Clarence House Chase, when just managing to get up close home from Energumene, Henderson is now excited for another match up and he explains Shishkin will need to be at his best to win.
(Credit ATR) “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.”
Talking about how different Shishkin is to some of the greats Henderson has trained in the past like Sprinter Sacre and Altior he added:“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.
“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.”
The Seven Barrows handler would have much rather Shishkin bolt up when last seen but believes the tightness of the win makes it even more exciting for the two of them to meet again on the Wednesday of the meeting.
"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.”