Nicky Henderson believes the stiffer test of Cheltenham will play to Shishkin’s strengths when he faces a Festival rematch with Energumene after coming out on top in Saturday’s epic Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
Shishkin’s unbeaten record remains intact and he is odds-on favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
But, with only a length between him and his Willie Mullins-trained rival, who tasted defeat for the first time, the Festival clash will be the most eagerly awaited race of the four-day meeting.
Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin (above) beat Energumene in epic race at Ascot on Saturday
Shishkin, winner of last season’s Arkle Novices’ Chase at the Festival, has filled the shoes of Altior and Sprinter Sacre, previous two-mile chase kings at Henderson’s stable.
Henderson said: ‘Shishkin does stay well and Cheltenham is a stiffer track so that will suit. He’s also proven at Cheltenham. It will be a serious rematch and they will want it as much as we do.
‘Sprinter Sacre probably didn’t have something of Energumene’s calibre to race against. He was so dominant whereas this time there are two of them.
‘The nicest thing was that the race had been built up and those things so often fall flat. It lived up to the billing. Round Two is going to be as exciting as Round One.’
Kim Bailey reckons First Flow ran as well, when finishing third, beaten 18 lengths, in the Clarence House Chase, as he did when winning the race last year. But Bailey was able to celebrate his own big win yesterday when Two For Gold, ridden by David Bass, emerged a short-head winner in a dramatic finish to the inaugural running of the Fleur De Lys Chase, the feature jumps race at the first Winter Million meeting at Lingfield.
Two For Gold beat Dashel Drasher with Bristol De Mai three-quarters of a length back in third.
Two other winners yesterday — Colin Tizzard’s War Lord and Dan Skelton’s Ballygrifin Cottage — should head to the Cheltenham Festival.
Lingfield owners have pledged to put more money into next season’s Winter Million and will invest in more drainage at a track which can get very heavy in mid-winter.
It will be disappointing if the 2023 meeting does not attract more and better runners.