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Nicky Henderson aware that Shishkin is no banker ahead of rematch with Energumene at the Cheltenham Festival

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Seven Barrows trainer Nicky Henderson does not believe Shishkin will have it all his own way at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

The eight-year-old is coming into the Queen Mother Champion Chase in superb form, having extended his unbeaten record to 10 when getting the better of the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene in an epic clash in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot last month.

Last year’s Arkle winner is two from two at Cheltenham, winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2019, but Henderson knows it’s going to be a tough task to make that three next month.

Shishkin looks calm before the Cheltenham Festival
Shishkin looks calm before the Cheltenham Festival

“There is no way he is going to be a banker,” admitted the trainer. “That was a fantastic race [at Ascot] and everybody loved it, bar Willie and myself.

“Sadly one of us knew we were going to go down.

“It was great we came out in front but there wasn’t that much in it and it looked like he had got us in trouble – he (Energumene) is a tough horse.”

In arguably one of the races of the season, Shishkin came from behind to beat Energumene.

Despite the efforts needed to win the race, Henderson doesn’t feel the Clarence House will have an effect on Shishkin’s performance at Cheltenham.

“It (the Clarence House Chase) doesn’t seem to have left a mark on Shishkin,” he said. “He seems in very good form, he hasn’t schooled since, but he will do next week.

“He will follow anybody and I would expect the same sort of tactics will be employed by both teams.”

Shishkin and Jaydon Lee on the way back from the Seven Barrows gallops
Shishkin and Jaydon Lee on the way back from the Seven Barrows gallops

Although Irish trainer Mullins was on the wrong side of the result, Henderson is aware that things could change.

“Willie might try and do something different but I’m sure there will be a good pace on whatever happens.

“Willie says he doesn’t know how we will beat Shishkin but I think he is playing games there as I know perfectly well he is looking forward to having another crack.

I don’t think he is that frightened,” admitted Henderson. “I would love to have won by 20 lengths, but the great thing about it was that it was a great race and everybody got the race that they wanted and it hasn’t spoilt the Champion Chase.”

Jonbon v Constitution Hill

Henderson will, once again, have a solid team heading to the Festival and it will be interesting to see how the opening race of the week goes when Jonbon and Constitution Hill line-up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Constitution Hill and Jonbon
Constitution Hill and Jonbon

“It is probably a help Jonbon is in the first race and we will have ways and means of keeping the adrenalin and atmosphere out of him as he will be the one that is on his toes.

“That is the way he is whereas with Constitution Hill nothing would worry him as he is very straightforward.

“They are both good rides in a race,” he said. “Jonbon can be a bit keen but there is no danger of Constitution Hill being keen and Cheltenham will suit them both, it should do.

“I think they are both very strong. Like Altior and Shishkin you would like to think they are in their sort of league.

“There is going to be plenty of opposition, you know that.

“It is always the best race to win on the whole card to be honest with you and we want to see England 1 Ireland 0.”

Epatante ready for Honeysuckle challenge

Nicky Henderson
Nicky Henderson

Elsewhere, Five-time Grade 1 winner Epatante will take on Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle.

JP McManus's mare dead-heated in the Fighting Fifth before winning the Christmas Hurdle, and the trainer said: "I thought she was great in the Christmas Hurdle and she really did look like her old self.

"She was hurdling like she used to and tanked Nico [de Boinville] into the race. She was good, but we've got one big problem in front of us [Honeysuckle].

“She [Epatante] is in very good form,” said Henderson. “We are very happy and everything says she is really good.”

Chantry House has eyes for Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup

Henderson’s only intended runner in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup is Chantry House.

Back-to-back Grade 1 victories at Cheltenham and Aintree last season has given him confidence for this run.

“The Gold Cup has opened up a lot and good horses have won good trials.

“Nothing has absolutely jumped off the front page and stamped his authority on the race so it is up for grabs.

“It is an intriguing race and you could make a case for a lot of horses and he [Chantry House] is a high class horse and he is a good stayer too.

Champ aiming for Ascot repeat at the Festival

Meanwhile, Champ will be heading for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

“If I can get him back where he was at Ascot [Long Walk Hurdle], and I think he can, he has got to be thereabouts.

Champ at Newbury Pic: Francesca Altoft Photography
Champ at Newbury Pic: Francesca Altoft Photography

It really was quite a straightforward decision to go for the Stayers’ Hurdle.

“Though he was in the Gold Cup it seemed the obvious thing to do really and that is the way he is going to go for now.”

At the Cheltenham Festival media day at Seven Barrows, Henderson also said that Dusart [Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase], Marie’s Rock [Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle], Mister Coffey [Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase] and Walking On Air [Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle] were in good form.

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