Talking Horses: Shishkin boosts Cheltenham Festival claims with win

Chris Cook
The Guardian
<span>Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Shishkin strengthened his position at the head of the market for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with a stylish success in the Betway Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon.

Having run out an impressive winner at Newbury last time out, the Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old followed up in similarly taking fashion on his first attempt over an extended two miles and three furlongs.

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Taking matters up over the second last the 1-2 favourite, who runs in the colours of Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo’s owner Joe Donnelly, powered clear before crossing the line 11 lengths clear of runner-up Shan Blue.

Henderson said: “That was perfect – that is what you are trying to do and that is what those races are all about. You are always nervous as they were very respectable opposition, but he has got a lot of gears hasn’t he. I think Mr Donnelly might have a couple of rather good shots at the Supreme. He is a beautiful horse. That was exactly what you hoped for.

Related: Kempton racecourse climbdown prompts tentative celebrations

“You remember the last meeting, I came here with one that I thought would do the same thing called Mister Coffey and all he did was bolt, so you never know until it is over. We haven’t learnt anything new, but these are the days you have got to get it over and done with. We always thought he was very good and we have confirmed that he is very good.

“He won’t run again before Tuesday [at Cheltenham] - he will run in the Supreme. Nico mentioned the Ballymore, I wasn’t sure but two-mile-three here wasn’t going to prove stamina, but it proved you can do anything you like as he is only in first gear to be fair.

“When he went to his bumper at Kempton the day after Cheltenham (last year), I was hardly surprised. He was very impressive. He is a chaser in the making. I’m not saying he is another Altior, but he is an Altior-type horse in that he has got a lot of speed and scope. He is a good looking, big, chasing type of animal that we like.”

Following the race Paddy Power and Ladbrokes cut Shishkin into 3-1 favourite for the Supreme. PA Media

Racing the poorer for failing to fund a Hall of Fame

The absence of money, a familiar problem for followers of horse racing, is, I am told, the reason why the sport in Britain does not yet have a Hall Of Fame, nor any plans for one. It is an idea that has been kicked around for decades but we have yet to arrive at the decisive moment, when a powerful person wakes up and says: “Today, I am going to find the pockets deep enough to pay for this thing...”

The benefits to racing would obviously include having a building in a busy town somewhere that would act as an entry point to the sport for the mildly curious. It would be a source of news stories and debate when decisions were made as to who should be honoured therein.

Most importantly, it would be a place for racing to show how much it treasures its past and values the achievements of those who went before. The sport in Britain has, frankly, been poor at this. If you don’t value your own history, you can’t expect anyone else to do so. If you don’t value your past, you cheapen your present.

Mini halls of fame have emerged in places like Cheltenham and Aintree and there is, of course, a fine racing museum at Palace House in Newmarket that would welcome your support. But I tend to think that a truly impactful Hall Of Fame would be closer to a major population centre.

<span class="element-image__caption">Trainer Henry Cecil and Lester Piggott during their association in the 1970s.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Chris Smith/Getty Images</span>
Trainer Henry Cecil and Lester Piggott during their association in the 1970s. Photograph: Chris Smith/Getty Images

While our rulers dig down the back of the sofa for the readies, can we not at least build an online Hall Of Fame, with biographies of our greats and footage of their greatest moments? Old lags like me know a lot of the stories and can find many of the old races but it shouldn’t take 35 years of hanging around the tracks to become familiar with racing lore. It should all be neatly packaged in a single, readily identifiable website that could act as a rabbit hole down which interested youngsters could tumble.

I was in Tate Britain the other day, reading about a curator who found John Martin’s Destruction Of Pompeii wrapped up inside Delaroche’s Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 45 years after both paintings were thought to have been lost in a flood. Horse racing’s entire history might have been lost in a flood, for all the central authorities seem to care about it. Fanatics are left to discover what they can and occasional treasures are temporarily displayed on social media before being washed away by the following tide.

Thursday’s best bets

With Cheltenham just over a month away, Shishkin will be the focus at Huntingdon, where he is unbackably short at 1-3 for the Sidney Banks. The acceleration he found on Newbury’s run-in last month was just extraordinary and he is now favourite for the Festival’s opener, the Supreme Novice Hurdle.

And yet he must prove himself again here, not least to his owner, Joe Donnelly, who also has Asterion Forlonge, an impressive Grade One winner at Leopardstown on Sunday and also fancied for the Supreme. Will Shishkin show so much stamina that he ends up going to the Ballymore instead? Tune in …

Tea Clipper (3.05) is easy to like at 9-4 for the following handicap hurdle, Tom Lacey’s unbeaten youngster seeming likely to be suited by the step up in trip. Earlier, Thomas Shelby (1.31) returns to the track where he scored in December on his second start for Caroline Bailey and can hopefully keep going in the right direction at 3-1 or so.

Lots Of Luck is well treated under a penalty in his handicap chase but it’s only four days since he won at Taunton. Yorgonnahearmeroar (2.01) has become very well handicapped and a change of stables to Michael Scudamore may well help, along with this drier surface. He’s 6-1.

Up at Doncaster, it’s intriguing to see that Jenkins (2.55) is 12-1 from 33-1. He had a big reputation at one time and, while his Boxing Day effort was disappointing, this is a drop in class and a step up in trip. It will be interesting to see what Bryony Frost can do with him and he is surely faster than this lot, so long as he has some energy left in the last half-mile. With the tongue tie absent and cheekpieces back on, connections are clearly interested in ringing the changes.

Huntingdon: 1.00 Swilly Sunset 1.31 Thomas Shelby 2.01 Yorgonnahearmeroar 2.31 Shishkin 3.05 Tea Clipper (nap) 3.40 The Composeur (nb) 4.12 Allavina

Chelmsford: 1.10 Jen's Lad 1.40 Calidus Mirabilis 2.10 The King's Steed 2.40 Storm Over 3.15 Brigand 3.50 Thegreatestshowman 4.20 Rodin.

Doncaster: 1.23 Imperial Nemesis 1.53 Zoffee 2.23 Well Smitten 2.55 Jenkins 3.30 Glory And Fortune 4.04 See Forever 4.40 Out On The Tear.

Newcastle: 4.30 Corked 5.00 Ascot Week 5.30 Union 6.00 Youneverletmedown 6.30 Heath Charnock 7.00 Athollblair Boy 7.30 Hunters Step 8.00 I Am Dandy.

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