Four years and two days after Altior’s successful chasing debut at Kempton, his stable companion Shishkin produced a flawless round of jumping in the same beginners’ chase to launch his own career over fences, cruising to a 23-length defeat of Mick Pastor at odds of 1-6 which saw his price for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham in March cut to just 2-1.
Shishkin’s ante-post odds might seem short with more than three months to go until the Festival opens on 16 March, but Altior was the same price after beating Black Corton – subsequently a Grade One winner over fences – by 63 lengths on his chasing debut in November 2016 and went on to win the Arkle by six lengths as the 1-4 favourite.
While Shishkin’s margin of victory was no match for Altior’s, the manner of his success held just as much promise, from the effortless jump which carried him into the lead at the second to a flying leap at the fifth, where he stood off a long way but cleared the fence with ease. Mick Pastor, who is rated 137 over hurdles, made no impression on the leader after Harry Cobden shook his reins around the home turn, and Shishkin was still on a tight rein as he eased further clear all the way up the straight.
“I think you have to give him a 10 out of 10 for his jumping today,” Henderson said. “With Altior, you turn him in and look at a fence and he’s gone, whereas this fellow is actually a titch more sensible.
Altior got off the mark at Grade One level in his second race over fences with a win in the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown in early December, but Shishkin may instead run next in the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novice Chase back at Kempton on 27 December.
There was, however, a sad postscript to Monday’s race, as it emerged the Olly Murphy-trained Sangha River, who fell at the seventh fence, had suffered a fatal injury.
Meanwhile, Henderson had positive news on Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante who will make her seasonal reappearance in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.
The trainer said: “I think she’s pretty versatile ground-wise, but by and large we all want good ground for these races - it just makes for better racing. She’s a speedy filly and good ground will be ideal.
“She went to the Gerry Feilden at Newbury on the same weekend last year and won that off a mark of 137. It was a big jump up for the Christmas Hurdle, but it proved to be a very good call,” Henderson added. “We didn’t run her again until the Champion Hurdle and she obviously didn’t run afterwards as that was the end of the season. She had a gallop at Newbury last week and did her last piece of work this morning, which went very well. All her serious work is done.”
Aidan Coleman will ride Epatante for the first time since her Gerry Feilden success of 12 months ago, and is set to get reacquainted with his big-race mount in a Lambourn schooling session on Tuesday. “Aidan won the Gerry Feilden on her and is due to come and sit on her and just jump five hurdles on her tomorrow morning. Then, off she heads up north,” Henderson added.
“The timing of the Fighting Fifth is good for the Christmas Hurdle, whereas the International at Cheltenham is a little bit too close. If you’re heading down that route, which we’d like to, the Fighting Fifth fits in well. If all goes well here and at Christmas, you probably wouldn’t run her again until the Champion Hurdle.” GW
Tuesday’s best bets
Wheesht (3.07) is among the most interesting runners of the day, though she wouldn’t necessarily have to make good on that interest this time out, her seasonal reappearance. Like all horses owned by the Million In Mind syndicate, she was auctioned off in the summer but she travelled well and showed plenty of scope when second at Fontwell last season and looks a nice prospect for Alastair Ralph.
His runners are going well just now and this first attempt on decent ground could allow her to take quite a step forward, so 12-1 appeals, for all that this could just be a first run back. She’s a half-sister to Billingsley, who won three times over fences for Ralph last season, and her future may well lie over the larger obstacles.
Coby Nine (12.37) could be worth sticking with, having got off the mark at the second attempt over fences a fortnight ago. David Bridgwater’s runner is bigger than I expected at 5-2.
11.55 Four Mile Bridge 12.25 Puy Mary 12.55 Unforgiving Minute 1.25 Millie's Angel 1.55 Mammasaidknockuout 2.25 Pastfact 2.55 Andonno 3.25 Hasty Sailor (nap)
12.15 Hurricane Mitch 12.46 Cybalko 1.16 Skyhill 1.46 Minella Drama 2.16 Equus Dancer 2.46 Evita Du Mesnil 3.16 Tardree
12.37 Coby Nine 1.07 Dubai Outlaw 1.37 Neon Moon 2.07 Tremwedge 2.37 Crystal Lad 3.07 Wheesht (nb) 3.37 First Revolution
4.00 Influence Is Power 4.30 Uncle Bryn 5.00 Highest Ambition 5.30 Alexej 6.00 Pop Dancer 6.30 Fair Star 7.00 Global Wonder 7.30 Word Of Honour 8.00 Red Allure
The market is all over Hasty Sailor (3.25) at Lingfield and 10-11 is the best I can see. The form of his maiden fourth here in August looks pretty compelling and Sir Michael Stoute’s colt ought to be ahead of his rating, though a wind operation and a tongue tie are possible grounds for concern in this context. CC