TRAINER Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin can make a triumphant return to Cheltenham in the Ryanair Chase this afternoon.
The nine-year-old, a former Supreme and Arkle winner, arrived at the meeting the 5-6 favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase last year but was pulled up on soft ground in driving rain and subsequently diagnosed with a rare bone condition.
His comeback run in the Tingle Creek saw him beaten 15 lengths by Edwardstone and prompted a step up in trip, a move that looked inspired when he ran away with the Grade One Ascot Chase in a 16-length rout of the opposition.
That return to form and the manner in which he did it make him both the logical and affectionate choice for the Ryanair, where he will take on the same trip in a bid for a happier Cheltenham experience than last year.
Henderson then has a further chance of a Festival winner in the Jack De Bromhead Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, a Grade Two in which Luccia looks the horse to beat.
Unbeaten but lightly-raced, the five-year-old has been seen twice this season when making easy work of Listed contests against both mares and geldings.
Most recently the chestnut landed an Exeter event by a comfortable 11 lengths, an impressive run where even a mistake at the last could not jeopardise a clear lead.
Gordon Elliott holds a strong hand in the Turners Novices’ Chase with Mighty Potter, who is unbeaten in three starts in his first season over fences.
A convincing winner of the Grade One Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in December, beating Gaillard Du Mesnil, Banbridge and Adamantly Chosen, the six-year-old then stepped up a furlong for the Ladbrokes Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.
There he was a most taking winner, beating Adamantly Chosen once again to come home eight and a half lengths ahead and make himself a key player at the Festival – and a potential future superstar into the bargain.
Charles Byrnes’ Blazing Khal can make it three from three on trips to Cheltenham, this time for his biggest prize yet in the shape of the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.
He looked likely to be a strong presence in the staying division before injury left him sidelined for 428 days, with minor setbacks delaying his planned comeback.
When he did eventually return for the Boyne Hurdle in mid-February, he instantly regained the esteem in which he was held, prevailing by three lengths but looking like he had plenty more up his sleeve.
His path to the Festival has looked a little precarious at times as he incurred a knock in the Boyne, but his trainer more than knows the time of day and has given him the green light. With both course and recent form to recommend him, he must surely go close.