Nicky Henderson expects to know by Thursday evening whether his horses are over whatever was ailing them during the Cheltenham Festival, with Sir Gino and Shishkin all set for Aintree.

Henderson endured a miserable week in the Cotswolds and after racing on Wednesday of that week decided discretion was the better part of valour, pulling out all of his high-profile runners.

“Rather like before Cheltenham we’ve kept testing them and just like then, everything is fine – that’s the only worry really. It keeps telling us everything is fine,” said Henderson.

“The horses seem really well in themselves, the last work has all been done, they seem bright and perky and we’re looking forward to it.

“We’re going to know our fate pretty quickly. By Thursday night it will either be happening or it won’t be happening. Obviously we go with a fair amount of trepidation, but things seemed to have improved dramatically from the perspective of their work and everything at home.

“We’ve hardly run anything, but the two reasons we haven’t run anything, for instance at Hereford today I couldn’t make an entry on the card – I couldn’t find a horse who was qualified to run in any race, and of course the ground is desperate, so we’ll start at Aintree.”

After a quiet 10 days the Seven Barrows handler has been building them back up to peak fitness and Sir Gino, who had been odds-on for the Triumph Hurdle, will be first to test the water in the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.

“He was a horse that I honestly couldn’t find anything wrong with him, but we’d lost all confidence and I couldn’t face running a young horse like him,” Henderson told Sky Sports Racing.

“We’ve made no bones about it, we think he’s seriously good and I just couldn’t risk him. Joe Donnelly was wonderful because we had to take Sir Gino, Shishkin and Shanagh Bob out, all his, but there was no point in running them after the first two days.

“I trust in this fellow and he’s going to go out there carrying the Seven Barrows flag and I’m sure everyone is going to watch him like a hawk – I hope for all the right reasons.

“He won at Auteuil and as everybody knows, if you can handle that you can handle most things, and it was pretty soft on Trials day (at Cheltenham).”

Shishkin will then get his chance to shine in the Aintree Bowl having missed the Gold Cup.

“The last week seems to have been great, Nico (de Boinville) rode him in his last piece of work on Saturday and said he felt fantastic and he’s looked up for it all this week.

“I just think everything has gone right, but he’s had a funny old year. He didn’t start, then he threw away the King George and then he won the Denman. Whatever anybody’s opinion of the King George doesn’t matter, he was still running a great race. The Denman was more than an ideal preparation for the Gold Cup, but here we are in the same place so hopefully all systems go.”

Henderson also runs the mares Luccia and Marie’s Rock in the William Hill Aintree Hurdle.

He said: “Luccia was the one bright light at Cheltenham. The Champion Hurdle had fallen apart as far as we were concerned without Constitution Hill, but Luccia ran a fantastic race when she was a very close third.

“The only thing here is we are going up half a mile. We haven’t thought about it a lot and always felt she wouldn’t stay, but one day you have to try and if she does stay from next season’s point of view it gives her so many more options. The alternative was to wait for Punchestown and walk into Lossiemouth.

“Marie’s Rock is between here and the three-miler, but in this sort of ground two and a half will be plenty for her. She’s got stamina and goes in the soft, but it’s a very tough race.”

Gold Cup runner-up Gerri Colombe will meet last year’s winner Shishkin in the Aintree Bowl on Thursday.

Trained by Gordon Elliott, Gerri Colombe put up a game fight in the blue riband at Cheltenham when beating all bar reigning champion Galopin Des Champs.

Gerri Colombe is owned by Brian Acheson’s Robcour operation and the same colours will be sported by the Mouse Morris-trained Gentlemansgame.

Shishkin, winner of the race 12 months ago for Nicky Henderson, will attempt to put a dreadful Cheltenham Festival behind the trainer after he withdrew many of his intended runners due to the form of his string.

Corbetts Cross, so impressive in the National Hunt Chase, will step into open company for the first time while Bravemansgame, Ahoy Senor and Thunder Rock are also running in a field of seven.

Champion Hurdle third Luccia will step up in trip for the William Hill Aintree Hurdle.

One of only a few to run well for Henderson at Cheltenham, she will face the likes of Impaire Et Passe and Bob Olinger in a field of eight, with Coral Cup winner Langer Dan stepping up in grade.

Grey Dawning and Ginny’s Destiny will meet again in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase.

The pair served up a real treat in the Turners at Cheltenham, with Dan Skelton’s Grey Dawning coming out on top by two lengths.

Il Etait Temps, third in the Arkle, steps up in trip for Willie Mullins, while Blow Your Wad and Colonel Harry complete the quintet.

Sir Gino, a Cheltenham absentee for Henderson, will get the chance to strut his stuff in the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.

He will take on Mullins’ Kargese, who finished second to stable companion Majborough in the Triumph Hurdle, the Joseph O’Brien-trained pair of Intellotto and Nurburgring, Paul Nicholls’ Kalif Du Berlais and Dirty Den.

There are 22 in the Randox Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase which include Cheltenham runner-up Its On The Line and Cat Tiger for David Maxwell.

Shishkin has not been declared for Friday’s Boodles Gold Cup at Cheltenham following an unsatisfactory scope.

Trainer Nicky Henderson had already ruled out Jonbon from Wednesday’s Champion Chase, among others, after five of his six runners on the first day of the Festival were pulled up.

The form of the stable had been a talking point heading into the biggest week of the season, hot on the heels of his brightest star Constitution Hill working poorly at Kempton and subsequently being pulled out of the Champion Hurdle.

Henderson posted on X, formerly Twitter: “Very sadly it will not be possible for Shishkin to run in the Gold Cup on Friday. He was scoped as have all our potential runners this week, but unfortunately he has shown an unsatisfactory picture on which he couldn’t possibly run.

“He appears to be 100 per cent in himself and has been working and schooling better than ever and we were really looking forward to Friday, it is hoped that along with all the other non-participants this week that they will be back in time for Aintree or Punchestown.

“Regrettably Champ has also succumbed and will not run in tomorrow’s Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and the equivalent race at Aintree could be on the agenda.”

Winning the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup remains right at the top of Nicky Henderson’s priorities as he prepares to saddle Shishkin in the latest instalment of the Cheltenham Festival’s marquee event.

Henderson is no stranger to staring on the opening day of the Festival, winning day one’s feature Champion Hurdle a record nine times. But the Gold Cup has proved a tougher beast to tame for the Seven Barrows handler throughout his long and decorated career.

Nevertheless the Gold Cup has managed to find its way to Henderson’s Lambourn base twice in the race’s 100-year history, with the quest for a third success in the blue riband still paramount in his thoughts each passing season.

“As we’ve given up on the Grand National we may as well concentrate on the Gold Cup,” said Henderson.

“The Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup are the most important races as far as I’m concerned because it means you have the best horse and that’s what a race is about.

“After I’ve had a horse a week I have owners asking which race I’m going to run it in at Cheltenham.”

It was not until 2011 that Henderson broke his duck in the Gold Cup when the heir apparent of the staying division, Long Run, slayed the mighty Ditcheat stalwarts Kauto Star and Denman and the baton of power was handed over to the keeper of Seven Barrows and his then multiple Grade One-winning six-year-old.

Long Run would fail to defend his title 12 months later, but Henderson had another Gold Cup winner steadily brimming away, and two years after a first victory in the final-day showpiece, Bobs Worth would prove to be the ultimate model of a staying chaser as he stormed up the Cheltenham hill in the hands of Barry Geraghty.

Those two treasured champions will always hold a special place in Henderson’s affections and are the gold-standard to which future Gold Cup candidates will be measured – with this year’s contender meeting his guvnor’s approval ahead of his date with destiny.

Henderson said: “I think Shishkin compares very favourably to Long Run and Bobs Worth and if you are only judging them on home work, well Bobs Worth was just an amazing character because he showed you nothing and was as laid back as Constitution Hill – he was just the nicest horse.

“On the racecourse he would just gallop and gallop and gallop until he could gallop no more.

“Long Run was a very classy horse, a very talented horse. Bobs Worth though was a trojan, a proper horse. Just a trier and what he lacked in ability he made up for in just heart.”

Like his handler, Shishkin himself has plenty of Cheltenham T-shirts hanging in the wardrobe and from four Festival starts has two victories and a silver medal to his name.

However, the one-time shining star of the speedy two-mile divisions now sees himself staring in the stamina-sapping three-and-a-quarter-mile Gold Cup endurance test.

Henderson, though, is not surprised he has ended up plying his trade in the staying ranks and said: “I think lots of horses have done the same, if you take Desert Orchid for example, he looked a two-miler to start with and plenty of them have done it and gone up in trip.

“You could say why didn’t we realise it earlier, but I think we did and Altior was the same – he got pigeon-holed as a two-miler and was the best, so we left him there.”

Shishkin’s journey to leading British Gold Cup hope has been far from straightforward since the days of his youth when Supreme Novices’ Hurdles and Arkles were a mere formality.

Always one to keep his handler on his toes – as shown when refusing to race at Ascot in his disastrous seasonal return – it seems Henderson has had to utilise all his years of experience to hack into the mindset of the 10-year-old.

That includes the King and Queen’s primary jumps trainer calling on a member of the royal family for assistance, with Shishkin spending his summer with Zara Tindall, blowing away some cobwebs before the serious business on the Lambourn schooling grounds begins.

Henderson explained: “He can be a bit of a ‘boyo’ and we actually sent him away to Zara Tindall for the first month to get him going and get his mind on the job instead of doing some easy trotting and build-up work here, because that is when he can be a bit silly.

“Once you get a run under his belt he is probably in our hands, while before that we are probably in his. That’s what he was like at Ascot but after that he’s been as good as gold. He’s always been like that.”

There has been no repeat of his Ascot misdemeanours in both of Shishkin’s outing since as he enhanced his Gold Cup claims firstly when unseating from a winning position in the King George VI Chase and then getting a confidence-boosting success under his belt in the Denman Chase.

Few would argue he would be even shorter in the betting lists if not for unseating Nico de Boinville shortly after the second-last at Kempton and Henderson has full confidence he will last the distance in his toughest assignment to date.

“He’s come out of Newbury really really well,” added Henderson.

“I think we are confident he will stay and Nico was happy enough in the King George to say ‘we’re not going quick enough, I’m going on’ and that was against proven stayers, so he was pretty confident he was going to stay.

“I think it’s an open Gold Cup and open enough to be in it. He deserves to be in it. He would have been first or second in the King George and I honestly think he would have won and that was a hell of a performance for his first run of the year, even if he finished second that is one hell of a trial.”

Dan Skelton believes there are “no negatives” as he prepares to send Protektorat into battle against Shishkin in Saturday’s Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury.

Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin will be a warm order to open his account for the campaign, having looked the likely winner of the King George VI Chase before unseating Nico de Boinville two fences from home.

However, in Protektorat he faces a high-class and race-fit rival who Skelton is confident heads into the Grade Two contest in rude health.

He said: “He’s in great form and we were always going for this race. Shishkin has turned up and we can’t choose our opposition, but we’ll give it a good go.

“We’re very happy with our horse and there are no negatives.”

Protektorat only ran three times last season, with a brilliant victory in the Betfair Chase followed by a fourth-placed finish in the Cotswold Chase and fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The nine-year-old disappointed when defending his Betfair Chase crown at Haydock in November, but bounced back when finishing third under a big weight at Cheltenham the following month before chasing home leading Gold Cup contender L’Homme Presse in the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield three weeks ago.

With his charge having been beaten in the last two renewals of the blue riband at Cheltenham, Skelton is happy to campaign him a little more aggressively this term, adding: “He seems in great form and why not run him?

“You can sometimes get to the end of a horse’s career and wish you’d ran them a bit more, so we’re happy to give it a go.”

Henderson is similarly pleased with Shishkin’s preparation, as the former star two-miler looks to establish himself as a genuine Gold Cup contender.

“Nico rode him out on Saturday morning and schooled him Wednesday morning. He jumped five fences and there was no point in him jumping any more,” said the Seven Barrows handler.

“I do think he is in good form and he was very sharp Wednesday morning. Nico said he felt in terrific form and we’re happy on that score.

“He’s pretty versatile in terms of ground, I don’t think you would want him in very, very soft ground, but we don’t have much option. He has to go here, as there is nowhere else to go and he needs a race.”

Whether Shishkin would have held off the fast-finishing Hewick had he completed the King George course is open to question, but Henderson said: “I think he would have won. Whatever the result, it was a very good run for what was effectively his first run of the season.

“Nico, from what he told me, felt he would have won. Obviously, he didn’t see the unfolding of the race after the last like we did and the Irish horse (Hewick) came home with a right rattle down the outside.

“He should come on for that and he needs to have another run if he is to run in the Gold Cup, which we are hoping to do.

“It’s the ideal race, as Newbury is a lovely track and it’s nice and local for us.

“With Protektorat running, he will probably be guaranteed a good gallop and it will be handy just to get a lead, I suppose. He’s very happy leading and Nico was very happy to send him on in the King George, as he felt the race needed keeping honest – so he would be very happy if he did end up in front.”

Shishkin will line up with form figures of R and U, having refused to start on his seasonal reappearance at Ascot prior to his fine effort before coming to grief at Kempton on Boxing Day.

While not counting his chickens, Henderson is hopeful there will be no pre-race antics on Saturday.

He added: “He can be a character and the odd thing about him is at the beginning of the season, I suppose when he’s very fresh in that build-up period, he can be a bit of a plonker.

“When he’s stroppy, he’s stroppy, but he only really does it at the beginning and now where we are with a race under his belt, he’s no problem at all.

“I won’t say I don’t see any problems, as you always have it in the back of your mind, but he was very good at Kempton on what would be quite a tricky start for him, going away from the stables and paddock.”

Paul Nicholls has saddled a record 10 previous winners of the race, with his Gold Cup heroes See More Business (2000), Kauto Star (2007) and Denman (2008) among those on the roll of honour.

This time around, the Ditcheat maestro saddles last year’s runner-up Hitman, who has finished tailed off in each of his two starts so far this term.

“He needed the run at Cheltenham last month after his latest wind op and has come on nicely for the outing,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“I’m hopeful he can pick up some place money before another crack at the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.”

Kim Bailey’s Does He Know and the Anthony Honeyball-trained Sam Brown are the other hopefuls.

Nicky Henderson has admitted it is “guesswork” as to whether Shishkin will stay the Cheltenham Gold Cup trip – but that will be where he heads if successfully navigating his Betfair Denman Chase assignment at Newbury on Saturday.

The 10-year-old proved he has the capacity to stay three miles when winning the Aintree Bowl last spring, while he was in the process of running a huge race in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day before unseating Nico de Boinville two from home.

However, the extra quarter-mile the cream of the staying division have to master in the blue riband has caught many a top chaser out down the years. And the Seven Barrows handler concedes it is a question that will only be answered on the day itself, despite feeling confident it will be within Shishkin’s compass.

Henderson said: “It’s going to be guesswork because he’s not been that far. He’s not even in the Ryanair, so I assume we think he must stay something otherwise he won’t be going anywhere.

“I would be pretty confident about that and I know it is difficult to say. I know if you get three miles round Kempton it doesn’t mean anything, but what do you do. There’s a good race at Aintree yes, but if he gets home at Newbury and he does well then you have to go (to the Gold Cup), don’t you.”

The dual Cheltenham Festival winner has spent the majority of his career campaigning over two miles, winning both the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle at that distance in the Cotswolds.

Connections explored stepping up in trip following a lacklustre display in the 2022 Tingle Creek and after roaring back to his very best in the Ascot Chase, he finished second in the Ryanair at the Festival before proving successful at Aintree when downing Ahoy Senor.

It is a move that has somewhat caught Henderson by surprise and he said: “No you didn’t really dream (of Shishkin being a Gold Cup horse), because not surprisingly, after Supremes and Arkles you think he is a two-miler.

“Then we went two and a half and two-mile-five when he won at Ascot which was his first time over a trip and it became very obvious he is a stayer.

“He ran in the Ryanair which wasn’t very good, but he came back and ran in the three-miler at Aintree which was very good and I think he proved he stayed there.

“Since then we have continued down that road and the beginning of this season was always going to be all about the King George.”

He went on: “Where things went a bit wrong was the Ascot fiasco when he didn’t want to jump off, so consequently he had to go into the King George without having his prep race, which always frightened me.

“To be fair it didn’t make a great difference and he ran a great race no matter what the result might have been.

“It was just one of those incidents, it’s not as if he did anything wrong and he jumped beautifully all the way.”

Shishkin has been partnered in all 19 starts under rules by De Boinville who he unceremoniously unshipped with the King George at his mercy on Boxing Day.

A further spill at Doncaster over the Christmas period saw the 34-year-old sidelined with a broken collarbone and after a return to the injury list following a premature comeback, Henderson hopes to have his number one back to full fitness to be aboard Shishkin once again.

He said: “We had a little comeback about 10 days ago and he wasn’t quite ready, but he has been riding out since Saturday – he came in and work on Shishkin then – and has been in every day and schooled a few times.

“He’s in good form, I just want him to have a couple of rides to be ready for Saturday, I hope.”

Jeremy Scott’s Dashel Drasher could briefly resume his chasing career after his placed run in the Howden Long Walk Hurdle.

The fan favourite, now 11 years old, had a lucrative spell in staying hurdles last season but is also a well-regarded chaser with four successes over fences on his CV – including the Grade One Ascot Chase.

Second in the Relkeel Hurdle, the Cleeve Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle last season, the latter a placing gained upon appeal, the gelding returned to action this term to finish third in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby in November.

He then headed to Newbury for the Long Distance Hurdle, a Grade Two event he won by a head from fellow veteran Paisley Park – another stalwart of the division.

Both horses lined up for the Long Walk to give Fergal O’Brien’s Crambo a run for his money, with the young horse coming out on top as Paisley Park was second behind him and Dashel Drasher in third place.

Scott could now call on his stable star’s versatility as the horse’s next outing could either be a hurdle start or a brief return to chasing, though both paths will likely lead to the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

“He’s doing really well. He did pull a muscle, I think over the last hurdle because he went quite long there, so we’ve had a little hold-up there,” said Scott.

“That’s probably neither here nor there and we’ve sorted that out, so he’s fighting fit for the end of the month or the beginning of next month.

“He could either go back to the Cleeve (Hurdle, at Cheltenham) or go for the Denman (Chase, at Newbury), I’ve a notion to do that.”

Should Dashel Drasher head for the Denman he may meet Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin and Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame, with the going pivotal to the decision made.

“It’s just a matter of the timing and the ground as to which direction we go in, but he’s very well at the moment and one of those is the plan,” Scott said.

“I’d imagine he’d go for the Stayer’s Hurdle either way, there’s nothing for him over fences really at Cheltenham, only the Gold Cup and I wouldn’t quite think he was up to that.”

Cheltenham and Newbury are two possible ports of call for Shishkin following his following his luckless run in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

The nine-year-old was leading the field after jumping the penultimate fence in the Boxing Day highlight, only to stumble a couple of strides after the obstacle and unseat Nico de Boinville.

That was Shishkin’s first run of the campaign after he refused to start at Ascot in November and trainer Nicky Henderson felt he would have been staying on all the way to the line were it not for his mishap.

He said: “Shishkin is fine. I was a bit concerned that he might have hit something and occurred some damage but he doesn’t appear to have done so I’m 100 per cent happy on that front. It was just one of those things I guess.

“I’m not going to say he would have won, but the consensus of opinion is that he probably would have done as he wasn’t stopping.

“He was really coming up at every fence, and he seemed to be travelling well. I’m pretty sure he would have kept on galloping as he galloped all the way to the line at Aintree.

“Our biggest concern was that he hadn’t had a run. When he has not had a run he controls us, but we are now in control as he has got that run under his belt and he will be a much easier horse to train.”

Shishkin was having just his second start at three miles at Kempton, having previously delivered eight chase victories up to two miles and five furlongs, including the 2021 Arkle, the 2022 Clarence House Chase and the 2023 Ascot Chase.

Henderson switched Shishkin to three miles and a furlong for the Aintree Bowl back in April and he has the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase (January 27) and the Betfair Denman Chase (February 10) over staying trips on his mind.

The trainer said: “I don’t know what to do at the moment and we are just mulling it over. I don’t think we will come back in trip for the Ascot Chase, even though he did win that last year.

“You have got the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham and the Denman Chase at Newbury and they are the only two real possibilities for him before the Gold Cup.

“It will either be one of them, or none of them, but what he needs is experience and a nice clear round.”

While Shishkin was out of luck at Kempton, Jango Baie ensured the team did secure Grade One glory in the Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

Previously run as the Tolworth at Sandown in January, the rescheduled and renamed contest produced a fine finish as Jango Baie held off Favour And Fortune by just under three lengths in the hands of James Bowen.

Henderson could now look to edge up in distance from an extended two miles with the four-year-old, as the trainer has strength in depth in the novice hurdle sphere with the likes of Jeriko Du Reponet and Willmount taking high order.

“It was great for James Bowen to get his first Grade One as he is a big part of the team here at Seven Barrows. He deserved it and so did the horse, while it was great to get a Grade One for his connections,” said Henderson.

“I’d like to see him run over a little bit further as I’m not sure that trip was far enough for him at Aintree.

“I’ve got a couple of other nice prospects to run this weekend, so we will see what they do then we will make a plan.”

Nicky Henderson is looking forward to putting a frustrating period behind him by belatedly taking the wraps off Constitution Hill and Shishkin at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The superstar duo have not been seen in competitive action so far this season and, not for the first time, the Seven Barrows handler has drawn criticism from some quarters for his cautious approach.

There have, though, been extenuating circumstances on both counts, with Constitution Hill’s intended defence of the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle scuppered by the weather, and Shishkin even getting to the start of Ascot’s 1965 Chase, only to dig his heels in and refuse to jump off with the other runners.

Henderson subsequently entered and declared his top-class pair for a rescheduled Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown – and while the decision to withdraw both on account of testing conditions left many disappointed, the trainer insists with Constitution Hill in particular, it was a straightforward call.

“You couldn’t run at Sandown and Kempton. It was physically not possible,” Henderson said at a media morning at his yard on Tuesday.

“You knew straight away you were going to have to sacrifice one race for the other and we decided we would stick to the original plan.

“I wasn’t going to put him in at Sandown until the very last minute. I had already said to Michael (Buckley, owner) ‘I don’t think this will work’, but he said ‘let’s see’.

“You could not have possibly run in both races and that is what some people fail to understand. That is the only thing I find frustrating.

“Of course, it is frustrating when you drag him all the way to Newcastle and back again. That was bad luck. That was the original plan and that is where he would have been, and we would have been on the same leg as last year – unfortunately, we are not.”

While Constitution Hill’s preparation for a bid to claim back-to-back Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle wins has not gone entirely to plan, Henderson is confident the lack of a recent run will not be a hindrance.

He is, though, keen to see how the six-year-old performs before considering plans beyond Christmas.

Henderson added: “He was ready for Newcastle, and he is ready for Kempton.

“We have got to get out there and he has got to go through the motions. He has got to be as good as he ever was at Kempton, then we can look forward.

“He could go to Kempton, then Cheltenham for the International Hurdle, which they have stuck in on Trials Day, then Cheltenham (for the Champion Hurdle) and then Aintree.

“He won’t go to Ireland then (for the Dublin Racing Festival), definitely not, but I won’t look forward until Kempton is over.”

While much is made of Constitution Hill’s apparently bombproof temperament, the same cannot be said at this stage of his stablemate Shishkin following his much publicised refusal in Berkshire last month.

Henderson, however, insists that while the nine-year-old has his quirks, his behaviour tends to improve as the season progresses.

He said: “Constitution Hill is the A, B, C of training horses and you point him in the right direction. He is very straightforward, as he has got a very good temperament.

“Shishkin is very straightforward, but the early part of the season with him is probably the most difficult. That was a bit to do with what happened at Ascot.

“When he is fresh, he is a bit of a plonker! I sent him to Zara Tindall to go and do some work with her. It was good condition and dressage work to get some manners on him and get the basics done. I think he really enjoyed it.

“He doesn’t enjoy that bit here early on and I don’t know why. He can be stroppy. Once he has had a run, he is completely the opposite. He is putty in our hands.”

As a six-time Grade One and dual Cheltenham Festival winner, Shishkin’s raw ability is not in question, but Henderson feels he faces an almighty task to win the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase on what will ultimately be his first start since impressing at Aintree in the spring.

“I’ve been saying all along I don’t see how you can win a King George without a race and the answer is you can’t. On the other hand, we have got nowhere else to go, as there isn’t another race until the Cotswold Chase,” Henderson went on.

“If I ran him at Sandown in the Fighting Fifth, I would have bottomed him and he wouldn’t go to the King George, so therefore I had to take him home and run him straight in.

“He has been going, for him, really well, and his schooling the other morning was fantastic. I’m not going to sit here and tell you he can win a King George, but I do think he can run very well.

“The trouble with Kempton is that some people think it is an easy three miles because it is flat and fast and there are no hills, but there isn’t a place where they can take a blow or have a breather. You jump, jump, jump, then go flat out around a bend, then go jump, jump, jump. It is all go, go, go.

“We have got to have a go, as we have no other option. We have got to Christmas and he hasn’t had a run, but that is not his fault and I don’t think it is mine either, as we have been trying.”

On his plans to try to avoid a repeat of his Ascot antics, the trainer added: “George (Daly) will go down to the start with him, as he knows him really well.

“We can’t do anything. Charlie Brooks mentioned a hunting horn, but Barney (Clifford, clerk of the course) won’t let me get up a tree and blow it!”

Nico de Boinville insists everything possible has been done to prevent Shishkin from downing tools again in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase, but ultimately it will be up to the horse himself to behave at Kempton.

The nine-year-old has been a marvellous servant for Seven Barrows handler Nicky Henderson, winning 13 times under rules and claiming multiple Grade One victories.

However, he blotted his copybook when refusing to race in the 1965 Chase at Ascot last month and has been denied the chance to get back on track since that mishap.

A potential run in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle was ruled out due to that meeting being called off, while heavy ground at Sandown was considered unsuitable for the rescheduled Fighting Fifth Hurdle.

Shishkin must now go into the King George on Boxing Day with big questions to answer and De Boinville admits all his connections can do is work hard and hope for the best.

When asked how much can be done to get Shishkin going if he stalls again when the tape goes up, the jockey told Sky Sports Racing: “Not much – if horses don’t want to run, they won’t run!”

De Boinville, who has been ever-present in the saddle throughout Shishkin’s career, is happy with how his preparations have gone back in Lambourn, though.

“I’ve done lots of sitting on him,” he added. “All boxes are ticked and crossed and we’ve tried everything, so we won’t be going to Kempton thinking ‘oh, I wish we’d done that in practice’.

“It’s one of those, if he doesn’t want to do it, he won’t do it – no matter what I do.

“In actual fact, he’s one of those horses that the more pressure you put on him, the more he’ll dig his heels in.

“But look, he hasn’t shown one inkling of doing it since he’s got back home after Ascot.

“It would have been nice to have got a run into him, but these things happen and I’m looking forward to it – if we jump off and everything, I think he’s in for a big race.”

Nicky Henderson has withdrawn Constitution Hill and Shishkin from the rearranged Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown.

While the meeting passed a 7.30am inspection, rain was still falling throughout the morning at the Esher track on already heavy ground on the hurdles track and conditions are being monitored.

Champion Hurdle winner Constitution Hill was supposed to make his seasonal reappearance at Newcastle last weekend but the meeting was abandoned with the Fighting Fifth moved to Sandown.

Shishkin was an intended runner at Newcastle also, in the Rehearsal Chase, but in an attempt to get a prep run into him before the King George, Henderson had declared him alongside his stablemate.

However, neither will run at Sandown, nor will promising novice hurdler Willmount in an earlier race but Jonbon is still an intended starter in the Tingle Creek.

Henderson said on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Due to the extremely testing going, we have decided that Constitution Hill will not run in today’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown because it would simply not be fair to race him under such extreme conditions on his first run of the season.

“It is too close to Boxing Day, and he can’t do both, so, all being well, he’ll go straight to Kempton for the Christmas Hurdle.

“Shishkin has also been withdrawn, along with Willmount from his intended engagement in the Listed Novices’ Hurdle.”

As for Jonbon he added: “He has had a run so is fit and well, and the ground is much more suitable on the chase course. It is very unfortunate, and we are all sorry they won’t be turning up, but we have to put the horses first — it’s as simple as that.”

Nicky Henderson has confirmed Shishkin will join esteemed stablemate Constitution Hill on the trip to Newcastle to contest Saturday’s BetMGM Rehearsal Chase.

With the multiple Grade One winner having refused to start in last weekend’s 1965 Chase at Ascot, the Seven Barrows handler admitted to being in a quandary as to what to do with his star chaser as he looks to get his season back on track ahead of a planned tilt at the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

With alternative options limited, Henderson revealed on Sunday that Shishkin could make a swift reappearance in the north east, with Constitution Hill already making the long journey from Lambourn to Gosforth Park as he looks to secure back-to-back victories in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.

And while a lofty rating of 173 means Shishkin will have to carry 12 stone and concede upwards of 21lb to each of his rivals in Saturday’s finale, he has been given the go ahead to take his chance.

In a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, Henderson said: “Just to keep everybody informed, Shishkin will run in the Rehearsal Chase on Saturday.

“Everything is fine with him, and he’ll travel up to Newcastle on Friday with Constitution Hill.”

Shishkin stunned onlookers at Ascot when refusing to start in the Nirvana Spa 1965 Chase, which went the way of Pic D’Orhy.

Nicky Henderson’s top-class chaser was returning to action in the Grade Two contest, which only attracted four runners.

Nico de Boinville was partnering the gelding, who was the short-priced favourite, but at the tapes he did not budge and the race went ahead without him.

Shishkin sets out on what Nicky Henderson hopes will be a fruitful staying campaign when he lines up for the Nirvana Spa 1965 Chase at Ascot.

So brilliant at his best over two miles, the decision was taken to go over further immediately after he finished third in last year’s Tingle Creek at Sandown – his first start since being pulled up in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham that March, after which he was subsequently found to be suffering from a rare bone condition.

He looked magnificent in beating Pic D’Orhy in the Ascot Chase in February and did little wrong when second to Envoi Allen in the Ryanair Chase, before taking the plunge over three miles and a furlong at the Grand National meeting, staying on strongly to account for Ahoy Senor.

Henderson has his sights on the King George at Christmas, but first Shishkin must pass this two-mile-five-furlong reappearance test, where he again meets the Paul Nicholls-trained Pic D’Orhy.

“He’s in very good form. Nico (de Boinville) is happy with him, the timing is right and he’s done everything right,” said the master of Seven Barrows, who also had the option of going for the Betfair Chase with the nine-year-old.

“Pic D’Orhy is coming to Ascot and we will take on Bravemansgame later (in the King George).

“He showed us at Aintree he’s a stayer, it took him a long time to pick up Ahoy Senor. You can’t win a King George with a doubtful stayer, but he’s proved he does (stay).”

Although second best to Shishkin over course and distance earlier in the year, Pic D’Orhy would end his campaign with a decisive victory in the Melling Chase at Aintree and has Ditcheat stable jockey Harry Cobden on board for his return to action.

“I’ve always believed in this horse, who never stopped improving last season and looks fantastic,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“This Grade Two race has been his target from the moment he came back from holiday early in July.

“He is fit to run for his life, his work with Bravemansgame on Thursday was eyecatching and drying ground at Ascot is a big plus for him.

“We don’t think he was at his best when he was beaten by Shishkin at Ascot in February, as he’d had a few races before that, and things could well be different this time.”

Donald McCain’s Minella Drama was a bronze medallist behind Pic D’Orhy in the spring and also performed well on Merseyside on his seasonal bow when second in the Old Roan Chase.

Brian Hughes rides and said in his blog for “With Shishkin to beat, it’s not going to be easy for Minella Drama, but we are the only horse in the field with a run under our belt.

“He ran well on his return at Aintree and I think going right-handed at Ascot will suit. Strictly on ratings, we look fairly matched with Pic D’Orhy, but Shishkin is in the race, and he is a fair horse. I was hoping he’d be going to Haydock!

“We’re fit and I’d love to think we could beat him, but he’s some horse. I think we’ll give him a good race, though. We’re hoping he likes Ascot and can then pitch up there again in the Ascot Chase in February.”

The field of four is rounded off by Straw Fan Jack, who was set some lofty targets at the business end of last season and continues to have his sights aimed high by trainer Sheila Lewis.

Shishkin is “almost certain” to line up in Ascot’s 1965 Chase on Saturday in preference to the Grade One Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Nicky Henderson raised the possibility of Shishkin heading to Merseyside earlier in the autumn for a mouthwatering clash with last year’s winner Protektorat and the King George hero of last season, Bravemansgame.

Henderson had considered the Betfair Chase as a suitable stepping-stone towards the King George at Kempton over Christmas, but the prospect of testing ground has prompted a change of heart.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that two-miles-five around Ascot is going to suit him better than three miles in the soft at Haydock,” said the Seven Barrows handler.

“The ground at Ascot will be preferable and he’s almost certain to go there. He’s won a two-mile-five race there and we know he likes it (the track).”

Now a nine-year-old, Shishkin won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle over two miles at successive Cheltenham Festivals.

However, he was pulled up in the Champion Chase of 2022 and after being beaten into third behind Edwardstone in last season’s Tingle Creek, Henderson stepped his charge up in trip.

The move proved successful, with a 16-length win in the Ascot Chase in February over Pic D’Orhy, who he will meet again on Saturday, preceding a running-on second to Envoi Allen in the Ryanair Chase.

He then tackled three miles for the first time at Aintree, when he reeled in Ahoy Senor after the last fence to lift the Bowl, and Henderson hopes to see him return to the longer distance on Boxing Day.

He added: “This is a prep race for the King George and we want to win it.

“He didn’t travel as well as he might in his races last season and I think we might put some cheek pieces on him. We’ve schooled him in them and they help keep his mind on it.”

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